With the commotion slowly dying down after Saturday's elections, cross-strait observers yesterday re-examined the nation's ties with China and the US, asking the question that now looms large for the government: Where do we go from here?
The question is particularly difficult to answer in light of election results that promise legislative gridlock, especially on bills as divisive as the US arms procurement package and constitutional reform. While domestic consensus has proven elusive on both bills, election observers at a Formosa Foundation forum yesterday in Taipei pointed to the significant impact that both bills will have on ties with the US and China.
"There is a great deal of annoyance in Washington over [the arms procurement bill]," said June Teufel Dreyer, head of the department of political science at the University of Miami. "That it is caught up in partisan quibbling does not help."
She explained that it "costs something for Washington to offer Taiwan arms," noting the US had to deal with Chinese anger over the arms package.
Shelley Rigger, a Brown Associate Professor of Political Science, echoed Dreyer's sentiments yesterday.
"Many people in the US wonder if Taiwan has any plans not only for its own defense but also to protect its own interests in this dilemma," Rigger said. "The mood in Washington is critical and quite irritable on this issue."
Local cross-strait experts also stressed the need for serious post-election reflection on the arms bill.
"The pan-blues argue that [the arms procurement bill] is a waste of money," said Institute for National Policy Research executive director Lo Chih-cheng (
Lo explained that the pan-blue camp's resistance to the bill could have been interpreted as opposition for the sake of opposition during the runup to the legislative elections.
"Whether Taiwan has the political will to defend itself will affect whether the US will come to Taiwan's aid," Lo said. "The pan-blues will have to come to face the reality of US pressure [on this matter]."
Ross Munro, co-author of The Coming Conflict with China and director of the Asian Studies Center for Security Studies in Washington, also drove that point home by describing scenarios under which the US would be unable or unwilling to come to Taiwan's aid in the event of an attack by China.
"Some believe the US will always come to Taiwan's rescue if China attacks, but I think this is a reckless assumption," Munro said. "How do you define `attack'?"
Munro noted that action by China could fall well short of a full-blown missile attack or military blockade.
"[It could] be some kind of symbolic or pinprick attack to humiliate Taiwan," Munro said. "[China] could seize an island, destroy unoccupied military assets ... and follow this with an assertion that China reserves the right to do it again."
That would be a way for China to humiliate Taiwan without triggering a US reaction, he said.
"This could happen in a matter of two hours. Under strained relations, can you be sure the US will come to Taiwan's rescue?" Munro asked.
He further predicted that "pinprick attacks" were a real danger, and could happen as soon as next year.