2012 ELECTIONS: US worried by closeness of Ma to China: expert

BATTLING ACADEMICS::Gerrit van der Wees said that the root cause of cross-strait instability was that China does not wish to have a democracy on its doorstep

By William Lowther  /  Staff Reporter Washington

Sun, Jan 01, 2012 - Page 3

White House officials and members of the US Congress are concerned that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is becoming too close to China at the expense of relations with the US, says Gerrit van der Wees, a senior policy adviser to the Formosan Association for Public Affairs.

In an online article, van der Wees argues that these officials are pleased with DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) vision of “rebalancing” Taiwan’s relations and moving closer to the US and its allies in the region.

Replying to an article posted last week by US academic Bonnie Glaser of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, van der Wees disputes her contention that the administration of US President Barack Obama has a “clear preference” for Ma. “I cannot agree,” he said.

Glaser wrote that the US announcement of Taiwan’s candidacy for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and the recent spate of high-level US visits to the country were signals that Washington wanted Ma to win a second term in office.

However, “US officials have clearly stated that the VWP announcement had its own timeline, and was simply the result of Taiwan fulfilling a set of criteria set by the US,” van der Wees says. “Indeed, the negotiations on Taiwan’s participation in the Visa Waiver Program were initiated by the [former president] Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) administration and took several years in coming. Of course it is likely that the Ma administration has worked harder to fulfill those criteria with the upcoming elections in mind.”

In addition, the high-level visits could be a result of the Obama administration listening more closely to Congress where members have been increasingly vocal in arguing for more such visits, he added.

Van der Wees said that Glaser’s article was “problematic” because it portrayed US officials as having “lingering worries” and being concerned about “Tsai’s unwillingness to be forthcoming about concrete policies towards the Mainland that she would pursue if elected.”

“Perhaps these US officials should wonder aloud whether the Chinese leaders are both willing and able to continue the stability in cross-strait relations the region has enjoyed in recent years. They might add that it is far from clear that the leaders in Beijing and their advisers fully appreciate the depth of the mistrust of their motives and PRC [People’s Republic of China] aspirations in countries surrounding China and particularly in Taiwan,” he added.

“Dr Tsai has shown herself to be a creative and pragmatic thinker, but the response — from Ma and from Beijing — has been to revert to old and empty ‘One China’ mantras,” van der Wees said.

The root cause of cross-strait instability, he added was that China does not wish to have a democracy on its doorstep and that it sees Taiwan as a springboard for its power projection into the Pacific.

“Taiwan is not threatening China in any way, except by being a vibrant democracy,” he said.

It is a fiction to believe that by accommodating China on the Taiwan issue, Washington could get it to be more cooperative on other issues, van der Wees said.

“China will play hardball on those other issues no matter what happens in Taiwan,” he said. “The only way to get it to play by international rules is for the US to play hardball in return.”