President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) should present “clearer and bolder policies with precision” on the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) and the South China Sea territorial disputes and improve Taiwan’s “hard power” rather than dwell on talks of “soft power,” panelists in a forum said yesterday.
“Ma’s overemphasis of soft power and neglect of Beijing’s military threats have not been a healthy development for Taiwan,” Lin Cheng-yi (林正義), a researcher at the Institute of European and American Studies at Academia Sinica, said at the forum on escalating tensions in Asia.
China and the US began to highlight soft power in the Asia-Pacific region only after they were well equipped with substantial hard power, Lin said, while Taiwan had paid little attention to and has been relatively quiet on the Diaoyutais and the South China Sea issues.
Under Ma’s leadership, Taiwan has chosen to talk about only the “good things,” such as its closer economic integration with China, and has been reluctant to address China’s military threat, the potential of a military conflict, as well as Taiwan’s role in regional security, he said.
“The subtle change in Taiwan’s policymaking process and judgement appeared to have been influenced by a change of values since Ma took over as president in May 2008,” Lin said.
Political analysts said that Taiwan appeared to have aligned itself with Beijing on the territorial disputes, despite the Ma administration repeatedly claiming it would not collaborate with China on the issues.
The Ma administration should actively make its voice heard in the international community and carefully craft its policy toward the disputed regions by dividing the agenda into various segments, Lin said.
“We could collaborate with China in the South China Sea on certain issues, such as environmental sustainability. Then again, we could confront China in other areas,” he added.
On the Diaoyutais, Lin said that Taiwan, Japan and China should remain calm in dealing with the issue.
If Ma wanted to prove he could successfully manage the Diaoyutai Islands dispute, he should start by finding a solution for fishing rights issues for Taiwanese fishermen, instead of engaging in rhetoric over sovereignty, he said.
Responding to a public opinion poll released yesterday, which showed that more than 50 percent of Taiwanese support cross-strait cooperation on territorial disputes, Lin said the interesting thing was that the opinion was “actually the opposite of Ma’s own pledge [of no cooperation].”
The survey, conducted by the Taiwan-based China Times and the China-based Global Times, showed that 52 percent of Taiwanese polled support cross-strait cooperation on the Diaoyutais dispute and 48 percent support cross-strait collaboration on conflicting interests in the South China Sea.
Ma has trapped himself in a dilemma on these two issues, not knowing which camp to side with — the Chinese or the US-Japan alliance, said Liu Shih-chung (劉世忠), director of the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Department of International Affairs.
The DPP’s position on the territorial dispute has been very clear, Liu said, as the party stresses safeguarding sovereignty over the islands currently under Taiwan’s control, peaceful resolution, maritime affairs cooperation and environmental sustainability.
While Taiwan has been kept out of ASEAN’s dialogue over the South China Sea issue, it should clearly express its support of the US initiative of a code of conduct, as well as a peaceful resolution and the right to free navigation in the region, Liu said.