While answering questions regarding what she plans to talk about on her upcoming visit to the US, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said that the US places a high degree of importance on Taiwan’s ability to maintain an independent and autonomous economic system.
It is the first time the US has raised the issue of Taiwan’s economic independence. This is because, without economic autonomy, there can be no political autonomy, or, to put it another way: Commerce can be used to usurp a nation’s political independence.
In June last year, former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, in an interview with the Chinese-language Business Weekly, warned Taiwan in no uncertain terms that it had reached a tipping point and should consider how far it is willing to open up its economy to China, because once economic independence is lost, political autonomy would then be affected.
Although Clinton is no longer secretary of state, she remains politically influential. The interview took place after the Sunflower movement had exploded onto the political stage and showed that Clinton maintains a keen interest in global affairs.
The White House has surely taken in Clinton’s views and is paying close attention to Taiwan’s economic autonomy. It has also appointed Clinton’s former deputy at the US Department of State, Kin Moy, as director of the American Institute in Taiwan.
Late last month, an anonymous Department of State official provided further background information in an e-mail. The official said that the US encourages officials from Beijing and Taipei to continue their constructive dialogue and that this development has brought about marked progress in cross-strait relations, but that the detail, speed and scope of cross-strait interaction should be acceptable to the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
Particular attention should be paid to the official’s choice of words. The key words here are “constructive dialogue.” By using the adjective “constructive,” the author is calling for a mutually-beneficial outcome, one that is advantageous to Taiwan and does not harm the nation’s interests. The phrase “should be acceptable to the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait” means that any agreement should be acceptable to all 23 million Taiwanese.
President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) approval ratings clearly demonstrate that the public does not accept his administration’s China policy, including Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Eric Chu’s (朱立倫) recent remark that the “two sides belong to one China.”
A serious threat to Taiwan’s economic independence has happened under Ma’s watch, yet his administration continues to relax controls on Taiwanese investment in China, while ignoring the limitations of his China policy and brushing aside public scrutiny. Ma needs to be reminded that the so-called “cross-strait relationship” is not simply about bringing peace between the two sides, it is also about the wage deflation that the cross-strait economic relationship has brought to Taiwan, and the public’s struggle to make ends meet.
With Taiwan’s economy already severely dependent on China, an attack could come at any time. In order to bolster Taiwan’s autonomy, the US is likely to adopt a more positive and flexible approach when it signs the Trans-Pacific Partnership with Taiwan, resist China’s meddling and finally put into practice the long-awaited Asia-Pacific “rebalancing.”
However, Taiwan should make concessions, too. If the DPP regains office, the party must work hard to restore the economic autonomy that has been destroyed under the Ma administration.
Paul Lin is a political commentator.
Translated by Edward Jones
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