In 1965, Edmund Gullion, former dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, coined the term “public diplomacy” and in 1990, Joseph Nye, a former US assistant secretary of defense and dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, developed the “soft power” concept.
Since then, many countries have used these concepts as key parts of their foreign policy as they communicate with, inspire and attract the governments and people of other countries to achieve their political goal of satisfying both their own citizens and gaining recognition from other nations.
Since Taiwan’s first power transfer in 2000, both sides of the Taiwan Strait have used these concepts as they try to win the recognition and support of overseas Chinese and friends in the international community.
Taiwan has been relying on universal values such as freedom, democracy, human rights and rule of law to connect with the world and maintain dialogue with old and new overseas Chinese associations.
China has been relying on economic reform and opening up to attract foreign investors and grab the attention of overseas Chinese communities. As part of this, China has relied on large numbers of new emigrants participating in overseas Chinese affairs, changing the internal organizational structure of these groups. It has also taken advantage of the open social systems in those democratic countries to switch the recognition of these overseas Chinese associations from Taiwan to China through voting procedures.
Recently, the Soo Yuen Benevolent Association, which has a century-long history in New York, voted to switch from the Republic of China (ROC) to the Chinese flag at its 90th anniversary celebrations starting next month.
In 2002, New York’s Gee How Oak Tin Association also switched to the Chinese flag, and San Francisco’s Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association caused a controversy in 2013 by forcefully removing the ROC flag.
Some leaders of overseas Chinese communities have said in private that the change of flag at these associations has been somewhat related to the poor administrative performance of the government.
Former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has claimed that cross-strait relations were the best they had been since 1987 after he put aside the issue of Taiwan’s sovereignty during his presidency, and his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in Singapore in 2015 was the first meeting between leaders from the two sides.
However, the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association still removed the ROC flag based on the reasoning that the performance of Ma’s administration had departed from the ideals of ROC founder Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙). A reasonable conclusion is that the decision was made based on the personal interests of association officials, as well as threats and bribes from the Chinese Communist Party. Some media outlets even reported in 2015 that Beijing had offered US$20 million to the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association in exchange for its removal of the flag.
Looking back at President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administrative performance over the past two years, she has handled cross-strait relations in accordance with the ROC Constitution and the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (台灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例), and she has attempted to do so using a consistent, continuous and predictable cross-strait policy and by avoiding provocation.
China has responded with “money diplomacy,” cutting Taiwan’s diplomatic ties with four foreign allies and obstructing or suppressing the nation’s chances to participate in international affairs, while threatening non-diplomatic allies to change the title of Taiwan’s representative offices or moving them outside their nations’ capitals.
On April 25, the White House condemned China for what it said was “Orwellian nonsense” after Beijing attempted to force more than 40 international airlines not to designate Taiwan as a country on their Web sites, a trick showing that it is using “namefare” to eliminate the ROC.
In response to China’s bullying of Taiwan over the past two years, the US passed the Taiwan Travel Act as an expression of its friendliness toward Taiwan, and on July 7 it sent two destroyers to sail through the Taiwan Strait as a strong show of its opposition to Chinese behavior and as a show of support for Taiwan.
Some pro-China overseas Chinese associations have chosen to ignore realities and blame the government for its inadequate administrative performance. This has highlighted the seriousness of Beijing’s replacement of soft power with sharp power and public diplomacy with external propaganda to infiltrate overseas Chinese associations.
Faced with these changes in the overseas Chinese organizations, the government should announce that Taiwan must not lose any associations that follow Sun’s ideals, but that it does not want any associations that curry favor with Beijing and follow its communist ideals.
Masao Sun is a former diplomat.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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