The Sunflower movement against the government’s handling of the cross-strait service trade agreement has minimized the potential for Taiwan to achieve political breakthroughs with China before President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) leaves office in 2016, a new US Congressional report said.
“The protests also appear to have called into question the political viability of Ma’s approach to cross-strait relations and the fate of the services trade agreement will be a test of that approach’s sustainability,” the report written by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission said.
The report’s release came as Center for Strategic and International Studies senior associate Joseph Bosco wrote in the National Interest that the Sunflower protests made it clear that the prospect of the nation’s peaceful unification with China under Beijing’s present administration will never be acceptable to Taiwanese.
“Strategic thinkers in Beijing need to return to the drawing board on China’s long-term relationship with Taiwan,” wrote Bosco, who served as the country desk officer for China at the Pentagon.
The Congressional report said that Taiwan’s local elections in November, and its legislative and presidential elections in 2016 could also slow down or limit advances in cross-strait economic pacts and other cooperation agreements.
“Building on recent progress on cross-strait cooperation could become less important for Ma as he focuses on domestic priorities, including improving the economy and positioning the [Chinese Nationalist Party] KMT for success,” the report said.
“Cross-strait dialogue on political issues also is unlikely to take place during the remainder of Ma’s term,” the report said.
“Political talks with Beijing are a sensitive issue for the Taiwan public, because of concern that such talks might move the sides closer to unification. According to the most recent survey of attitudes in Taiwan regarding cross-strait political relations, the vast majority of the Taiwan people supported maintaining the status quo,” it added.
Bosco wrote that the US’ “policy vagueness” on how it would react if China attacks Taiwan has encouraged Beijing to build an arsenal of attack submarines and anti-ship ballistic missiles to deter Washington from intervening on Taipei’s behalf.
“If and when an attack on Taiwan occurs, Congress will not allow this or a future administration to equivocate and it is better for China to understand that now rather than later,” he wrote.
Bosco said US President Barack Obama can eliminate this “dangerous” ambiguity by finally moving ahead with Washington’s stalled submarine provision program for Taiwan and by selling it the advanced F-16s it needs to bolster its self-defense capabilities.
“Those actions would meet the letter and spirit of the venerable Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and help ensure the regional peace and stability it was intended to serve,” he concluded.