A-bian’s foreign policy ‘underrated’

By Chris Wang  /  Staff reporter

Sun, Mar 24, 2013 - Page 3

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said that former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) did not fare as badly in foreign policy, in particular in Taiwan-US relations, during his eight years in office as many have claimed, but recognized that the direction of the party’s future foreign policy would be more trade-oriented.

“Traditionally, security and political issues have been at the heart of the DPP’s approach to Taiwan-US relations. As bilateral trade ties are becoming an increasingly important issue, the party should submit a feasible trade policy and clarify the priority of its trade policy agenda,” the DPP’s Department of International Affairs director Liu Shih-chung (劉世忠) said.

The party’s shift in thinking should be applied to the nation’s general foreign policy formulation, Liu told a symposium on Taiwan’s diplomatic strategy, which was organized by the Taiwan International Studies Association.

Taiwan is facing a critical period in its relations with Washington as Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) negotiations recently resumed after a five-year hiatus and President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has expressed a desire for the nation to participate in talks on joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The nation would most likely be engaged on talks on the TIFA, the TPP and follow-up negotiations on the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China, and would soon have to make some tough decisions, Liu said.

Unlike Ma, who has said that cross-strait relations are the foundation of Taiwan’s overall foreign policy, the DPP has reiterated that Taiwan-China relations should be managed within a global and regional context.

Liu described former DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) trip to Indonesia as “strategically significant,” as Jakarta intends to play a leading role in talks on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), an ASEAN-dominated free-trade agreement, membership of which which could also be an option for Taiwan if it was interested.

With regards to Chen, who has been described by some as a “troublemaker” who damaged Taiwan’s — and the DPP’s — relations with Washington, Liu said that the former president’s diplomatic performance has been underrated.

Chen faced numerous constraints and interferences during his tenure, but was still able to move diplomacy forward with two TIFA negotiations, numerous overseas trips and cooperation with the US on fighting terrorism.

“If I had to use a few words to describe Chen, I would say he is a ‘pragmatic supporter of Taiwanese independence,’” Liu said.

Taiwan’s handling of the disputed Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) — which Japan and China also claim — was also raised during the symposium.

Chang Kuo-cheng (張國城), a professor at Taipei Medical University, said Taiwan would have to reassess the price it may have to pay for “over-involvement” in the disputed islands, which according to Chang’s research present little diplomatic or economic value, such as oil and fishery profits, to Taiwan.

Vietnam made US$12.8 billion from oil production in the South China Sea in 2010, Chang said, adding that even if Taiwan is able to make as much profit from oil deposits near the Diaoyutais, it would have to split profits with Japan.

The Diaoyutais issue could be critical to Taiwan’s relations with Japan and the nation has almost has no choice but to side with a Japan-US alliance on this issue, rather than manage the issue under a Taiwan-Japan-China framework, said Lai I-chung (賴怡忠), a researcher at Taiwan Thinktank.

“The presence of trilateral ties between Taiwan, Japan and the US is undeniable. Taiwan-Japan relations and the Japan-US alliance are inseparable,” Lai added.