Maybe there’s a reason why Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow’s Essence of Decision, a book that looks at the multiple — and often conflicting — levels involved in government decision-making, remains a classic of political science writing.
Again last week, Washington demonstrated that the manner in which governments formulate policy is anything but rational, and seldom the result of a decision by a single actor. On the Gordian knot that is the Taiwan Strait, Washington has long been of two voices — the Pentagon’s and the State Department’s. While the former emphasizes arming Taiwan in a balance-of-power struggle with China, the latter strives for better relations with Beijing, often to the detriment of Taipei, democracy and human rights in general.
What happens when two such lines of direction clash is mixed signals, which is what we were served last week in a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on the impact of last month’s election.
In the past 30 years or so, regardless of which voice was loudest, the US was seen as seeking to achieve or facilitate a peaceful resolution in the Strait, and both sides — the Pentagon and the State Department — generally stuck to that premise. So committed were they to peace, in fact, that on numerous occasions since the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) came to power in 2000, the White House and the State Department would berate it, or its “troublemaking” president, for endangering the peace or “straining” relations with Beijing.
From their perspective, it seemed that President Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) “antics” were the main reason why we couldn’t start untying the knot. Everything Chen did, from the UN referendums to the WHO bids and his trips abroad, was painted as causing trouble, and the White House and the State Department would often act in a manner that undermined his efforts and was favorable to Beijing.
Underlining all this was the premise, from the Pentagon’s perspective, that the US, busy as it is fighting its “war” on terror, could ill afford to see the situation in the Strait deteriorate to such a degree that its forces might be called upon to intervene.
One should not be surprised, then, if in the past year or so, this resulted in a sometimes overt, sometimes underhanded, support for Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) president-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who was seen as key to diminishing tensions in the Strait. While it would be unfair, given the wide margin of victory, to blame the State Department for the DPP’s loss in the election, it remains that eight years of heavy criticism cannot have helped its candidate’s cause. When Ma won, we could almost hear the sigh of relief blowing across the Pacific. At last, friendlier ties in the Strait, a chance for peace.
The festive mood lasted a week or so, whereupon other voices in Washington began to resonate. It now seemed that Taiwan may perhaps be growing too close to China, which, as the CRS report stated, could threaten US interests in the region and have a negative impact on weapons sales to Taiwan. All of a sudden, peace no longer seemed to be such a good thing.
What this all means is that rather than speaking in a single voice, governments (at least democratic ones) have at their core conflicts of interest and Washington’s wavering over the past eight years was an expression of that reality. It may very well be that in the next weeks and months, the voices clamoring for not-so-friendly ties in the Taiwan Strait will be in the ascendance.
Should this be the case, Ma may have more in common with Chen than he’d care to admit.
As China’s economy was meant to drive global economic growth this year, its dramatic slowdown is sounding alarm bells across the world, with economists and experts criticizing Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) for his unwillingness or inability to respond to the nation’s myriad mounting crises. The Wall Street Journal reported that investors have been calling on Beijing to take bolder steps to boost output — especially by promoting consumer spending — but Xi has deep-rooted philosophical objections to Western-style consumption-driven growth, seeing it as wasteful and at odds with his goal of making China a world-leading industrial and technological powerhouse, and
For Xi Jinping (習近平) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the military conquest of Taiwan is an absolute requirement for the CCP’s much more fantastic ambition: control over our solar system. Controlling Taiwan will allow the CCP to dominate the First Island Chain and to better neutralize the Philippines, decreasing the threat to the most important People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Strategic Support Force (SSF) space base, the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island. Satellite and manned space launches from the Jiuquan and Xichang Satellite Launch Centers regularly pass close to Taiwan, which is also a very serious threat to the PLA,
During a news conference in Vietnam on Sept. 10, a reporter asked US President Joe Biden about the possibility of China invading Taiwan. Biden replied that Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is too busy handling major domestic economic problems to launch an invasion of Taiwan. On Wednesday last week, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office published a document outlining 21 measures to make the Chinese-controlled Fujian Province into a demonstration zone for relations with Taiwan. The planned measures would expand favorable treatment for Taiwanese people and companies, and seek to attract people from Taiwan to buy property and seek employment in Fujian.
More than 100 Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) vessels and aircraft were detected making incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) on Sunday and Monday, the Ministry of National Defense reported on Monday. The ministry responded to the incursions by calling on China to “immediately stop such destructive unilateral actions,” saying that Beijing’s actions could “easily lead to a sharp escalation in tensions and worsen regional security.” Su Tzu-yun (蘇紫雲), a research fellow at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, said that the unusually high number of incursions over such a short time was likely Beijing’s response to efforts