CNN‘s Christiane Amanpour interviewed Taiwan’s president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九, aired on April 30). Ma replied to her question about Taiwan’s independence that the Republic of China had been independent for 99 years, and that there was no need to declare independence twice. What seems to have caught more attention was Ma’s statement that Taiwan would never ask America to fight for Taiwan in a war. Taiwan’s former representative to the U.S., Joseph Wu (吳釗燮), said that
“[Ma] is saying that in the future it will be a walk in the park for China to invade Taiwan (…) Using the word ‘never’ means we have completely ruled out the idea of asking the US for help and that they can stand aside. This is an extremely unfair comment to make to our most important friend.”
Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴), head of the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) international department, accused Ma of drawing a line in Taiwan’s relationship with America, or eliminating the traditional American vagueness in its commitment to Taiwan’s security (在跟美國劃清界線). The president had thus de-internationalized Taiwan’s relations with China and abandoned international leeway.
Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) and presidential spokesman Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) emphasized that the president only meant to say that Taiwan was determined to defend itself. “The remark showed our determination and confidence. This is what a leader [should say],” Wu said. “Or are we going to say that we are looking for protection from other nations?”
But neither the government nor the opposition are trying to state Taiwan’s situation as it is. That’s not to say that either can paint a picture that would be definitely correct. But to suggest that Taiwan can defend itself, on its own, if China goes on a full-blown attack is a pipe dream – and easy to be identified as such by any reasonable mind.
On the other hand, the opposition could – at least for a theoretical discussion – base its arguments on hints that ASEAN and other regional countries would rather sign a free-trade agreement (FTA) with Taiwan after seeing one signed between Taiwan and China. To my knowledge, no ASEAN or other regional government has jumped up yet and told Taiwan – or the world – that they would sign FTAs with Taiwan either way.
And to suggest that America would stay on the sidelines in case of a war, simply because no request for help is being made, doesn’t look realistic either. In any case, America will only intervene if it believes it is in its own national interest – for strategic reasons, or for reasons of creditworthiness with its allies in many other parts of the world.
The question remains why Ma said what he said. Why his statement that Taiwan would “never ask”? To improve the atmosphere across the strait, with China? To improve the atmosphere across the Pacific, with America? Or both? Was it based on a completely unknown calculation?
What some Blue-Camp statements leaves the impression that they are themselves uneasy with president Ma’s statement and the implications – or the impressions anyway – it might have internationally, and particularly in Beijing. KMT legislator and chairman of the Legislative Yuan’s Diplomacy and National Defense Committee Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) suggests that the president should have used the word “won’t”, rather than “never”, so as to leave himself more leeway (同時用字也可保留一些空間).
My impression when watching the CNN interview on youtube was that the president left a much less confident impression there than in the televised ECFA debate with DPP chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on April 25. He was hardly in his best form.
Amanpour Questions President Ma on CNN, Stocks and Politics, April 30, 2010