Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Taiwan Hedges its Bets on China

The Second Arty fires missiles
After four years of tempered language and optimistic signalling, Taipei appears to be hardening its stance on the military threat from China. Here are possible reasons  

By a number of yardsticks, relations in the Taiwan Strait today are the best they’ve been in years, if not ever. But if a report released by Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) on Friday is any indication, Taiwanese government officials don’t appear to be convinced that such détente will last for very long.

Without doubt, the pace of normalization in relations between Taiwan and China, especially at the economic level, has accelerated dramatically since Ma Ying-jeou of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was elected in 2008, a process that is expected to continue with Ma securing a second four-year term in January. In addition to the landmark Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed in June 2010, the governments on both sides have inked 16 agreements touching on various aspects of cross-strait relations, including an agreement reached on Friday that will allow banks in Taiwan to clear renminbi transactions, a move that obviates the need for converting the currency into U.S. dollars before a transaction can be made.

Beyond trade, visits to Taiwan by Chinese officials have become almost routine, a limited number of Chinese can now study at Taiwan’s universities, Chinese tourism to the island has boomed, and joint exercises by the countries’ respective coast guards are now held every other year since 2010, mostly for the purpose of sea-rescue operations in the waters off Taiwan’s Kinmen and China’s Xiamen. While those developments have for the most part contributed to a less tense, if not amicable, environment in what was once regarded as a potential tinderbox, Taiwanese officials are aware that Beijing remains committed to far more than economic liberalization: it wants unification, and will use force if necessary.

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here, with related material here in the Taipei Times.

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