In search of international good will

By Lin Cho-shui 林濁水  / 

Mon, Feb 14, 2011 - Page 8

By deporting 14 Taiwanese suspected of involvement in criminal activity to China, the Philippine government ignored the sovereign status of Taiwan and violated international practice. Reaction in Taiwan has been strong and critics from across party lines are calling on the government to take a tough stance.

As a result, the decision by President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration to recall the nation’s envoy to the Philippines, apply stricter reviews to work applications from Filipinos and cancel preferential treatment allowing Filipinos holding visas to the US, Canada, the UK, the Schengen countries, Australia and New Zealand to register online for visa exemption to Taiwan, is unlikely to settle the dispute.

Even though the Philippine government has not apologized, the Ma administration has still listed a series of goodwill actions taken by the Philippines, in an effort to find a face-saving way out of this dispute.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says these acts of goodwill include expressing “deep regret” and sending a letter to Minister of Foreign Affairs Timothy Yang (楊進添) using the proper national and professional nomenclature.

However, these acts of “goodwill” are a little odd, to say the least. For example, the Philippine government was very explicit in expressing its deep regret at not having informed Taiwan prior to the deportation. However, this is the equivalent of saying that everything would have been right and proper if only it had informed Taiwan in advance. Surely this was just a way to even more explicitly deny Taiwan’s judicial sovereignty.

The Philippine government also said that it has an extradition treaty with China and noted that China and Taiwan have signed a joint agreement to clamp down on crime. It therefore implied that China and Taiwan should sort out this issue themselves. The Philippine government clearly believes that by inking a cross-strait mutual judicial assistance agreement, Taiwan has in effect signed away sovereignty over its criminal law to China.

Even if they call us the Republic of China (ROC), they still think the ROC is a Chinese vassal state. Some goodwill.

Given the denial of Taiwan’s sovereignty and the serious consequences of such denial, the measures taken by the Ma administration are inadequate.

Following the sinking of a Taiwanese fishing boat by a Japanese coast guard vessel off the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) in June 2008, our envoy to Japan was recalled immediately and the government said the envoy would not return until a satisfactory response was forthcoming.

This time, however, the government said its envoy would be recalled within one week, to report on the matter. The wording was much weaker and the reaction far more low key.

In the same way, the policy to implement stricter reviews of work applications from Filipinos was undermined by the government stressing that demand for Filipino workers outstrips supply, as if the Philippines was Taiwan’s only source of foreign labor. Furthermore, Taiwan has taken a stricter approach to workers from the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam in the past, announcing immediate application freezes. Although the government is saying it will implement stricter reviews, it is actually taking a much softer approach.

In addition, the government has also made several rather ridiculous statements. For example, Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) said the foreign ministry’s reaction was neither too slow nor inappropriate, suggesting that the government was more interested in dealing with public anger with one eye on next year’s presidential election. The Ma administration has made a habit of following wherever public opinion leads, and does not seem to think that the current incident has hurt the nation in any meaningful way. It is becoming clear that there is a huge gap between the administration’s foreign affairs strategy and public expectations.

The Philippine government says that Beijing is too powerful. The problem is that if another country encountered the same situation, it would not give in to China so readily, for fear of even stronger protests. The strange thing is that the Philippines’ first reaction to Taiwan’s response — which the general public felt was too weak — was to say that it was at a loss. This reaction requires further analysis.

This situation arose not because the Philippines does not understand the Ma administration’s cross-strait policy. Had that been the case, officials would not have been able to correctly cite various cross-strait agreements. The deportations occurred because Filipino officials believed they did understand those agreements and thought Taiwan would respond weakly with China involved.

In other words, the government’s mistaken foreign policy is now beginning to have serious consequences for Taiwan.

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has expressed great pride in the communique issued after the meeting between former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) in 2005, which stated that Taiwan and China would discuss Taiwan’s international presence. Indeed, when Taiwan was later allowed to participate as an observer at the World Health Assembly (WHA) after Ma took office, he was very pleased. The problem is that this state of affairs effectively makes Taiwan a Chinese vassal state.

Ma’s announcements that cross-strait relations would be given precedence over foreign policy later extended into a diplomatic truce, turning these policies into comprehensive and complimentary measures to our vassal status.

In terms of its impact on Taiwan’s sovereign status, it is very difficult to see the difference between having Taiwanese detainees returned via Beijing and having to obtain Beijing’s approval to attend the WHA. In light of these complimentary measures, the Philippine government’s approach makes sense.

That is why this latest incident is not a matter of how fast officials have reacted or whether any administrative errors were committed. Rather, it is a matter of national positioning and foreign policy. Unless we realize this, any review of the incident will be meaningless.

Lin Cho-shui is a former Democratic Progressive Party legislator.