Taiwan must be integrated into the diplomacy of Southeast Asia, a new study by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation says.
Analyzing last month’s major dispute with the Philippines over the shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman, the study says the region must “come to grips with the reality of Taiwan.”
The conservative foundation said the Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigations’ recommendation that the Philippine coast guard personnel involved in the incident be prosecuted was a “watershed development” in the dispute.
“It is a good point for the US to take stock of the diplomatic lessons the incident offers and with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations [ASEAN] meetings coming up in Brunei, help its friends in Southeast Asia absorb them,” says the study, written by Walter Lohman, director of Asian studies at the foundation.
Lohman says there are five lessons to be learned from the shooting tragedy and its aftermath.
“Taiwan’s isolation conditioned the responses from both sides and often exacerbated the dispute,” he says.
“The complete lack of venues for Taiwan’s leaders, ministers and military to interact with others in the region is absurd,” he adds.
Habits of interaction would provide a basis for trust and contact during times of crisis, and there would be less cause for Taiwan to press its case through the media, Lohman says.
Second, Taiwan should be encouraged to define its extensive claims in the South China Sea with reference to land features only and the maritime rights that derive from them, he says.
South China Sea disputes are a complex problem, but if all six parties involved defined their claims in the same language, it would serve as a good start to safely managing the problem, he says.
“Taiwan could play a positive role in making this happen,” Lohman says.
“In exchange for clarifying its claims, Taiwan’s integration into the region’s diplomatic architecture should start with formal inclusion in regional mechanisms for managing the South China Sea dispute,” he adds.
The third lesson, is that ASEAN members should take a fresh look at their “one China” policies, he says.
“ASEAN and its constituent members need not officially recognize Taiwan in order to recognize the practical need for greater bilateral diplomatic interaction with it,” the study says.
Fourth, the Philippines, Japan, ASEAN and other regional partners should work toward agreements and a diplomatic mechanism on fisheries that include Taiwan, both at the bilateral and regional levels.
The Taiwan-Japan fisheries agreement, could serve as a model for bilateral agreements between ASEAN countries and Taiwan, Lohman says. It could also spur formal inclusion of Taiwan in regional bodies such as the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC) and the Asia-Pacific Fisheries Commission.
Finally, Taiwan must be flexible, he says.
“The onus for reaching out and finding systemic solutions to the problems presented by Taiwan’s isolation predominately rests on its Southeast Asian neighbors,” Lohman says.
“In the future, particularly if the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations make efforts to reform relations with Taiwan, Taiwan would be wise to accept face-saving compromises in pursuit of the larger cause of breaking Taiwan’s isolation,” he says.
He says the US should relax restrictions on travel by Taiwanese government officials, resume Cabinet-level visits, pursue a free-trade agreement with Taiwan or encourage its membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and fill the “dangerous deficiencies” in Taiwan’s air force.