The Liberty Times Editorial: Government’s missed opportunity

Sat, Dec 14, 2013 - Page 8

When American Institute in Taiwan Chairman Raymond Burghardt visits Taiwan, he comes with a mission. Ostensibly, he arrived on Dec. 8 to deliver a briefing on US Vice President Joe Biden’s Asian tour, but this could have easily been handled via a meeting with Taiwan’s representative in Washington King Pu-tsung (金溥聰).

The actual reason for Burghard’s visit was to exchange opinions with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and verify his position at a time when his administration is dealing with China’s unilateral announcement of its air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

Before Burghardt arrived, South Korea announced that its air defense identification zone would be expanded to include the skies over Marado Island and the waters around Hongdo Island to the south of Leodo Reef and Jeju Island. Parts of this zone overlap with China’s East China Sea air defense identification zone as well as Japan’s ADIZ. The US State Department immediately expressed its support, while Taiwan’s foreign and defense ministries, oddly, expressed their “concern.”

The Ma administration’s concern could be a result of South Korea’s neglecting to consult with Taiwan, or it could stem from a fundamentally conservative approach. However, South Korea’s expansion of its air defense identification zone complies with international law and precedent, and the way Seoul managed the decision stood in stark contrast to Beijing’s handling of the issues concerning its new zone. The US particularly expressed its gratitude to South Korea, and Japan was prepared for the announcement.

The South Korean administration was transparent in its decisionmaking process including the planning stages at the Blue House’s national security policy adjustment conference and suggestions for response measures. In addition, South Korean President Park Geun-hye made the final decision after discussing the issue with Biden during his visit and had held consultations with Japan and China before that.

The announcement was made on Dec. 8 and is set to take effect tomorrow. By comparison, China implemented its East China Sea air defense identification zone at 10am on Nov. 23, the same day that Beijing announced the demarcation. In addition, South Korea has said it will respect the right of others to use the airspace freely and will not threaten to take any drastic measures against anyone that does not comply with its instructions.

It is likely that many will be unable to understand why the Ma administration is expressing concern over the South Korean air defense identification zone, which is located far away from Taiwan, but not over China’s East China Sea zone, which partially overlaps with the Taipei Flight Information Region. Why the incongruous behavior? Where does Taiwan stand when it comes to international norms and its own interests?

Is it possible that the government is concerned over Beijing’s needs to the extent that it is willing to disregard international norms and its own interests? No other country would conduct its foreign policy in this way. This is why Burghardt’s visit to Taiwan to see Ma is so important.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) use of the air defense identification zone and the aircraft carrier Liaoning to stress the recent establishment of China’s national security council was aimed at both a domestic and international audience. This approach is now running out of steam due to Xi’s miscalculation of the Japanese, South Korean and, above all, US reaction.

First, in response to South Korea’s expansion of its air defense zone, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said that Seoul’s actions differed from Beijing’s and would not constitute a problem in relations between Japan and South Korea. This makes it clear that Biden’s attempts at rebuilding relations between the two countries has met with initial success. China may have thought it could use differences between the US, Japan and South Korea to give itself the position of undisputed leader in East Asia, but the obstacles are still too great, and any such attempt would only serve to strengthen the US-Japanese security alliance.

Second, the economic situation remains an indicator of how long the US will continue to dominate the world. US debt stands at US$16 trillion, and China, the US’ largest debtor country, owns US$1.3 trillion of that. The recent issue over Iran’s nuclear ambitions was only temporarily solved with a preliminary six month agreement. And while the US first said that it would take military action against Syria’s chemical weapons, it later decided not to.

If these are the reasons Beijing is choosing to put pressure on the US now, it is making an even bigger mistake. The fact is that Biden’s Middle East peace talks and the insistence on appointing Chuck Hagel as defense secretary reflect US President Barack Obama’s second term strategy to move away from the Middle East. On the question of where he will take the US once he pulls out of the Middle East — as Biden said in South Korea on Nov. 6: “President Obama’s decision to rebalance the Pacific basin is not in question. The United States never says anything it does not do.”

Xi Jinping’s Chinese dream is becoming a nightmare for China’s neighbors. How long will it take him to repair China’s image, and how will he be able to pull back without losing face? This is something that the Chinese leadership and Chinese intellectuals must think long and hard about.

In Taiwan, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is doing whatever the Chinese Communist Party tells it to, and Ma behaves like Xi’s servant. In the end, it will lose a crucial opportunity to show the world that Taiwan insists on peace and carries strategic importance, and this is a big problem for Taiwanese society.

Translated by Perry Svensson