Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Why 2012 will be a deadly deadline

In an op-ed published today in the Taipei Times — meant for publication in newspapers abroad but not picked up by any — I argue that failure to pressure the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration now on human rights, transparency and accountability in its interactions with Beijing is sowing the seeds of disaster for 2012, when Taiwanese could very well derail his plans through electoral retribution. What, in this scenario, makes 2012 such a dangerous year is that aware of this possibility, Beijing has continued apace with the modernization of its armed forces despite better relations across the Taiwan Strait. If, after coming so close to unification (its openly stated goal for the cross-strait talks), Beijing saw that its plans risked failing because of Taiwanese voters, the likelihood that it would resort to force to complete the process could be higher than it’s ever been — much higher than during the 1996 missile crisis, when Beijing’s saber rattling was much more bluff than signs of a coming attack. This piece attempts to set the record strait and to provide a counterbalance to all those “experts” who have hailed Ma’s opening as “pragmatic” and “masterful,” or claimed, without ever setting foot here, that everybody in Taiwan is on the same wavelength on how to approach talks with China.

11 comments:

Thomas said...

I am pessimistic though that voters would deal Ma a setback. Despite the constant waffling of his administration, the neverending gaffes, the lukewarm handling of the economy, and the clear lack of respect for Taiwan, there doesn't seem to be any lasting outrage. And who would voters choose over him? The DPP's approval rating is worse than the KMT's. This may be unjust, but it is what it is.

MikeinTaipei said...

Thomas: Good points, except that the KMT has yet to touch on the really contentions aspects of cross-strait talks, those that will have a political impact. Once this happens — and as I argue in my piece, Beijing will soon start applying pressure for them to be put on the agenda — I suspect the level and stridency of opposition in Taiwan will increase substantially, and with that, Ma’s unpopularity. We’ll see, but you’re right: For now, the “anger” never seems to be long-lasting.

Thomas said...

I caught your comment about political issues in your piece too. My own suspicion though is that the Ma administration will try its hardest to delay discussion of the truly contentious issues until after the campaign. Anything with political implications, such as the ECFA, will be cloaked with assurances of their supposedly non-political nature until then. Beijing is indeed impatient to begin, but their military dominance can only increase over time. For now, they have a faithful lapdog in Ma. I doubt they will raise too many obstacles (note, I did not say "objections") to playing down politics until 2012 if it helps to get him reelected and ensure a smooth path for the 2012 to 2016 period, where a quasi-handover-type agreement could be worked out without fear of political reprisal in Taiwan.

The Chinese leadership is smart. They know exactly what Taiwan's internal pressures are. I find it hard to believe that they would be stupid enough to allow impatience to deny them their goal as long as they know the goal is coming soon.

Of course, there is some uncertainty on their part. Who knows how Xi/(Li?) will handle the issue or what pressures their government will come under from other internal issues. This approach would also deny Hu/Wen the glory of a handover. But the governance at the top is still collegial.

MikeinTaipei said...

Thomas: Thanks again for what are quite perceptive comments. You’re absolutely right in that the Chinese leadership is smart. In fact, ignoring its smartness would be unwise. I also acknowledge that in most regards Beijing is pragmatic and that precipitating talks on Taiwan unification would be self-defeating. However, if there is one irrational streak in CCP minds, it’s Taiwan, and as the leadership positions itself for the new era, some hardliners may seek expedited results, especially if external events spark a new wave of nationalism, or if the economic downturn continued to harm development, in which case the Taiwan question could serve as a means to deflect criticism. All this said, my assumption that 2012 will be a pivotal year is I guess contingent on a less patient Beijing than the one you portrayed. Your view is, admittedly, entirely plausible.

Thomas said...

By the way, you may be interested to know that RealClearWorld picked up your story. This pleases me. I complained to them several months ago that they relied too heavily on the China Post, and almost never included domestic Taiwan coverage from other newspapers. The editor gave me some spiel about how CP has world-class contributors such as Frank Ching (gag) and a few others. At least I now know that a viewpoint from the other end of the spectrum can get in there from time to time.

Maybe a larger publication will pick you up after reading the story there.

MikeinTaipei said...

Thomas: Yes, I saw that. Nice indeed. It is ironic, though, that my article would be picked up by a news organization that is openly conservative, given that my political views tend to be quite liberal (I’ve been published in Counterpunch, for example). But this is something I’ve long noticed: When it comes to Taiwan, its “friends” tend to be overwhelmingly on the right. Taiwan would be in a much healthier position, I think, if both sides of the spectrum in the US embraced the notion of independence.

Thomas said...

I think that Taiwan falls into the traditional ally mould of conservatives as a bulwark against a potential enemy (national security). Recently, it also has an appealing story, which makes conservatives feel even better about it. I sometimes wonder what could have been if Bush had not been distracted in the Middle East. He might not have become the China licker he did, and Taiwan would have had more support during the Chen years. Oh well, no sense looking backwards, I guess.

Taiwan Echo said...

Mike, thanks for your wonderful analysis.

FOARP said...

Whilst I did go into a pretty heavy criticism of this piece over on my blog, as someone who has never written an op-ed for any newspaper, let alone one which I could hope to see carried by non-expat papers, I have to say that this op-ed hit at least some of the right notes. China's military build-up will go on regardless of the Taiwan straits situation, Ma is no genius and has made no great concessions, nor are there any he can make short of a timetable for reunification which can avoid the risk of 'non-peaceful reunification'.

MikeinTaipei said...

FOARP: My arguments are all fair game — no worries. Political decisions being what they are, there is no such thing as the “truth.” The best we can do is approximate based on the information we have. If I am to blame you for one thing, it is for making me write a 1,400-word response to your criticism (see latest entry) on my day off. All good wishes.

Taiwan Echo said...

Just keep a reference to a new article here:

ANALYSIS-China military threat to Taiwan rises despite detente