China has become “short-sighted” in its dealings with Taiwan, former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) chairman Richard Bush told a Harvard conference.
The nation’s “relative marginalization” was not due to anything idiosyncratic about Taiwan, but rather how China has pursued its long-standing political goal of unification, he said.
Addressing a conference on Taiwan’s role in East Asia, Bush, who is now director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, said that China has become the center of a truly regional economy.
He said that a “noodle bowl” of free-trade agreements and other preferential arrangements had emerged in East Asia, but that Taiwan had been excluded.
There was a fear, Bush said, that growing economic interdependence with China would lead Taiwan to “slip inexorably into China’s political control.”
He said the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has normalized, liberalized and institutionalized cross-strait economic relations, while the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has been “reserved” about interdependence with China.
Bush said that he believes the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has the better approach.
“It understands that trade liberalization is necessary, not just to provide better and equal market access, but also to stimulate structural reform and change the status quo of Taiwan’s economy,” he said.
“The Ma administration has judged that Taiwan will have a chance to do liberalization with Taiwan’s other trading partners only if it does liberalization with China first, because Beijing will use its political clout to get those other trading partners to refuse to liberalize with Taiwan,” he said.
Bush said the DPP says that such “sequencing” is unnecessary.
There is a need, he said, to address concerns that economic interdependence is a slippery slope to political subordination.
“There is a slope, but it doesn’t have to be slippery, as long as Taiwan has a good sense of its interests regarding political and security matters,” Bush said.
He said that when it comes to deterring China’s military threat or defending Taiwan against the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) attacks if deterrence fails, “the United States is the only game in town.”
“No Asian power is interested in making a significant contribution to Taiwan’s security,” Bush said.
Driving Taiwan from the international system was always a means to a higher end — to induce unification, he said.
However, for Beijing to secure voluntary consent to unification it needs a very broad consensus that it is in Taiwan’s long-term interests.
“The Taiwan public has long sought dignity in the international community, so efforts by China to deny that dignity through a policy of marginalization only fosters anti-unification sentiment,” Bush said.
He argued that the only way Taiwan can achieve long-term prosperity is to carry out multi-directional economic liberalization and that China’s efforts to block that liberalization would leave Taiwanese worse off economically.
“That is an outcome that will undermine China’s unification goals much more than the denial of dignity,” Bush said.
In that case, he said, the policy of marginalization becomes self-defeating.
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