Slippery slope in cross-strait pacts

By Chiang Huang-chih 姜皇池  / 

Mon, Mar 10, 2014 - Page 8

On Feb. 27, the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) signed two cross-strait agreements on meteorological exchanges and the monitoring of earthquakes, which received little attention. Since they are agreements on scientific cooperation, they are generally seen as uncontroversial promotion of cross-strait harmony.

However, meteorological information is closely related to military activities, and such data carry significant strategic meaning. In the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, strategist Zhuge Liang (諸葛亮) often won battles with the help of meteorological data. Although these battles are written by a novelist, nobody can deny that good military leaders should have an understanding of meteorology as well as yin and yang, the opposing principles in nature.

The US was eager to collect meteorological and hydrological information in the East and South China Sea for military purposes back in 1942, hoping to use it as combat intelligence. Washington therefore worked with general Tai Li (戴笠), the head of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government’s military intelligence, and in 1943, the Sino-American Special Technical Cooperation Agreement was signed.

This data was precisely what the US Navy needed for warfare and it kept adding technology and sending personnel to collect more data.

In a long series of defeats, the Battle of Guningtou in Kinmen in 1949 was the Nationalist Army’s sole major victory. The communist forces lost the battle for several reasons, but weather was among them.

The People’s Liberation Army correctly decided to land during a dark night at full tide, but due to the fierce northeast monsoon, the communist troops were unable to land at the designated location. They were blown by strong winds to the area between Longkou (瓏口) and Guningtou (古寧頭).

Someone has said that just as Cao Cao (曹操), a famous general during the Three Kingdoms period, was defeated by the east wind at the Battle of Red Cliff, the communist troops were defeated by northeast monsoon at the Battle of Guningtou.

According to some newspaper reports, the meteorology and earthquake agreements are the first pacts with China to have gone through Taiwan’s national security review mechanism. Since they might involve exchanges of meteorological and geological information relevant to military agencies, airports and important technological facilities, there are concerns that the agreements will have an impact on national security.

The two sides have therefore said that the exchanges will be limited to public information that the sides have posted on the Internet. However, a closer reading of the two pacts shows that the scope of cooperation includes exchanges of meteorological data and information as well as technical and personnel cooperation.

The agreement covers almost all meteorological affairs, including future joint meteorological research. This raises the question of whether such deep and comprehensive cooperation will bring any negative effect. Is the government fully confident that it will be able to control the overall situation? Will information exchanges be restricted strictly to data posted online, and if so, why the need to sign the agreements?

Cross-strait relations have grown closer and — beyond these two latest pacts — the two sides have signed 19 agreements within five years. Most of the agreements are highly technical, but have had great political and economic effects, although the legislature has been unable to monitor the government during the negotiation process.

When Taiwan and China signed the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) in 2010, the government said that the pact would boost the economy and drive the GDP to take a great leap forward. Did that happen?

Then the government said that the ECFA failed to achieve its goal because the resulting deregulation was not far-reaching enough and that it was necessary to sign a cross-strait service trade agreement.

In addition, there are plans to sign an agreement on trade in goods, an agreement on aviation safety and airworthiness standards and an agreement on taxation — all of which could be proposed at any time now.

Although meteorological and geographic information involves national security, Taiwan and China are still exchanging such information. Why and how can Taiwan benefit from this? The government has offered no explanation.

It echoes the last scene of French author Alphonse Daudet’s story The Last Lesson — in which an instructor teaches a final French language lesson before the French government ceded his hometown to Prussia.

As Daudet wrote: “‘My friends,’ said he, ‘I — I — ‘ But something choked him. He could not go on. Then he turned to the blackboard, took a piece of chalk, and, bearing on with all his might, he wrote as large as he could: ‘Vive La France!’ Then he stopped and leaned his head against the wall, and, without a word, he made a gesture to us with his hand: ‘School is dismissed — you may go.’”

Remembering that story, “Say Goodbye to Taiwan,” an article by John Mearsheimer, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, published by the National Interest journal, in which he predicts that China’s continued rise might lead to Taiwan’s unification with China, comes as no surprise.

Chiang Huang-chih is a professor of law at National Taiwan University.

Translated by Eddy Chang