2012 ELECTIONS: US expert urges Taiwan to show its commitment

GLOBAL AFFAIRS::A US specialist asked what Taiwan is willing to do to help fight maritime piracy, provide foreign aid and abide by WTO rules to resolve disputes

By William Lowther  /  Staff Reporter in Washington

Sat, Dec 10, 2011 - Page 3

A specialist on Asian security told a conference in Washington that the future of US-Taiwan relations was now in Taipei’s court and that “critical challenges” needed to be faced.

Shirley Kan, a specialist in Asian Security Affairs for the Congressional Research Service, said this had been a “busy and exciting year” and that both the US Congress and the administration of US President Barack Obama had shown that they “recognized why Taiwan matters.”

In an address on US policy toward Taiwan, she posed a challenging series of questions, the answers to which could determine the future of the relationship.

“There has been a great increase — a surge — in US attention being paid to Taiwan over the last year,” Kan said on Thursday at the “Taiwan in a Shifting International Landscape” conference organized by George Washington University.

“What is Taiwan doing? And what are Taiwan’s principles in the conduct of its foreign affairs?” Kan asked.

While stressing that she was not speaking on behalf of the Congressional Research Service, Kan’s questions were clearly aimed at Taiwan’s candidates for the Jan. 14 presidential election.

She said Taipei should be asked whether it was prepared to help global efforts to counter piracy and to protect its own ships so that they would not “add to the burden?”

Congress has passed comprehensive sanctions on Iran and the US is working to isolate that country for supporting terrorism, she said.

“I have not noticed Taiwan announcing its own sanctions on Iran. Will Taiwan stop buying oil from Iran?” she asked. “What is Taiwan doing in counterterrorism? Iran is a supporter of international terrorism.”

In terms of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, Kan said Taiwan had done much following the disasters in Japan and Haiti.

However, she said that while Taiwan’s foreign minister had visited Central and Latin America recently, he did not visit Haiti.

Figures provided by Taiwan showed it gave US$380 million in foreign aid last year, she said. However, that was only 0.1 percent of gross national income and well below the UN standard of 0.7 percent and the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development’s average of 0.3 percent.

Taipei should also clarify reports it will actually cut foreign aid by 13 percent in the budget for next year, she added.

While Taiwan had touted the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China, there had not been as much attention to trade with the US, Kan said.

She said there were critical concerns about the ability of Taiwan’s government to be a “reliable, trustworthy and principled partner in trade — particularly concerning American beef.”

“Since Taiwan is a member of the World Trade Organization, with American support, will Taiwan abide by the WTO? Will Taiwan resolve the dispute over US beef?” she asked.

“If Taiwan wants to be in international organizations, people will ask whether Taiwan upholds the rules and standards of international organizations,” Kan asked.

In conclusion, Kan said the US had continued a sustained support for the relationship with Taiwan.

“The ball is in Taiwan’s court. What is Taiwan doing to further strengthen the bilateral relationship and what are Taiwan’s principles when it comes to direct allies and partners? Will Taiwan restore trust in trade?” she said.

Michael Yahuda, a visiting scholar at George Washington University, said President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) had been a boon to Beijing.

He said that Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) had set an agenda and that Ma had made progress on most of the issues.

However, the consequences of following Hu’s agenda had been that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was now “very close” to winning the presidency.

If that happens, it would be much more difficult for the policies that had greatly improved cross-strait relations to continue, he said.

Beijing had to decide whether to be patient and hope its policies would eventually pay off in political terms or whether to crank up tensions and show Taiwanese that “if they carry on in this way, there is a price for them to pay,” he said.

He said Beijing’s “soft policy” toward Taiwan had been closely associated with Hu personally.

And at this time of maneuvering behind the scenes in Beijing — as a change in leadership approaches — “it does not pay to be softhearted,” he said.

He said it was much more likely that Beijing’s leaders would take more nationalistic positions as they tried to influence Taiwan elections.

If Ma wins the election, the Chinese might want to raise the level of cross-strait discussions and agreements into the political sphere.

However, a Ma victory would likely be slim and he would face a legislature that would no longer be a rubber stamp, Yahuda said.

“His room for maneuver is going to be that much more reduced,” he said.

Moving ahead and pushing the relationship with China to a higher level will be very difficult, he said, and Beijing would have to decide whether to trust Ma and give him time to work out a political deal, or whether to exert pressure.

Yahuda warned that while Beijing was well informed about Taiwan’s inner workings, it had not shown a deep understanding “about what democracy is about and how things work in democracy.”

“Of course they would welcome a Ma victory because of what the alternative is,” he said.

Yahuda said that if DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was elected next month, Beijing would not really know if it can do business with her.

“And the first step in doing business is going to be the most difficult one because she wants to reach a “Taiwan consensus” before she tries to reach across the Strait,” he said.

“Beijing may conclude that despite its best efforts, persuasion will only work if it is backed by a more active use of the threat of force, by indicating more readiness to use coercion,” Yahuda said.

“I don’t think this election will solve anything,” he said.