Tue, Sep 20, 2016 - Page 8 News List

Northbound policy also required

By Jerome Keating

In an effort to diversify Taiwan’s economy, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has begun a much-needed southbound policy. In plain terms, it is a move that is good for business.

In a constantly and regularly changing world, even the most simplistic economist knows that one should never put all one’s eggs in one basket. That was Taiwan’s problem under former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and one of the reasons his party was voted out of office. Such a policy puts any nation at risk, as well as at the mercy of the nation that can overturn that basket, in this case, the much larger nation, China. And China has already shown that it can do this by turning off the tap of its tourism industry.

However, while a southbound policy is good for economic diversity to preserve Taiwan’s nationhood and democracy, there is a northbound policy that cannot be ignored. In pursuing that policy, Taiwan needs a stronger military alliance with its northern neighbor, namely, Japan.

Taiwan is a mid-sized nation with a population larger than about 75 percent of the members of the UN. And so, like any other nation, Taiwan must seek what is in its best core interest. An essential part of Taiwan’s core interest is the preservation of its hard won democracy and nationhood.

Across the Taiwan Strait, the People’s Republic of China, whose flag has never flown over Taiwan, continues to push its regional hegemonic demands. It insists that Taiwan return to “the motherland” and has passed laws to make it illegal for Taiwan to “secede” from that which it has never joined. Going further, China refuses to renounce military force in settling these hegemonic demands as it has in the South China Sea. Thus the question naturally arises: Which nation would stand by Taiwan most if Taiwan’s core interest is threatened? That nation is Japan.

More than any other nation in the region and even more than the democracy-promoting US, the preservation of Taiwan’s national core interests and democracy are most closely aligned with those of Japan. Put directly, Japan’s security and democracy depend most on a free and independent Taiwan on its southern flank. And while Japanese politicians will rarely admit this in public, they know in their hearts that the future of these two nations is bound by this mutual codependence.

Examine the other nations in the region; they have their own problems. The Philippines is a friendly neighbor. True, the Philippines have fishing disputes with Taiwan, but what help would the Philippines be in an attack by China? The Philippines is already wavering in its relations with China vis-a-vis what is happening in the South China Sea. At best, the Philippines could be a place to retreat to. The same can be said for many of the nations south and southwest of Taiwan.

In the north, South Korea cannot be expected to be of too much help. It is a divided nation, which has a history of constantly defending all its borders. It would not be a hindrance to Taiwan, but could not be counted on for too much support. South Korea can at best be like a border blockhouse that would force the enemy to go around it.

And Russia? It would also be of no assistance; it might even evaluate that helping China would be in its best interests vis-a-vis the US and Japan.

What, then, about the US? In this the US has had its on again, off again support of Taiwan as it looks after its own core interests. The US has the Taiwan Relations Act; it is officially “undecided” on Taiwan’s democratic nationhood; but it also wishes to protect its trade with China, the economic powerhouse it ironically helped build. Furthermore, the US is distant from Taiwan; Japan is a very close neighbor.

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