Douglas Paal, a former director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), is proposing that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) be invited to the APEC summit to be hosted by the US in Honolulu in November next year.
Such a step could dramatically reverse Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation, but would almost certainly need approval from Beijing.
Sources within the administration of US President Barack Obama refused to comment on the idea, but did not dismiss it out of hand.
Speaking at a Washington conference on “Navigating Cross-Strait Relations,” Paal — now vice president of studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace — said that an invitation to Ma would be a “win, win, win” situation.
Clearly referring to China, Paal said it was his “hope” that “we will be able to persuade everybody involved” that Ma, in his capacity as party chairman, should represent Taiwan at the APEC leaders meeting.
He said that such a development would be a “win” for Ma and his efforts to reduce tensions in the Taiwan Strait, a “win” for Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), who could then put Taiwan relations high on his list of legacies and a “win” for Obama’s diplomacy.
Paal said that Obama could be photographed “standing with these two guys or maybe, being smart, [he] could let them stand together without him.”
He told the conference, organized by George Washington University’s Sigur Center for Asian Studies, that Taiwan needed to be “patient and smart,” keep its economy moving forward, improve its education system, stay ahead of new technologies and maintain prosperity until China changes enough to accept a different kind of relationship “than the one they currently chant.”
Paal said the ultimate outcome could be something like the relationship between Austria and Germany, once united but where Austria now has “all the attributes of sovereignty.”
It could be a long-term goal, he added, and it was very important not to “give anything away now that you don’t want to give.”
Taiwan faces a big challenge, Paal said, because a sense of “self-assurance and bombast and pride is really strong in China.”
He said that it would be best to wait to negotiate the relationship until China was not on such a strong footing.
“Maybe Taiwan should have cut a deal in 1991 after Tiananmen, when China was in the world doghouse and they were having internal conflicts, but those two ships have passed and are not going to meet again, and Taiwan now has to navigate its future very cautiously to protect its privileges,” Paal said.
He said the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has so far failed to prove that it has a winning strategy for the next presidential election.
Paal said a lot would depend on which candidate the DPP chooses, but that as of now, the US should expect that the Ma government “has a strong chance of being re-elected.”
“Obviously, it’s a long way from the election and a year is a lifetime in politics, but as of now, that is how it looks,” he said.
Paal said that he was challenging the DPP to find extra appeal because in the long run, it was “best for Taiwan to alternate parties in government” and for voters to express any dissatisfaction they may have with the ruling party.