With the support of more than 40 nations and territories, the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is expected to be established at the conclusion of negotiations sometime in the middle of this year. According to the memorandum of understanding signed by 21 nations, the AIIB headquarters will be set up in Beijing and have authorized capital of US$100 billion, half of which China has committed to provide.
Taiwan scrambled to apply to be a founding member, joining a list of nations including, among others, Germany, the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Russia, Egypt, Australia, South Korea and Saudi Arabia. The AIIB is expected to both cooperate and compete with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which is led by Japan and the US. This will have an effect on Asian regional connectivity and economic integration, and so the US and Japan stand beside the ADB and have not applied to join the AIIB.
One of the main diplomatic focuses of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration is to help Taiwan’s trade relations. Taiwan’s participation in the ADB faces constraints and it failed to join the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, in which China wields much influence. Given this situation, an obvious policy option was to join the ADB as it granted access to many important emerging markets.
Unfortunately, the Ma administration still does not operate political dialogue, which leads to public misunderstanding of how “normal” nations get things done. According to news reports, the US does not like the idea of its allies joining the AIIB. However, even if the Ma administration has little room to maneuver, it should at least let the public know about the technical difficulties it is facing.
No one expected the government to be so vague in explaining its intent for Taiwan to join such an organization; simply saying that the final decision was made in an inter-ministerial meeting, convened by the president, that asked the Ministry of Finance to prepare a letter of intent, which the Mainland Affairs Council then asked China’s Taiwan Affairs Office to forward to the interim Secretariat for Establishing the AIIB after it was approved by the Cabinet.
It was only after criticism in news reports and social media about the Ma administration being pro-China and humiliating Taiwan in its handling of international affairs that the government explained how the letter was delivered: The ministry faxed the letter on the same day directly to the interim Secretariat for Establishing the AIIB.
The incomplete information provided led to the government losing the initiative for fostering political dialogue. This cannot be blamed on the government spokesperson, but rather on the failure of the whole government’s communication mechanisms and lack of horizontal transparency.
Even more puzzling is that government departments often invite lecturers to talk about how to improve political and media communication. Only a few months ago, the Presidential Office and the Cabinet called upon so-called “Internet wizards” to give officials lessons on how to communicate with netizens.
However, the government’s latest failure in transparent communication has once again led to the anti-China camp — and citizens and organizations that have lost faith in Ma’s administration — to do some saber rattling.
A Chinese saying states: “Past things that are not forgotten will be a guide for things to come.”
How is it that the government seems to often remember things from the past, yet never manages to use it as a guide for the future?
Huang Kwei-bo is an associate professor in the Department of Diplomacy at National Chengchi University.
Translated by Zane Kheir
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