Taiwan: Guns, Beef — and Politics


Pres. Obama’s Chinese New Year’s gift, an arms purchase offer even with a $6.4 billion price tag, couldn’t be more welcome to Taiwan’s Pres. Ma Ying-jeou.

Last March his Kuomintang swept back into office with anti-corruption slogans, promising better relations with the Gigantest Panda across the Strait. That peaceful transition reconfirmed China’s first representative government in its vaunted 5,000-years for 23-million Taiwanese. But now the Mandarin-accented, Hong Kong-born, sleek politician’s polls droop.

Suffering from the world recession, constituents now want to know what Ma’s done for them lately

Welcome to democracy!

Furthermore, Pandas appearance is deceptive. They are notoriously uncuddly. [You wouldn’t be either if you only ate bamboo!]

Ma’s aggressive pragmatic courtship hasn’t stopped Beijing’s missile buildup [now at 1600], threatening the Island.

Furthermore, the Taiwan Relations Act – the Congressional initiative forced on Pres. Nixon and Henry Kissinger, a pledge the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s aid if and when – looks anemic. America’s extended engagements elsewhere, Mr. Obama’s attempted seduction of former foes including Beijing, his postponement of the next aircraft carrier, his lack of support during his Mainland visit last year, all look ominous. And despite a flip-flop by Panda-hugging Pearl Harbor U.S. Navy commanders – continued intel underestimation of growing Chinese naval strength seems to have produced that – Taiwanese are concerned their ambiguous de facto independence is at risk.

Despite Ma’s continued expressions of confidence in Mr. Obama, could the Americans get there quickly enough as in past crises?

The package – excluding F16s along with submarines which were at the heart of an original program almost twice that size, dawdling at both ends of the de facto alliance for almost a decade – is particularly fortuitous just now.

Ma has just come off his first Mainland trade negotiations. It’s the culmination of longtime pressure, particularly from American and Japanese multinationals, for more integration. Without closer Mainland ties, they argue, Taiwan would lose out among East Asia’s export-led economies. [Don’t hold your breath for promised swaps of expanded domestic markets for “export-led” strategies.] More than a half-million Taiwanese managing 7,000 Mainland firms with $150 billion investment doesn’t hack it, they argue; Taiwan industry is being hollowed out by the Island’s Number One trading partner.

And there’s little doubt that Ma’s “Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement” has been oversold.

He added the notion that without it, Taiwan would lose out in Southeast Asia after Beijing last year signed a free trade agreement with ASEAN [Association of South Asian Nations]. Closer examination, however, shows there is more sound and light than substance. After all these years the 10 ASEANs haven’t got their act together. Now one by one, to protect local industry, each country has caveated the agreement. [Vietnam had already seen its Tonkinese economy devastated through smuggled Chinese dumping.]

Meanwhile, many small Taiwan businessmen – where Ma’s Democratic Progressive Party opposition is strong – say they would be swamped by cheap Mainland imports. Ma already severely limited the opening to financial investment. Always cognizant inflation as much as Communist military prowess sank Chiang Kai-shek’s Mainland Kuomintang, Taipei has always clutched banking tightly.

Though former Pres. Chen Shui-bian and family were convicted on corruption charges, his DPP is making a comeback, capturing three January by-elections. Its southern agricultural heartland – after earlier seduction by Beijing’s special agricultural import deals – is worried. They blew Ma’s attempt at expanded U.S. trade, maybe eventually a free trade agreement, when the legislature forced a partial hold on beef imports. Enhanced communications including direct flights has increased Mainland tourism — but there are too many rumors of “tourists” disappearing into the woodwork.

It may take a while. But even in the new digital age, Taiwan’s role as “the unsinkable aircraft carrier” is bound to reassert its strategic importance as Beijing’s armaments drive turns hysterical in the face of a nonexistent enemy. Little boys given toys like to play with them. Example: the 2001 Hainan Incident when a hotshot fighterpilot crashed into an American spyplane over international waters. [Difficulties posed by Japan’s new government for the U.S.’ East Asia strategic redeployment don’t help.]

Beijing’s bombast over the long simmering deal is testing Mr. Obama. But cancellation of the two militaries’ contacts has been vastly overblown; they were never really reciprocal [During the Hainan crisis, the retired admiral ambassador, revealed his Chinese military “friends” wouldn’t return his calls.] And with American persistence, after a decent interval, the exchanges would probably be reinitiated as in past temporary cancellations.

But desperately grasping for some ideological footing for a regime long since abandoning Marx, Engels — and Mao, in all but iconography – Beijing has turned to traditional Chinese xenophobia/nationalism to keep out foreign “ideas”. That plus cyber warfare practice — and sheer Google hypocrisy — is the root of that current schemozzle.

The “Communists” have even resurrected once despised Confucianism as a cover for overseas propaganda. [George Mason University: shame on you selling out to this ploy!]

All this despite continued hot pursuit of foreign investment [and technological transfer] to keep the export-led jerry-built economy booming.

In all this muddle, “Taiwan” could again become a front burner issue.

Welcome to the real world, Pres. Obama!

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