Saturday, February 27, 2010

Same subject, different takes

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won three of the four local by-elections today, including wins in traditionally Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) strongholds. It also increased its vote percentage in all four elections. Even in Hualien County, a KMT base, defeated DPP candidate Hsiao Bi-khim (left, holding bouquet) managed to raise the party’s share of votes from 29 percent to a record 41 percent (it’s probably a good thing that Hsiao didn’t win in Hualien; she is far too talented and connected to be locked down in local politics in Hualien, and her skills can be put to better use for the party at the central level).

As of this writing, two wire agencies — Reuters and The Associated Press — have reported on the vote. It is interesting to see how differently the agencies can report the news. First, here’s AP’s:

Taiwan’s ruling party suffered its third major electoral setback in two months Saturday, losing three of four by-elections despite the president's efforts to boost his sagging public support. The main opposition [DPP] won legislative seats in Hsinchu, Taoyuan and Chiayi counties, the Central Election Commission said. The ruling [KMT] won one seat in Hualien … The DPP’s strong showing is sure to boost its morale, allowing it to hit harder at President Ma Ying-jeou, especially his signature policy of forging closer economic ties with rival China.

Now here’s Reuters’; see if you can tell the difference:

Taiwan’s anti-China opposition party picked up two extra seats in legislative by-elections on Saturday, handing another loss to the ruling party that has pursued a detente with Beijing. The [DPP], which advocates Taiwan’s formal independence, won three of four seats, including one they held before, following months of popular discontent with the [KMT]. Sustained strength of the opposition could be a drag on Taiwan stocks, as investors might fear a freeze in recent moves towards greater trade a economic cooperation between Taiwan and China.

Aside from the “rival China,” AP remains neutral in its reporting and sticks to the facts. Reuters, however, gratuitously dramatizes the whole thing and shows its biases: The DPP is “anti-China” (a lie, except for the really deep-green, perhaps) while the KMT has “pursued détente.” In other words, the DPP is irrational, a “troublemaker” and “against” something, while the KMT is pragmatic and stands for “peace.” Then the wins are portrayed as a threat to the stock exchange and the proposed economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) between Taiwan and China. In other words, investors should “fear” wins by the DPP because the latter is supposedly bad for the economy.

In its first report, Kyodo, the Japanese news agency, also stuck to the facts, with a slight (and far less overt) spin in favor of the DPP.

It is said that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder; so does journalistic neutrality, it would appear.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Something big is coming

Independent sources have informed me that a well-known international wire agency has been sitting on a “big” Taiwan/China story “for weeks” and that it may be on the brink of making it public. The reasons for the delay, I was told, were “a request from China” as well as fears that making it public now would have an impact on this weekend’s by-elections in Taiwan. The news could be released by Sunday, I was told. One source said the story behind the news embargo was possibly as fascinating as the breaking news itself.

While a source told me that in recent months “bits” of news have pointed toward this development, it is, at this point, difficult to conjecture on what this might be. Still, based on what has been made available to me, it is possible to make a few observations:

(a) if the news is being held at the request of Chinese authorities, it means that the “feared consequences” of releasing it prior to the elections would be deleterious to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidates. Otherwise, if it cast the KMT in a positive light (at least with pan-green voters), Beijing would have expedited the release and lifted the embargo so that its beneficial impact were felt before people cast their vote;

(b) tell-tale signs over the past months; the possibilities include (in increasing “controversy” order):

- The opening of Straits Exchange Foundation-Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait offices on both sides, though this isn’t highly controversial and would only have a marginal impact on the elections;

- A visit by senior provincial Chinese leaders. On Feb. 24, Xinhua news agency reported that the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office had announced that an undisclosed number of such officials would soon be dispatched to Taiwan. Again, there is a precedent for this and the controversy level or potential of a negative impact on the election’s outcome is minimal;

- A visit to Taiwan by a senior Chinese Communist Party official, or by a senior KMT official to China. One the Chinese side, Premier Wen Jiabao — who has expressed his desire of visiting Taiwan one day — comes to mind;

And, as our most controversial candidates because President Ma Ying-jeou has said that both would not occur in his first term:

- A summit meeting, possibly in a neutral location, between Chinese President Hu Jintao and Taiwanese President Ma.

- The beginning of negotiations on a cross-strait “peace agreement.”

Other developments that I have discarded because they would potentially have a positive impact on KMT candidates’ chances of getting elected include an announcement by Beijing that it will de-target or dismantle the 1,500 ballistic missiles it aims at Taiwan; allowing Taiwan’s participation at the WHO; and (highly unlikely) a delay in economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) negotiations.

Stay tuned. This could be a very interesting weekend.

Ma ‘error’ throws Taiwan back two decades

The Presidential Office last week quickly corrected an “error” made after a meeting between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and US Representative James Sensenbrenner Jr. The “error” came in a post- meeting press release that quoted Ma as referring to the two sides of the Taiwan Strait as “nations.” It was later changed to “two areas” on the Presidential Office Web site.

The following day, Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) told reporters that Ma would never make such a “mistake” and reaffirmed the administration’s adherence to the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution, which, when taken literally — as Wang did — signifies that China is an “area” of the ROC. Wang also underscored that Taipei does not recognize the sovereignty of the Chinese Communist Party.

The use of “areas” to describe Taiwan and China, he said, reflected the longstanding “status quo” in the Taiwan Strait and was followed by the administrations of former presidents Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

This last characterization, however, masks a far more complex shift in Taiwan that began in 1991 with what authors Bruce Jacobs and I-hao Ben Liu describe in their paper “Lee Teng-hui and the Idea of Taiwan” as the recognition by the ROC on Taiwan “that it did not control the Chinese mainland.” In other words, Lee sought to fix Taiwan as the limit of the ROC’s jurisdiction. This would lead to six constitutional amendments under Lee, changes to the final clause of the first phase of the National Unification Guidelines (國家統一綱領) and the termination of the Temporary Provisions Effective during the Period of National Mobilization for the Suppression of the Communist Rebellion (動員勘亂時期臨時條款).

My analysis, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

After the Eastern storm

Some took issue with the lack of French content. Others focused on the small glitch at the end of the ceremony, when one of the legs forming the Olympic torch failed to rise. A few have complained about the fact that the other torch — the one displayed outside — is surrounded by barbed wire and inaccessible to the general public.

For this author, it was the exploitation of Aborigines: Even though they were given prominent position during the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, Canada’s natives continue to be treated as second-rate citizens by the Canadian government and remain largely impoverished.

Case in point: Of the 206 athletes who are representing Canada in the Games, only one — snowboarder Caroline Calve from Quebec — is an Aborigine. If the Canadian team were truly representative of Canada’s ethnic fabric, there would be seven or eight Aborigines on the team (about 4 percent of the population identify as Aboriginal). Canada will also have only one Aborigine — Colette Bourgonje — at the Paralympic Winter Games next month.

That some of the “authentic” First Nations Olympic souvenirs were found to have been manufactured in China, Italy and Thailand, when one in four children in First Nations communities lives in poverty (the highest rate is in British Columbia), also underscores the handicap that Canada’s Aborigines face today.

That said, artistic director David Atkins gave us an eyeful on Feb. 12, turning BC Place in Vancouver into a dreamlike scene that blended actors, dancers, an unprecedented use of projectors, as well as poetry and music. For many, the highlights were the wonderful narration by Canadian actor Donald Sutherland and K.D. Lang’s haunting rendition of the great Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, where the signer stood, alone, among millions of bright stars in the night.

Above all, the ceremony distinguished itself through its focus on the individual and its embrace of difference. Carrying the Olympic flag, for example, were individuals such as Romeo Dallaire, who led UN peacekeeping forces during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The torch, meanwhile, was carried in by Rick Hansen, a paraplegic athlete. Lang is lesbian. Hockey great Wayne Gretzky did not light the torch alone; he was one among equals.

This was quite the contrast with the opening ceremonies in Beijing in August 2008, where the individual could not be distinguished from the masses and where a child was deemed not pretty enough (she had crooked teeth) to sing before the public and was therefore replaced by a picture-perfect lip-synching stand-in. Beijing gave many a frisson, a spectacular feat that sent a chill down one’s spine. It screamed nationalism unleashed, the setting in motion of a wheel that crushed the individual on its road to glory. And criticism of the ceremony — at least domestically — was silenced.

In the end, Atkins’ work was far more moving for its centering on the individual and its humility in design. It was much more intimate and drew the spectator in rather than keep him at bay. However grandiose Zhang Yimou’s (張藝謀) Beijing feat may have been, it was difficult to connect emotionally with his work. It was exclusive rather than inclusive, meant to intimidate rather than to inspire.

Ultimately, Vancouver showed maturity and confidence, something that was lacking in Beijing — and continues to be lacking today. Humility can be strength where muscular fanfare is a sign of weakness.

This article appeared on Feb. 24 in the Taipei Times.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Su Chi out, Hu Wei-jen in

State-owned Central News Agency called it a “surprise,” but it was anything but. National Security Council (NSC) Secretary-General Su Chi (蘇起) announced his resignation today, stating “health” and “family” reasons. Of course, his role in the US-beef debacle late last year, added to immediate voting considerations for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), are the main reasons why he is leaving his post. As I argued in an analysis last month, though a close confidant to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), Su’s image as NSC chief had become toxic for the administration. With calls for his resignation mounting, it no longer was a question of if, but when.

The timing, just one day before the nation goes on an 11-day Lunar New Year holiday, was perfect, as the story will be quickly forgotten and the blow to the image of the Ma administration will be minimal.

With Su’s resignation already approved by his former high-school buddy Ma, in comes Hu Wei-jen (胡為真) to replace him. Hu, a retired diplomat with 35 years of experience, was a first deputy director of the National Security Bureau, NSC vice chairman under former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and served as the nation’s envoy to Germany and Singapore. He resigned from his post in Singapore in 2007 in protest at the Chen administration’s “de-sinification” campaign.

“Since we are all clearly Chinese, I do not approve of some of the policies [adopted by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration],” he famously said upon his resignation.

After leaving Singapore, Hu went to Harvard University, where he served as a visiting scholar.

Hu’s critics said he had a tendency to put his personal views above his political duties, which explains why his tenure under the DPP government was not a smooth one. Based on his comments, it is clear that he is of the old KMT mentality of adherence to the Republic of China and that people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are “Chinese.” In that respect at least, this will ensure continuity at the NSC, because this was also Su’s position. As Su fell out of favor with the US — which many sources in Washington confirmed — Hu’s presence at Harvard may have given US officials some time to get to know him. In other words, he might be “acceptable” to US officials who no longer wanted anything to do with Su.

We can also expect that Hu will play a less controversial, “back-seat” role at the NSC, as it has proven clear that Su’s publicity-attracting role caused Ma headaches and undermined the party’s image. His influence on Ma will certainly be less than Su’s, especially with King Pu-tsung (金溥聰) serving as KMT secretary-general, who was brought in fix the party’s image and address disunity.

For pan-green supporters who wanted Su to remain at the NSC because his presence made Ma’s life more difficult (and therefore further discredited the KMT), his stepping down might not be welcome. But we can look at it differently and breathe in relief, as this removes from the top echelon of government an official who had questionable ties with the Chinese Communist Party and who was a dangerous influence on the president. It does not appear that Hu’s ties with Beijing are as close as Su’s.

Here’s a little bit of background. Hu is the son of Army general Hu Zongnan (胡宗南), the “Eagle of the North-West,” who was one of Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) commanders. Historical documents show that Hu’s confidential secretary tipped off the Communist leadership before an attack on Yenan in the spring of 1947, giving them plenty of time to flee ahead of the operation. In their biography of Mao Zedong (毛澤東), Jung Chang and John Halliday claim that Hu father was a Communist “sleeper” who “engineered repeated disasters that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of KMT soldiers” (quoted in Fenby, 337). After the publication of their book, Hu Wei-jen asked Jung and Halliday to rewrite the part about his father.

Presidential Office explains reasons behind foreign media snub at ECFA briefing

The Presidential Office on Tuesday commented on why foreign media had not been allowed to attend a briefing by Ma on the ECFA.

In an e-mail to the Taipei Times, Taiwan Foreign Correspondents’ Club (TFCC) president Robin Kwong (鄺彥暉) said that after receiving a complaint letter from the TFCC, the Presidential Office told him that the meeting was intended as a “gathering between the president and the local journalists’ association” and was not a press event.

“It was therefore not open to not just foreign media, but also local media who were not members of the journalists’ association [btb Association of Taiwan Journalists],” Kwong said.

As a last-minute solution, foreign media were allowed to watch the event on a video link at the Presidential Office press room.

Kwong said the Presidential Office was focusing on improving its communication on ECFA-related matters with the domestic audience after being criticized for its handling of the US beef issue in recent months.

“If the president [is] going to talk about an issue as important as [an] ECFA, then it is no longer just a social gathering,” Kwong told the Presidential Office, adding that the TFCC was “especially concerned” because Tuesday’s briefing was not just a one-off event, but a regular monthly briefing.

“The Presidential Office’s response was that they would not change the arrangements for yesterday [Tuesday], but that President Ma would hold a similar briefing with the TFCC in early April,” Kwong said.

This section of a longer article on ECFA appeared today in the Taipei Times.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Presidential Office snubs foreign media on ECFA briefings

The Taiwan Foreign Correspondent’s Club (TFCC) yesterday lodged a protest with the Presidential Office after being informed that foreign reporters would not be allowed to attend Ma’s briefing. The directive is expected to apply to all subsequent monthly briefings. The TFCC was told that foreign correspondents would be able to watch in real time from the Presidential Office press room.

TFCC president Robin Kwong said he only learned of yesterday’s briefing a day earlier.

In a letter to the Presidential Office, Kwong wrote that the decision “set a regrettable and unhealthy precedent for future interactions between the Presidential Office and foreign press,” adding that ECFA negotiations “will have repercussions for those living beyond [Taiwan, who] have as much a right to know about what is happening as those primarily served by the local media.”

The arrangements for yesterday’s press conference were “unacceptable” and the TFCC would be “deeply outraged” if this were to become a template for future briefings on ECFA, Kwong said. (The above appeared in the Taipei Times yesterday.)

I communicated this with Reporters Without Borders Asia, which responded by calling it a "disturbing development."

What is the Ma administration afraid of? Why should foreign media, by virtue of their not being invited to the briefings, not be allowed to ask questions? For an administration that claims that it's main problem in selling the ECFA is poor communication, excluding foreign media is an incomprehensible move. This decision also lends credence to claims by Freedom House and other observers that press freedoms under the Ma administration have suffered, so much so that while attending a dinner at the official residence of Canada's de facto ambassador to Taiwan on Tuesday night, many guests asked me to comment on freedom of the press in Taiwan and whether it was true that the environment is becoming less friendly to journalists — and that was before the foregoing news were publicized!

Interestingly, state-owned CNA wrote that: “At Ma’s press conference, which drew large numbers of local and foreign reporters, he directed most of his comments to local farmers and workers, detailing reasons why Taiwan needs to sign a trade pact China,” which obviously isn’t right (italics added).

Kwong's full letter, a copy of which I received as a TFCC member:

February 9, 2010

The Presidential Office

To Spokesperson Tony Wang:

The Taiwan Foreign Correspondents Club would like to register its protest over President Ma Ying-jeou's plan to hold regular monthly press conferences on Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) that are open only to local media. We believe this would set a regrettable and unhealthy precedent for future interactions between the Presidential Office and foreign press.

ECFA is a matter of interest to those beyond Taiwan. What your government decides to sign with the People's Republic of China will have repercussions for those living beyond this island and they have as much a right to know about what is happening as those primarily served by the local media.

Even within Taiwan, public opinion of ECFA will hinge on how the agreement is viewed internationally. It would be in Taiwan's best interest if the leaders and businessmen of other countries are kept well informed of ECFA, and foreign press is crucial in this regard.

We find your arrangements for this afternoon's press conference unacceptable and would be deeply outraged should it become a template for future press conferences on ECFA. We see no reason why foreign media should be excluded from asking questions of the President, nor why we should not be allowed to attend the press conference.

We also find your argument that we could always just watch the event from a CCTV feed in the press room disingenuous, considering the fact that neither the Presidential Office nor the Government Information Office even bothered to notify foreign press of this event in advance.

The Club, which represents the majority of foreign media in Taiwan, therefore urges your office to reconsider the decision to bar foreign reporters from tomorrow's and future press conferences. This simply does not befit a government that has been lauded for its respect for the freedom of the press.

Yours sincerely,

Robin Kwong
President, Taiwan Foreign Correspondent's Club

Sunday, February 07, 2010

University off PRC’s approval list after Dalai Lama honored

Amid clear warnings by Beijing that US President Barack Obama should avoid meeting the Dalai Lama at the White House later this month, another development involving the exiled Tibetan leader has gone unnoticed. On Sept. 30, the University of Calgary awarded an honorary degree of laws — the university’s highest honor — to the Dalai Lama.

Three months later, the University of Calgary was dropped from the Chinese Ministry of Education’s accreditation list of universities for Chinese students desiring to study abroad, the Calgary Herald newspaper reported on Thursday.

The Hotline for Overseas Studies Service Center in Beijing had the following advice for Chinese students: “If you don’t already go to that school, it is better not to go because you will face risks.”

The hotline recommends Chinese students choose their university only from among those on the list.

While an operator at the center told the Herald that degrees for Chinese students who are already studying at the University of Calgary would be certified by the ministry, she said that “the policy might change” in coming years.

Asked by the Herald why Beijing had blacklisted the university, a spokeswoman at the Chinese Consulate in Calgary said the university “should know.” The Herald also reported that in April, Chinese consulate officials had met representatives of the university to express their opposition to the Dalai Lama visiting the campus.

The spiritual leader did not go to the campus.

“We have offended our Chinese partners by the very fact of bringing in the Dalai Lama, and we have work to resolve that issue,” university spokesperson Colleen Turner told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC) on Thursday.

The university knew its decision to give the Dalai Lama an honorary degree could “anger” Beijing, she said.

University officials were trying to determine what the ministry’s decision would mean for current Chinese students and alumni and their chances of finding employment once they returned to China.

About 600 students from China and Hong Kong are enrolled at the University of Calgary. On average, tuition for foreign students is three times higher than for local students.

One Chinese student, who only gave her name as “Jessie,” told CBC she was afraid she would not be able to find a job when she returns home.

“I’m international and I’m paying triple the tuition, and that’s a lot of money, and my parents are the ones paying for that,” the third-year student said.

“I just don’t want to waste all that money because they work really hard to support me,” she said.

She said she knew the Chinese government would react harshly to the Dalai Lama’s visit.

This article was published today in the Taipei Times.

Book Review: A tale of two city-states

At first glance, Hong Kong and Singapore could be twins, but the manner in which the authorities handled political dissent led to very different results. What happened?

It has often been said that democracy is not endemic to Asia, or that its development is inevitably stunted by so-called “Asian values” or “Chinese characteristics.” Opponents of this view, meanwhile, argue that modernization leads to democratization as an increasing number of groups and individuals are empowered and therefore become more prone to challenge the authorities. This has led to the belief — and hope — that modernity, oft-defined as the adoption of capitalism, will transform a state from within and initiate the process of democratization.

If this were the case then China, of all countries, would be expected to be the next country on the democracy waiting list. And yet, there are hardly any signs that it is about to do that. How do we explain this?

As “most similar cases,” two Asian city-states — Singapore and Hong Kong — allow us to experiment with the impact of modernity on post-colonial regimes with a tradition of “soft authoritarianism.” By following the emergence of contention alongside rapid economic development in the city-states and how the authorities responded to that challenge, we can establish whether democratization is a teleological phenomenon — in other words, that modernity/capitalism inevitably leads to democracy — or if other preconditions are necessary for this transformation to occur.

This is what Stephan Ortmann, assistant professor of comparative politics at Fern University in Hagen, Germany, undertakes in
Politics and Change in Singapore and Hong Kong. To this end, Ortmann presents a detailed analysis of the ruling elites in Singapore and Hong Kong, as well as the oppositional groups that have challenged their authority.

My review of Ortmann's book, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Fear, lawsuits and self-censorship

Last year, a retired intelligence officer and a journalist co-authored a book about foreign espionage in Canada. In one section of the book, the authors indirectly referred to a locally based organization that lobbied for a certain foreign government. They claimed that this organization may have received money from that foreign government’s intelligence agencies to pressure Ottawa into supporting a bill that condemned another government for crimes committed in a war more than half a century ago.

Soon after the book was published, some local newspapers carried reviews of it and a former member of parliament (MP) linked it on his blog. Eventually, said organization filed lawsuits against the authors, their publisher, the newspapers that carried the review and the owner of the newspapers, as well as the former MP.

My opinion piece, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Taiwan’s Air Force buys choppers from Eurocopter

Washington-based weekly Defense News reported on Tuesday that the Taiwan Air Force had selected the Eurocopter EC225 helicopter, a medium-lift helicopter, for search and rescue operations. The US$111 million contract for three helicopters, which is to be signed in the next few days, was awarded in December and includes an option for a total of 20 helicopters, Defense News reported.

US-based Sikorsky Aircraft Corp, a subsidiary of United Technology Corp, was also a bidder for the deal with its S-92 Helibus medium-lift helicopter.

Eurocopter is a subsidiary of European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), which is headquartered in the Netherlands.

Through its many subsidiaries, EADS produces civilian aircraft (Airbus), satellite technology (Astrium) and various weapons systems, from missiles to combat aircraft.

The military deal is the first made by a European defense company since the sale of Mirage 2000 aircraft and Lafayette-class frigates in the early 1990s.

Since then, European firms have shied away from major military sales to Taiwan for fear of compromising lucrative sales in the Chinese market.

According to its Web site, Eurocopter recorded a turnover of 4.6 billion euros (US$6.38 billion) globally, of which 896 million euros was in Asia. This marked a turnover growth of 58 percent for Eurocopter in the Asia-Pacific region.

Eurocopter is also in a partnership with the Aviation Industry of China in the development of EC175/Z15 helicopters.

China’s Maritime Surveillance Agency also possesses EC225 helicopters.

The news comes in the wake of an announcement by Washington of a US$6.4 billion arms package to Taiwan last month, to which Beijing retaliated with the suspension of military contacts and the threat of sanctions against US firms involved in the deal — including Sikorsky, which manufactures the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters included in the package.

At press time, Beijing had yet to respond to the announcement of the Eurocopter sale.

This story appeared today in the Taipei Times.

I didn't have enough room to add this to the Taipei Times story, but it should be noted that Eurocopter had already sold helicopters to Taiwan, namely to the National Police Agency's Civil Defense Headquarters. By not directly selling to the military, however, Eurocopter may have avoided drawing Beijing's ire. It will be interesting to see how Beijing reacts, as this one is definitely a sale to the Taiwanese military. I am also awaiting comments from the EADS branch office in Taipei and Eurocopter representatives in Singapore and the Netherlands.

Wendell Minnick of Defense News, who broke the story from Singapore, where he is covering the air show, also told me on Thursday that many people were confused by the news, believing that Eurocopter winning the bid meant that Taiwan would not be purchasing Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. These are two unrelated purchases; the Eusocopter is a search-and-rescue helicopter bought by the Air Force, while the UH-60s are being bought by the Taiwanese Army.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Arms sale will not affect ECFA talks

Despite Beijing’s shrill response to the announcement on Friday that the US would submit for congressional approval about US$6.4 billion in weapons to Taiwan — a reaction that includes the suspension of military-to-military exchanges and sanctions targeted at US firms, among others — one aspect of the triangular relationship is unlikely to be affected: cross-strait negotiations on an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA).

Some analysts have suggested that China is expected to punish Taiwan over the arms announcement by suspending economic exchanges. Raymond Wu, managing director of the Taipei-based political risk consultancy e-telligence, told Reuters’ Ralph Jennings that the signing of an ECFA, which Taipei hopes to achieve sometime in the middle of this year, could be pushed back as far as 2011.

This is highly unlikely, however. First of all, prior to the arms sale announcement, Beijing had already stated the possibility that there could be delays in the signing of an ECFA, which tells us that differences over the nuts and bolts of the agreement, rather than external factors such as weapons sales, could affect the timeline.

Secondly, Beijing has focused its wrath on Washington over the arms deal, mostly because punishing Taiwan would be counterproductive. Beijing has been trying to win the hearts and minds of Taiwanese; lashing out at it would quickly undermine whatever gains it has made in that department.

Third, Beijing does not want to make the life of the increasingly unpopular President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) more difficult than it already is. Ma’s administration has been very accommodating to Beijing’s desires, and despite the occasional bump in the road, Ma is seen by Beijing as an ally, or at least as someone who will facilitate its ultimate objective of annexing Taiwan.

Finally, delaying or nixing an ECFA would go against Beijing’s long-term ambitions of unification. Notwithstanding the economic nature of the agreement, Chinese leaders have long stated — and done so publicly — that an ECFA is a means to an end, and that the end is political: unification. By tying Taiwan’s economy to that of China, Beijing is maximizing the likelihood that it will succeed in achieving “peaceful” unification. Killing that instrument over an arms sale that only superficially alters the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait is therefore not an option for Beijing, however “angry” it is.