Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Michael Turton's review of recent Brookings conference on cross-strait relations...

... confirms to me that my earlier pessimism about the incoming US administration's position on Taiwan isn't too far off.

Michael has a good review of a presentation by Richard Bush, former head of the US's de facto embassy in Taiwan and currently director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies. Bush, Michael says, "will no doubt oversee Taiwan policy for the Obama Administration". In his talk, Bush stressed the importance of the "process" in Taiwan-China relations and the importance of "pragmatism". Michael has some choice words for what "process" might actually mean to those emphasizing it:
The emphasis on process resulted, inevitably, in questions from the audience asking what the outcomes would be, or what the benefits of continuing the process might be. Bush dodged these and refused to specify what outcome would be desired or likely. The process was put forth as the goal, suggesting that (1) the Establishment wants to deliver Taiwan to China with a big bow-tie on it since we all know where the KMT is heading; (2) the Establishment thinks that the Taiwan-China diplomatic process is going to be like the Middle East peace process: interminable, and providing plenty of employment for diplomats, hence outcomes are irrelevant; (3) the Establishment thinks the US has little power to influence outcomes; or (4) the Establishment knows that as long as they emphasize process and appear to do China's bidding, China will be happy, while the independence movement in Taiwan will never permit the actual annexation of Taiwan to China. Hence, stalemate, no real loss. The reader may choose; I cannot.
Michael also analyzes what the dual emphasis on "process" and "pragmatism" actually means for the so-called status quo between Taiwan and China:
Many people, including many in the DPP, have expressed fear at the likely negative impact of Obama's China policy on Taiwan. I have to say that I saw nothing to reassure me on that score. Whatever the actual reasons for the Establishment's position, the emphasis on a process that can only result in Taiwan's annexation to China in some form, legitimated by an emphasis on a pragmatism that for practical purposes is ostensibly value-free, cannot be good for Taiwan. Another bit of interesting fall-out is the "ratchet effect" on the status quo -- as the process becomes the status quo, by default, moves away from it and in defense of Taiwan's sovereignty and democracy will be termed status quo violations, while moves toward China, though violations of any rational definition of the status quo, will be applauded.
All in all, rather depressing prospects. I doubt I would have voted for McCain if I were only thinking about Taiwan, but I'm sad at the prospect that the incoming Democrat administration might care as little about Taiwan as the previous administrations have.