Randy Shriver, assistant secretary of state for East Asia from 2003 to 2005 under the Bush jr administration, worries that Washington may not understand that only the approach of supplying Taiwan with weapons for self-defense had given the country’s leaders the confidence it had taken to go to the negotiating table with Beijing. The approach had paid off, Schriver writes – “see ECFA and other recent developments”. President Ma Ying-jeou, on the other hand, understands this very well and has consistently asked the U.S. to make more modern weapons available to Taiwan.
Shriver voiced his concerns in an article for the conservative Washington Times on July 9. And he is careful not to accuse the Obama administration outright of letting Taiwan down. But apparently, he has no time to pay attention to local or regional subtleties – not when it comes to politics, anyway.
A visit by the Dalai Lama to Taiwan in August 2009 turned into a walk on eggshells for the Taiwanese government – the visit was eventually approved, but one of the Ma government’s – semi-official – negotiators, Strait Exchange Foundation Vice-Chairman and Secretary-General Kao Kung-lian (高孔廉) apparently suggested that a the statement [by the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office concerning the Dalai Lama's visit] didn’t accuse president Ma or the KMT at all, one could understand the mainland position, as its stance concerning “the Dalai” had always been this way (可以理解大陸的立場，因為大陸對達賴的看法一向如此). Several referrals to the DPP in the statement suggested that Kao Kung-lian saw a Chinese acknowledgment that the invitation to the Dalai Lama to visit Taiwan was just an action by the oppositional DPP (i.e. the bad guys in Taiwan who were trying to sabotage the beautiful honeymoon between Taipei and Beijing).
Frequently since 2008, president Ma’s KMT has appeared to position itself closer to Beijing than to its own people – unless their own people supported the government’s China policies. When oppositionals prepared for a rally against ECFA, KMT lawmakers accused them of “political motives” – just as if Beijing’s approach to the ECFA negotiations was unpolitical. A referendum on ECFA was – more or less elegantly – buried by the relevant review committee early in June, and the ruling KMT kept the review process of ECFA in parliament as lean as possible.
America’s interest in Pacific affairs is hardly fading. It’s latest military moves East of China don’t suggest that at all – moves which may as well be interpreted as an American – and a Japanese – preference for taking care of the regional status quo by themselves, rather than relying on a Taiwanese government that looks anything but confident.
“The U.S. has always set a policy based on singling-out a potential rival, a country that may pose a danger to America from the standpoint of its overall resources”, the Voice of Russia quotes Alexei Fenenko, Associate Professor of Moscow State University, who explains why, in his view, the U.S. has suddenly started offering India broader cooperation in areas where Russia and India have long had strong ties, after 30 years of disregarding the country and refusing to supply advance peaceful nuclear technology. Fenenko adds that
“The strategy of containing China declared by the Clinton Administration and searching a counter balance to China is based on this. Originally, the U.S. tried to use Australia for this purpose but when it became clear that it is a weak player, Washington turned towards India in 2005 considering it as a counterbalance to China and offered to promote cooperation.”
If Australia, a country whose political independence is undisputed, should indeed be seen as a “weak player”, how weak is the Ma administration looking? Does it make sense to provide Taiwan’s administration the weapons it has asked for? The answer may still have to be “Yes” – but this doesn’t go without saying.
Party politics can blind people. It may be unconceivable for Shriver that Barack Obama‘s administration may actually have a clear picture of China’s military build-up against Taiwan. It may be hard for a conservative former politician to understand that the current administration may actually be continuing a policy started by another Democrat – Bill Clinton.
Shriver’s role in international business doesn’t necessarily help to assess China and Taiwan in a political light either – his merits in promoting U.S.-Taiwan relations notwithstanding.