Heeding the Pentagon report
The Pentagon’s recent report on China’s military power raises US concerns regarding the modernization and strategic intentions of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) (“Pentagon warns on conceding to China,” March 27, page 1). Although the report said the PLA would not be able to deploy and sustain even small military units far beyond its borders before 2015, China is a regional power with global aspirations.
Double-digit growth in China’s military expenditures, coupled with the PLA’s participation in numerous international relief missions, are indications that China’s military is becoming professionalized and asserting a new role in the country’s foreign policy. As such, the PLA is geared toward developing an army that is capable of fighting and winning a short-duration conflict in the Taiwan Strait and deterring other countries from intervening.
Reserving the military option as a last resort, Beijing is pursuing a strategy that integrates political, economic, cultural and legal instruments of power.
President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) articulation of a “diplomatic truce” between Taipei and Beijing fits China’s strategy well because Taiwan has refrained from asserting itself on the international stage.
Ma has apparently given up on establishing diplomatic ties with more governments and at the same time has toned down Taiwan’s activities in the global arena.
Furthermore, although the president of Malawi expressed regret for switching diplomatic ties from Taiwan to China, the Taiwanese government has rejected his request to rebuild a relationship.
In addition, Ma modified the government’s UN campaign, foregoing last year’s opportunity to apply for UN membership and instead seeking meaningful participation in UN specialized agencies. Not surprisingly, China rebuked this proposal as well.
Ma has received praise from some international leaders for arguably ending so-called “checkbook diplomacy” and reducing cross-strait tension. Nevertheless, he should respond appropriately to actions by China that concern Taiwan’s international interests.
For instance, China’s road map for engagement with Taiwan was a focus of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s (溫家寶) address last month to the National People’s Congress. Ma did not, however, make any official response to Wen’s statement either to assert Taiwan’s position on joint economic cooperation or reaffirm the sovereignty of the Republic of China.
El Salvador, one of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, has recently expressed interest in forging formal ties with China, yet Ma has dismissed the possibility of dual recognition.
Dual recognition would be in the spirit of a diplomatic truce, as both China and Taiwan would observe the principle of “mutual non-denial,” refraining from denying each other’s existence.
Taiwan’s decision to accept dual recognition would, furthermore, demonstrate its goodwill.
As Taiwan does not have much leverage in cross-strait relations, it should take the initiative to permit its allies to recognize both Taiwan and China. This could earn Taiwan more recognition informally and formally.
With the discussion of Taiwan’s bid for observer status in the World Health Assembly (WHA) under way, Ma needs to keep national interests in mind.
Taiwan can participate in the WHA as a health entity — similar to its status in the WTO — rather than as an associate of China at the WHO. Otherwise, allowing the nation’s sovereignty to erode would be inconsistent with Ma’s policy of a diplomatic truce.
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