Fri, Nov 16, 2012 - Page 8

Honest answers are needed

Seasoned observers of Taiwan-China relations are familiar with the ambiguity that has come to characterize statements from agencies with interests in the region.

Whereas once it was Washington which employed “strategic ambiguity” as policy, since 2008 Taipei has become the main source of ambiguity since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) redefined the “status-quo,” definitively shifting Taiwan closer to China and distancing it from Japan and the US. The Ma administration’s ambiguity, directed at both international and domestic audiences, has resulted in confusion amongst Taiwanese and arguably the weakest state of the US-Taiwan security relationship since 1945.

During the 2008 election campaign, Ma suggested that there would be no political talks with China in his first term since more pressing economic questions needed to be addressed first. In June 2009, Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) told then-American Institute in Taiwan director Stephen Young that Ma would open political talks during a second term if he was re-elected, and that they would address a peace treaty, a formal end to hostilities and the development of bilateral military confidence mechanisms.

In a meeting with US Admiral Timothy Keating on Dec. 15, 2009, Ma said that talks between Taiwan and China on military and security issues would only begin if China removed the more than 1,000 missiles pointing at Taiwan.

However, he added that “People’s Liberation Army activities” could force his hand and pressure him into political talks.

In September last year, Ma said his government had no plans to launch political talks with China any time soon, there being no immediate reason to do so, and that there were other pressing subjects requiring attention.

Yet Ma’s position has been to shift from no political talks, to no political talks without conditions, to economic talks first then political ones and finally to a denial of delaying political talks.

Most recently, following a strong public backlash to his idea of a peace treaty, Ma also said that there is now “ample room for discussion on whether such a formality is needed” — a masterful statement of ambiguity that leaves one wondering whether Ma has decided a peace treaty itself is unnecessary or whether he thinks public approval for one, via a referendum, is unnecessary, potentially unobtainable and antagonistic to Beijing.

With the government denying last year that officials from the National Security Council had already made preparations for cross-strait peace talks, we now hear from Institute for National Policy Research President Tien Hung-mao (田弘茂) that “China has held some political talks with Taiwan, but higher-level ones are not likely in the near future.”

Putting aside official statements to the contrary, the relationship between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), going back to before 1991, but accelerating rapidly after 2005, has been entirely political from the start.

Indeed, it would be illogical to consider discussions between the CCP and KMT to be lacking political content — their very nature entails that they are entirely political in nature, whether they are masked by government institutions as economic, cultural or otherwise.

Following Tien’s revelation, a host of questions spring to mind:

How long have these talks been going on? Who conducted them and on whose authority? What items were discussed? Was there a timetable set for further political talks? What conclusions and agreements did the talks arrive at?

I think Taiwanese have a right to question Tien, Ma and the Mainland Affairs Council about these political talks and to demand honest answers immediately.

Ben Goren