Thursday, October 8, 2009

Taiwan's Ma Asserts Peaceful Rapprochement with China

Defense News


Taiwan's Ma Asserts Peaceful Rapprochement with China

By Wendell Minnick

SINGAPORE - Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou declared his policies have "effectively shelved 60 years of military conflicts and political confrontations" with China as a result of closer relations and direct negotiations initiated by his administration.

He made the comments during a speech May 20 to mark his first year in office. He said Taiwan had declared a "diplomatic truce" with the "Chinese mainland," and this has "paved the way to peaceful negotiations with the mainland."

Ma's Beijing-friendly Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) swept out the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) leadership during presidential and legislative elections in early 2008. Since coming to power, the KMT has moved quickly to improve ties with Beijing.

Arthur Ding, a cross-strait military affairs expert at the National Chengchi University's Institute of International Relations, said a "peace in the Taiwan Strait has been constructed, although no formal agreement, accord or treaty has been inked."

Ding said the Chinese have initiated an "economic zone in the west of the Taiwan Strait (hai xia xi an jing ji qu), which covers Fujian province and parts of Zhejiang, Jiangxi and Guangdong provinces."

"A de facto peace zone has been constructed, although the [People's Liberation Army] has not pulled out its force, and no official accord is likely to be signed because of the political status."

Ma said his policies have opened "bottlenecks" that have impeded better relations with China for decades. These include the Three Links agreement, which opened direct air and sea travel across the strait, and the liberalization of capital investments.

"In one year, we have transformed the Taiwan Strait from a dangerous flashpoint to a conduit for peace and prosperity," he said.

"President Ma has done a good job, basically, to find some common ground," Ding said. "The common ground is not perfect, but it is acceptable. ... I do not think he has the illusion that China will drop reunification goals, but politics should be something that is possible and feasible."

DPP officials state that Ma's policies will undermine Taiwan security and lead to a de facto assimilation of the island nation. The DPP has been holding rallies and protests against Ma's cross-Strait efforts since his inauguration.

DDP sources point to the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) being negotiated. Tsai Ing-wen, the DPP's chairwoman, has compared the ECFA to Hong Kong's Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement, which upholds the "one country, two systems" formula.

Details of the framework are vague, and there are fears in the DPP that Beijing will gain control of Taiwan's banking and communications industry through investment and partnering agreements.

Tsai said there are no safeguards against political manipulation of Taiwan's economic dependence. She said a fundamental difference is that Taiwan is an open economic and political society, while China is still a state-sanctioned capitalist system and politically intolerant.

Tsai has asked how Taiwan can control politically motivated and state-orchestrated market incentives while maintaining its independence.

However, Ding does not view those fears as warranted. "Will the deeper economic ties with China lead Taiwan to political reunification? I do not think so."

Ding cited recent opinion polls indicating strong Taiwanese self-identification among the younger generation. "China has no illusion, either, that Taiwanese identification will be reversed overnight."

Ding did caution that eventually, "there is no doubt that Taiwan will be economically integrated with China." Political integration is a completely different matter. "President Ma, I believe, knows tougher negotiations lie ahead as the both sides move forward to tackle more sensitive issues."

The issues include the reduction of China's 1,300 short-range ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan, creating cross-strait confidence-building measures, the establishment of a hot line and a possible peace accord.

Ma also faces difficulties persuading the U.S. to continue selling arms to Taiwan as China and Taiwan become increasingly closer.