Don’t rely too heav­ily on present am­bi­gu­i­ties

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

Tai­wan seems to have been in­un­dated re­cently with a se­ries of acronyms and dig­its. First, there was the M503 flight route that China tried to launch uni­lat­er­ally in Jan­uary and that threat­ened to push civil­ian air traf­fic dan­ger­ously close to the me­dian line of the Tai­wan Strait.

Then came the AIIB (Asian In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank) and the de­bate over Tai­wan’s membership in a Bei­jing-led in­vest­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion, al­beit one with a strong in­ter­na­tional pull, and the U.S. at­ti­tude to­ward such a move and whether it would fac­tor into a TPP (the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship) de­ci­sion.

On April 1, a pair of U.S. Marine Corps F-18 fighter jets made an emer­gency land­ing in Tainan, cit­ing en­gine trou­ble dur­ing a rou­tine mission. Po­lit­i­cal pun­dits, mil­i­tary an­a­lysts and ne­ti­zens alike all took a stab at de­ci­pher­ing the pos­si­ble “po­lit­i­cal mes­sage” the United States was send­ing, and the pos­si­ble re­cip­i­ent of said mes­sage.

Ac­cord­ing to a Wash­ing­ton Times re­port on Wed­nes­day, mil­i­tary an­a­lyst Rick Fisher of the In­ter­na­tional As­sess­ment and Strat­egy Cen­ter ar­gued that the land­ings, while un­in­tended, “(do) give China a sig­nif­i­cant sig­nal of U.S. re­solve” in the re­gion, con­sid­er­ing the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army Air Force’s re­cent test flights of its H-6K bombers in the West­ern Pa­cific.

Leg­is­la­tors in Tai­wan let their imag­i­na­tions run wild yes­ter­day. De­spite re­peated state­ments from For­eign Min­is­ter David Lin that the F-18s landed be­cause of tech­ni­cal prob­lems, Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party Leg­is­la­tor Tsai Huang-liang ( ) said, “in a sen­si­tive time like this, the mat­ter is ir­reg­u­lar.” He said that the U.S. wanted to re­assert its stature in the re­gion fol­low­ing re­cent de­vel­op­ments.

Kuom­intang Leg­is­la­tor Lin Yu-fang ( ) scoffed at Tsai’s spec­u­la­tion, but added that the in­ci­dent with the F-18s showed that the U.S. still saw Tai­wan as a trusted ally in the re­gion, which he de­scribed as “heart­warm­ing.”

Can we trust co­in­ci­dences, even if we are seem­ingly sur­rounded by them?

The ar­rival of U.S. war­planes, even if they could have landed else­where, in­di­cates that Tai­wan con­tin­ues to walk a tightrope when it comes to its tri­an­gu­lar re­la­tions with China and the United States. Af­ter the con­fronta­tional diplo­matic stance that shaped cross-strait re­la­tions for eight years dur­ing Chen Shui-bian’s pres­i­dency, Ma Ying-jeou’s re­solve to main­tain the sta­tus quo un­der the pol­icy of “No in­de­pen­dence, no re­uni­fi­ca­tion and no use of force” seemed like a breath of fresh air.

But a re­la­tion­ship formed as much by am­bi­gu­i­ties, such as the U.S. ac­knowl­edg­ment of Bei­jing’s “One China” prin­ci­ple, and its ad­her­ence to the Tai­wan Re­la­tions Act, will al­ways en­gen­der a high de­gree of spec­u­la­tion when it comes to in­ten­tions, be it Pres­i­dent Obama’s “Asian pivot” or China’s “Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive.”

While the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute in Tai­wan sent its grat­i­tude for Tai­wan’s as­sis­tance in the mat­ter re­gard­ing the F- 18s, is it merely con­firm­ing “a friend in need is a friend in­deed?” Or is it also re­mind­ing Bei­jing that the Pa­cific re­gion is still part of its backyard? Con­cur­rently, is Tai­wan’s ap­pli­ca­tion to the AIIB a mes­sage to the United States that it con­tin­ues to value cross- strait amenity even if it over­rides the “con­cerns” of its staunch­est ally over China’s re­gional am­bi­tions?

As al­ways, am­bi­gu­i­ties con­tinue to serve an im­por­tant role in R.O.C.-PRC-U.S. re­la­tions: they give an of­ten con­vinc­ing illusion that the sta­tus quo can and will re­main the or­der of the day in the Tai­wan Strait. How­ever, we must con­tin­u­ally strive to awaken from this illusion, re­mind­ing our­selves that the geopo­lit­i­cal cir­cum­stances in Asia are in flux due to China’s eco­nomic as­cent and have rarely re­mained static. U.S. ac­tions (or re­ac­tions) to China’s rise, whether they are colored by our re­cent per­cep­tions of co­in­ci­dence, are highly ex­pected … even an­tic­i­pated.

But per­haps what this al­pha­bet soup of the M503, the AIIB and the two F-18s amounts to most is this: one should never con­fuse am­bi­gu­ity with co­in­ci­dence.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Taiwan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.