Tag Archives: Taiwan

Tsai-Trump Telephone Call: Reading Trump and the Chinese Response

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen called up US President-elect Donald Trump on 3 December to congratulate him on his victory. A statement from the Taiwan Presidential Office stated that the call lasted just over 10 minutes and that Tsai and Trump ‘shared views and ideals on governance, especially on promoting domestic economic development and strengthening national defense’ and ‘also exchanged views briefly on the situation in Asia’. Tsai ‘expressed the wish of strengthening [Taiwan-US] bilateral exchanges and contacts and establishing closer cooperation relations.[1]

Trump Testing the Waters?

Taiwan has in the past congratulated the US president-elect in private or in writing[2] but this is possibly the first time since 1979, the two sides have actually spoken over the phone. Taiwanese presidential spokesman Alex Huang said, ‘Of course both sides agreed ahead of time before making contact.’[3]

Trump also tweeted about the occasion saying, ‘The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!’.[4] Continue reading Tsai-Trump Telephone Call: Reading Trump and the Chinese Response

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India-Taiwan Relations: Promise Unfulfilled

Originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘India-Taiwan Relations: Constrained or Self-Constraining?’, in Jagannath P. Panda (ed.), India-Taiwan Relations in Asia and Beyond: The Future (New Delhi: Pentagon Press, 2016), 37-47.

The big problem in India-Taiwan relations is the lack of ambition. Given the depth of economic relations and often enough, of political ties too, that many countries including in East Asia itself have with Taiwan, one wonders if there is not also a lack of creativity in the case of India-Taiwan ties. The economic dimension in the relationship is often highlighted – the most recent case being the announcement in August 2015 of Foxconn investing (US)$5 billion in India[1] – but it also seems unlikely that the Government of India went out of its way to court Foxconn because it was a Taiwanese company or indeed, that it is going out of its way for any Taiwanese company.

If the Act East policy is an opportunity to recast and revitalise India’s ties with East Asia across dimensions, then this recasting and revitalisation must also cover Taiwan.

One-China Policy

If the development of China-Taiwan relations in the decades following China’s economic opening up and reforms is any indication, the story of India-Taiwan relations is one of missed opportunities. This is understandable in some respects, given that India-China relations themselves were only slowly recovering from the 1962 conflict. The 1980s were still early days as negotiations on the boundary dispute were taking off. Still, India took note of Taiwan under the Look East policy fairly early, as indicated by the 1995 establishment of representative offices in Taipei and in New Delhi. Continue reading India-Taiwan Relations: Promise Unfulfilled

Parsing Tsai Ing-wen’s Inaugural Presidential Speech

Originally published on 27 May 2016 on ICS Delhi Blog.

Tsai Ing-wen and Chen Chien-jen were sworn in on 20 May as the 14th President and Vice-President of the Republic of China on Taiwan, marking the third successful peaceful transition of power on the island through democratic elections. Tsai, the first female president of the island, is expected to take a more moderate position on Taiwan’s relations with China, even if her Democratic Progress Party is not likely to give up its pro-independence stance. It is this latter reality that is likely to keep the Chinese on tenterhooks about Taiwan’s direction under Tsai.

 

Focus on Domestic Issues Continue reading Parsing Tsai Ing-wen’s Inaugural Presidential Speech

Interpreting Ma Ying-jeou’s Visit to Taiping Island

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou’s visit to Taiping/Itu Aba Island in the Spratly Islands on 28 January 2016 was justified among other things on the grounds that he visited men and women in uniform before every Lunar New Year and that he was seeking to clarify the legal status of the island.[1]

 

Omissions

There are however, some issues that need to be considered.

For one, Ma did not mention the visit to Taiping of his predecessor Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in February 2008. Standing before military personnel this omission perhaps weakened Taiwan’s/Republic of China’ (ROC) image and position, which is to say that there is an element of dissonance between the Kuomintang’s (KMT) position and that of its political rival. Continue reading Interpreting Ma Ying-jeou’s Visit to Taiping Island

Taiwan’s 9-in-1 Election Results: Warning for the KMT-CPC Relationship

The major losses suffered by Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang (KMT) in the nine-in-one local elections – called so because there were elections held to nine levels of local government – at the end of November are the result of both internal and external reasons. With elections to the Taiwanese presidency and to the Legislative Yuan due in 2016, China will have to both rethink the scope and recalibrate the pace of its embrace of the island that has held out against it since 1949.

 

Background

Over the years, the Communist Party of China (CPC)-ruled mainland has adopted a variety of approaches to bring Taiwan – dubbed a ‘renegade province’ – around. While for most of the Maoist and Dengist eras, there were really no serious attempts at coercion, rapprochement with the US in 1971 did bring about the ‘one China’ policy that put the Republic of China on Taiwan on very shaky footing as far as its international standing was concerned. Continue reading Taiwan’s 9-in-1 Election Results: Warning for the KMT-CPC Relationship

India-Taiwan Relations: Slow and Steady Does It

Published by the World Politics Review’s Global Insider as “Taiwanese President’s Stopover in India Sign of a Warming Trend,” on 20 April 2012. These questions were answered together with Dr. Fang Tien-sze, Assistant Professor, National Tsing-hua University, Hsinchu, Taiwan.

 

WPR: How have India-Taiwan relations evolved over the past 10 years?

Fang Tien-sze and Jabin T. Jacob: India-Taiwan relations have improved gradually in many areas over the past few years. Bilateral trade has expanded from $1.1 billion in 2001 to $7.6 billion in 2011. The two sides signed a bilateral investment and protection agreement in 2002 and agreements on double taxation and customs assistance in July 2011. India and Taiwan have also commissioned think tanks to jointly study the feasibility and likely results of a free trade agreement. In the field of education, in March 2010 the two sides decided to recognize each other’s academic degrees and certificates in higher education, facilitating student mobility for advanced studies and job purposes. Earlier, in 2007, the two signed an agreement on scientific and technological cooperation, creating a joint committee that meets every year to formulate cooperation programs and activities.

At the political level, New Delhi appears to be showing increasing flexibility. Continue reading India-Taiwan Relations: Slow and Steady Does It

Chinese National Security and International Relations

Original Lecture: “Chinese National Security and International Relations,” Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, 29 October 2010.

 

Summary: An essential first step to understanding Chinese national security imperatives from the outside is to shed stereotypes and preconceived notions of China as a monolithic, monochromatic or well-ordered unitary entity. As a country of over a billion people, politics and implementation issues are incredibly complex in China and Indians should if anything, be able to better grasp this complexity.

 

Chinese national security policy is influenced by a number of internal issues, of which history and strategic culture are important variables, together with the overwhelming priority that Chinese leaders accord to maintaining political and social stability and thereby, their legitimacy and grip on power. Maintaining economic growth is a key national security consideration in this respect which then has implications for the way China looks at its external relations. Thus, traditional security issues such as its relations with Taiwan or non-traditional security issues such as energy security can both be affected by internal considerations. Meanwhile, China’s security policymaking process displays great complexity in terms of actors and interest groups ranging from the Communist Party, the PLA, and the MoFA to the state-owned enterprises and provincial governments. What is more, there are frequent conflicts of interest among the various players.

 

China has certain key concepts that it uses frequently in its external discourse that have specific meanings and need to be understood carefully. These include among others such concepts as ‘core interests’ – interests that China will go to war over – and the three ‘evils’ – extremism, terrorism and separatism. There is also a changing terminology used to describe China’s intentions such as ‘peaceful rise’ / ‘peaceful development’ / ‘harmonious world,’ each of which has different emphases. Finally, how China implements these concepts in practice is a different issue altogether.

China and Taiwan in 2030: Conflict not Inevitable

Originally published: 12 October 2009

Prediction is an inherently hazardous business but by virtue of the fact that history is so often key to understanding China and its actions, prediction is also perhaps a lot easier in the case of matters related to China.

The China-Taiwan issue at its very basic, is still a matter between two sets of Chinese, an ‘internal’ affair. This is all the more true with the return of the Guomindang (KMT) to power in Taiwan in 2008. However, the eight-year rule of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) before that did reflect the reality that certain new aspirations had emerged among the people of Taiwan. Indeed, the KMT has itself been transformed by such aspirations and can no longer talk glibly about ‘reunification.’ That said however, the overwhelming majority of Taiwanese also do not want to engage in a military conflict with China over the issue. This too, the KMT understands, and it is the acknowledgement of these twin realities that brought the KMT back to power – Taiwan is different from China but Taiwan is also closely linked to and dependant on China. There is evidence that the DPP, too, is beginning to understand the need to acknowledge the latter fact. As the island’s two major political formations veer around to occupying the same centre on relations with China, the possibility of conflict – with causes originating in Taiwan – is reduced and the matter becomes essentially a political one. Meanwhile, given its rise in the international system and the consequent expectations of it in the world order, China too, is unlikely to engage in armed action, even if it is unwilling to discount the possibility in official statements.

As a political issue, the Sino-Taiwanese question takes on a different pace. Both Beijing and Taipei, have the opportunity to discuss each issue at length, to look for breakthroughs where possible, and to postpone resolution or prolong discussions on contentious issues. Both sides can avoid resorting to armed conflict and each side can believe that the situation might turn to its advantage over time.

This waiting game is, however, premised differently for each of the parties involved. For China, the belief is that it is too big and too crucial to Taiwan’s fortunes, for the latter to ignore it. Taiwan must eventually come around to rejoining the ‘motherland,’ given the size of its economy, armed forces and population and the steady loss of its diplomatic allies. From Taiwan’s perspective, it is not as if these realities were not evident before, but the waiting game has suited the island just as much and can only further improve the terms of ‘reunification’ – if that is indeed, the future. As far as the Taiwanese are concerned, communist China has certainly ‘progressed’ from its original avatar in 1949, to the extent that today the economic systems of the two entities are increasingly in sync with each other. It only remains for China to move into greater political sync with Taiwan, and of this too, there is increasing evidence, as communist China tries to separate the functions of the Party from those of the state and to increase accountability and transparency within the political system by resort to the rule of law, rather than to rule by diktat.

The military/security complications that arise from the China-Taiwan question may have international repercussions, but this aspect while at the forefront of Western understandings of the dispute, is by no means considered central by the affected parties themselves. In other words and to put it bluntly, the possibility of war or armed conflict of any kind between China and Taiwan in the future can be ruled out because that is not what either party desires. Even if American arms sales to Taiwan were to carry on and Chinese missiles aimed at Taiwan were to increase in number, these are essentially tactics to improve the respective bargaining positions at the negotiating table.

This does not however, rule out the possibility of conflict arising out of a mistake or because one side overplays its hand. An accidental conflict is always possible simply because of the huge numbers of weaponry involved or lack of proper oversight but this is true of countries anywhere in the world that are in a state of cold peace. If anything, the fact that the two sides are talking to each other, only reduces the chances of such accidental conflict.

There is also the possibility of one side overplaying its hand because of a political miscalculation or overt external influence. In the case of Taiwan, it is unlikely that it could overplay its hand, knowing full well that it does not have the capacity to outlast China in a military conflict. One possibility is that Taipei is egged on by the United States or possibly even Japan, and that it believes it can rely on sustained support from these external actors. However, this is an extremely unlikely scenario.

From the Chinese point of view, meanwhile, its growing military prowess and a rising nationalist tone in its politics could move it in the direction of precipitate action vis-à-vis Taiwan. This action could conceivably originate at the level of the political leadership but is more likely to originate from the Chinese military itself. The evolution of the nature and influence of the PLA in the Chinese political system, therefore, bears close watching for the future.

Meanwhile, ‘reunification’ or some similar future reality is very likely, even if it might not come to fruition by 2030. However, ‘reunification’ in the future, might not necessarily mean the same thing as it does today. Certainly, it will not hold as much fear for the Taiwanese as it once did, if China continues down its present path of greater economic liberalization and if the signs are to be believed that political reforms and opening up of some sort on the mainland too, are slowly but surely underway. In this understated Taiwanese confidence, also lies the way forward for the rest of the world to deal with China-Taiwan relations.

Original Article: “China and Taiwan in 2030: Conflict not Inevitable,” IDSA Opinion, Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (New Delhi) 12 October 2009.

Referendums in Taiwan

Originally published: 2009

Extract: Competing for significance with the Taiwanese presidential elections held on 22 March 2008, were two referendums on Taiwan’s entry to the UN, one each sponsored by the rival Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Kuomintang (KMT). In the election for president, the KMT’s Ma Ying-jeou emerged victorious by a huge margin winning 58.45 per cent of the total vote compared to the DPP candidate, Frank Hsieh’s 35.82 per cent. However, both the referendums failed to win enough votes – falling short of the 50 per cent turnout required – for their results to be considered valid. The DPP referendum had sought to win support for entering the UN under the name, “Taiwan” while the KMT sought to achieve the same goal using the country’s official title, “Republic of China” (ROC), or any other title that would assure Taiwan’s “dignity.”

Focusing on the UN referendums, this essay looks at the meaning and significance of referendums generally, in the Taiwanese context, despite their repeated failures. Earlier in the year, too, during the Legislative Yuan elections in January, the Taiwanese public had failed to turn up in sufficient numbers for the results of two rival referendums on anti-corruption to be treated as valid. The previous instance of a referendum being held during the presidential elections was in 2004 when the DPP-sponsored ‘defensive referendums’ on how Taiwan should pursue its relations with China in the face of the Chinese missiles aimed against the island, also failed due to insufficient voter turnout.

Referendums in the East Asian/Chinese context have a particular relevance, not so much because they are happening in Taiwan but because they involve China and this, at multiple levels. First, of course, the threat posed by Chinese actions to Taiwanese ‘sovereignty’ form the primary causes for the referendums held during the presidential elections in 2004 and 2008; second, as a rising global power, China’s responses are a matter of interest to the rest of the world; and finally – and this is related to the second – China is a large civilizational state that is finding its way once more to the forefront of innovation in a host of fields. To explain the last point a little further, China is presently engaged in a gigantic task not just of economic development and military modernization – these and their corollaries such as the energy resources-related mercantilism that China is engaged in are the most obviously visible characteristics of a rising China. But also, China is a country that is engaged in a massive rethink, a reformulation of not just Marxist thought but also traditional Chinese thinking as well as Western political philosophy. ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’ is of course now well-known, but there are several ideas that China is giving Chinese characteristics to and democracy is one of them. It is in this context that Taiwan’s democratic experience is important. Without doubt, China has learned and is learning from Taiwan as it is from other parts of the world.

Original Article: “The Politics of Referendums in Taiwan,” in Ger Yeong-kuang, Vinod Joseph and Surendra Kumar (eds.), Taiwan in the 21st Century (New Delhi: Viva International, 2009), pp. 12-36.