Belmont Club

Gate is the Strait

Make it an even pair.  Australian analyst Hugh White worried that China’s expansion in the face of a retreating United States would be resisted by someone.  “The problem is less that America cannot afford a conflict with China and more that China can afford one with America. There is a big element of bluff in America’s position, as well as China’s. What if China calls America’s bluff, just as America has called China’s?” Now the Financial Times reports that America is afraid that the possible election of a Taiwanese leader unable to accomodate China would force just that.

The Obama administration has warned that a victory by Tsai Ing-wen, the Taiwanese opposition leader, in the island’s January presidential election could raise tensions with China. …

“She left us with distinct doubts about whether she is both willing and able to continue the stability in cross-Strait relations the region has enjoyed in recent years,” the official told the Financial Times after Ms Tsai met with administration officials.

The “surprisngly blunt” leak from the administration strongly suggests that Washington wished she would not win; that someone less provocative to Beijing should accede to power in Taiwan. Otherwise a situation might occur in which the President will have to defend Taiwan against the second most powerful country on earth. As Barack Obama once told Eric Cantor during the debt ceiling negotiations, “don’t call my bluff” or you might find that I’m all hat and no cattle.

Tsai Ing-wen is associated with the Pan-Green Movement which favors Taiwanese independence over a ‘reunification’ with the Mainland. Her internal appeal vis-a-vis the Kuominting Party stems mostly from the perception that the Pan-Greens are less corrupt. But in the external politics of the region, honesty counts for less than alignment. And Tsai Ing-wen threatens to overturn step on the Third Rail of East Asian politics. She may dare to openly defy China.

The Christian Science Monitor thinks it is about time that someone stopped paying lip service to the “working premise that politically dubious accommodations of Beijing are necessarily the best way to manage stable and mutually beneficial relations over the long haul. … The military build-up across the Taiwan Strait continues unabated. In general, Beijing has been unrelenting, demanding more cooperative behavior from Taipei than it is willing to reciprocate.”

At a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, Tsai Ing-wen articulated an alternative: that China should accept that a self-governing Taiwan is “normal”; that the Chinese Communist Party’s ancient enemy, the Kuomintang, had become just another political party. In her view, China would come around. But Washington is nervous, and the CSM argued that Washington’s not-so-subtle attempts to undermine Tsai were short-sighted; that it was again making the old calculation of preserving stablity over democracy and would live to rue the day.

But the boldness in Washington comes after the fact. There’s nothing like being against Mubarak after you were for him. If Taiwan should succeed in its goals the administration will certainly proclaim its foresight. But in the meantime the administration lives in fear of China, an attitude so marked that Democratic Senator James Webb was moved to say “our situation in East Asia with respect to China and China’s expansionist military activities has deteriorated. We are at a point in the South China Sea right now where we are approaching a Munich moment with China, and it’s not being discussed.”  Those are strong words from a member of the President’s own party and its no surprise that nobody wants to discuss nothing.

If anything the administrations nerves will be further jangled by a warning from China that it would not tolerate the idea there could be two countries on either side of the Taiwan Strait. There can only be one, and China believes that can only the mainland.

A Chinese government spokeswoman reiterated on Wednesday in Beijing that China views the so-called “1992 consensus” as the bedrock of cross-strait talks….

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) defines the “1992 consensus” as an agreement in which it interprets “one China” as the Republic of China on Taiwan, while Beijing defines “one China” as the People’s Republic of China.

However, US cables released by WikiLeaks on Aug. 30 show that Chinese officials and academics have a different understanding on what constitutes the consensus, with Taiwan Affairs Office Director Wang Yi (王毅) quoted in the cables as saying that the consensus means “that both sides essentially accept there is only one China.”

The problem the administration faces is that the Taiwanese may have other ideas. If Tsai Ing-wen is elected in spite of the administration’s warnings not to vote for her the White House may be in the worst of all worlds. They may have to defend a genuine democracy they don’t like against an authoritarian government to who they owe money. What a run of bad luck. Or maybe it just sucks to be weak.

Storming the Castle
Tip Jar or Subscribe for $5