Friday, November 30, 2007

A gaffe-and-a-half: Kitty Hawk & minesweeper follow-up

The government of China and/or People's Liberation Army (somtimes its tough to figure out who's calling the shots) really shot themselves in the foot with this latest blunder concerning the refusal of American naval vessels seeking entry into Hong Kong harbor. Not only does this latest blunder add to what is becoming a rather long list of bones the American public has to pick with China these days, its effect is exacerbated by the pride the United States has for its blue-water navy, not to mention the belief that America's heavily maritime-influenced culture holds in an honor code on the high seas.

For an excellent example of how the PRC government is hurting China's image with irrational actions arising from equally irrational grievances—over the U.S. honoring the Dalai Lama, or selling Patriot missiles defense upgrades to its ally, Taiwan, etc.—read this editorial by Lorna Hahn, executive director of the Association on Third World Affairs in today's Washington Times:

China-Taiwan tensions

In violation of the long-established principle that all nations should assist ships at sea that are in distress, China recently refused to allow two American minesweepers threatened by a storm to enter Hong Kong harbor for safety and fuel ("China's action troubles admiral," Page 1, Wednesday). Shortly thereafter, it withdrew permission for an American aircraft carrier, carrying sailors planning to spend Thanksgiving with relatives, to enter Hong Kong.

The reason, according to U.S. officials, was the announcement on Nov. 9 that Washington would sell Taiwan $939 million worth of upgraded Patriot missile defense systems in order to "help improve the security of the recipient and assist in maintaining political stability, military balance and economic progress in the region."

If China would begin to dismantle its 900-some missiles aimed at Taiwan rather than continually increase their number, Taiwan would not need to increase its defenses against them. Furthermore, if Beijing's leaders would meet with Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian, as he has suggested often, tensions in the Taiwan Strait, which often affect other countries, could be replaced by cooperation.

Executive director
Association on Third World

The open sea is perhaps the last place on earth that operates under what, for lack of a better phrase, can be referred to as a 'frontier-style' culture. Just like the fabled unwritten Code of the West in American frontier history, there are certain things on the high seas that—no matter who you are—you just don't do. One of those unwritten taboos is to bar entry into a harbor to any vessel threatened by stormy seas. As long as there's room in the harbor, there's room for more ships, especially when the seas are a-rockin'.

So really, does China's government exhibit the sense of maturity, much less the sense of humanity, to be allowed to recklessly manipulate the international community in the way that it does? Does it have any inherent right to lay claim to a democratic and self-sustaining island when it can't even responsibly attend to its own affairs? We'll leave you with that thought in this wrap-up of the recent PRC-USN SNAFU.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

U.S.-Taiwan Free Trade Agreement Roundtable

Photo of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Kitty Hawk, which became the centerpiece
of a Sino-U.S. diplomatic tussle when it was not allowed to carry out a planned
visit to the port of Hong Kong this past Thursday and was forced to return to its
home port in Japan. Many family members of the sailors had traveled to
Hong Kong, looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with the crew.

Yesterday at the Sigur Center, the Asian Studies center within the international affairs school at the George Washington University, a panel discussion was held that featured guests from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO, Taiwan's officially 'unofficial' embassy in Washington) as well as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, two eminent Washington policy think-tanks.

The issue of the day was whether the United States and Taiwan should enter into serious negotiations and eventually finalize and enact a free trade agreement. The event began with a rather informative presentation by the director of TECRO's economic division, Mr. Francis Liang, who highlighted the many reasons why a Taiwan-U.S. FTA would be beneficial to the economies and populations of both countries involved. Thanks to the provision of extra copies of this presentation in paper form for audience members at the event, we are able to forward some of the more interesting facts and figures to you:
  • Taiwan has experienced an average annual growth in GDP of 7.8 % over the past half century, and currently engages in foreign trade to the tune of $437 billion U.S. dollars and is the second largest holder of Foreign Exchange Reserves in the world ($266 billion).

  • Taiwan produces 72% of the world's laptops, 79% of PDAs and 68% of LCD monitors. In the cover article of a May 2005 issue of Business Week, Bruce Einhorn referred to Taiwan as "the hidden center of the global economy."
  • In 2006, Taiwan was the United States' 9th largest trading partner, 11th largest export market, and the largest importer per capita of U.S. agricultural products. In the same year, the United States served as Taiwan's 3rd largest trading partner, second largest export market, and Taiwan's largest source of foreign direct investment. Taiwan-U.S. bilateral trade was worth $62 billion dollars last year.

In addition to hard facts and figures, Mr. Liang helped explain the current trade situation in the Pacific Rim and how this adds to the need for an FTA. Currently, major Pacific Rim players such as Japan, China, Korea, Singapore, and Australia are vigorously signing and seeking new free trade agreements in the region. If the United States doesn't work to improve its trade relations and hammer out agreements with its top East Asia/Pacific allies, it may get edged out of the trade game in the Pacific.

This is just a sampling of what Mr. Liang had to say. On the other hand, Philip Levy, a resident scholar at AEI, was rather hesitant about the prospects for TUFTA. Mr. Levy's major hang-up when it comes to this topic is the "China factor." To put it simply, he, like many other academics, government officials, and 'China hands' in the United States, is simply fraught with worry at the prospect of 'antagonizing' the government of China in any way whatsoever.

Levy argues that whatever benefit Taiwan gains by formalizing an FTA with the United States will be cancelled out by the drop in foreign investment that would presumably follow if the PRC government stepped up its threats, military activity, and the familiar sabre-rattling routine in general in response. According to his hypothesis, Taiwan would then be unable to reap the benefits of TUFTA and would only have caused greater threat to its very existence.

What we believe is overlooked in Levy's line of reasoning, is why the very idea of a Taiwan-U.S. Free Trade Agreement raises the hackles of any PRC government official or general in the PLA. By engaging in deeper trade relations with Taiwan, the United States would be affirming in a practical way its values-based alliance with Taiwan's government. Rather than increasing the likelihood of Chinese acts of aggression against Taiwan, this step would make it more difficult for China to recklessly threaten Taiwan without thereby antagonizing the United States!

Humanists and 'starry-eyed idealists' in the U.S. are already more likely to favor Taipei over Beijing due to our countries' common interests in democracy, human rights, civil freedom, etc. More cynical observers of American foreign policy on the other hand—who were probably thinking yadi-yadi-yada by the time they got to the end of the last sentence—would also be more unlikely to tolerate PRC aggression against Taiwan, as American economic interests would become increasingly tied to Taiwan's national interests.

Besides, as Mr. Tkacik touched upon in his usual fire-and-brimstone manner, what with all the recent news concerning ongoing Chinese involvement in human rights violations, faulty Chinese commercial imports and the snubbing of the United States Navy with the recent U.S.S. Kitty Hawk Thanksgiving Day incident (just to name a few), maybe its high time that the United States did engage in a little diplomatic antagonizing towards the PRC government.

Summarily, at the conclusion of a free trade agreement between Taiwan and the United States, American officials would perhaps reasonably be a bit on edge for fear of economic and political backlash from Beijing. More important however is that, from that point onward, every time officials in Beijing contemplated the forceful unification of Taiwan with China, they would worry more than ever about the prospects of antagonizing the country that represents China's largest export market and the world's sole remaining superpower.

It seems to us that, in terms of American foreign policy vis-a-vis Taiwan and the People's Republic of China, improving American trade relations with Taiwan using the vehicle of a Free Trade Agreement is one of the best moves that can be made within the even the most conservative definition of the status quo.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Some Helpful Articles:

Yesterday we saw two helpful and refreshingly fair articles on the internet.

The first is an editorial by the Houston Chronicle, entitled, "Their dilemma, and ours," in which the Chronicle underscorses the dark irony we have to live with when democratic Taiwan continues to get the international 'cold shoulder', while oppressive Beijing happily frolicks towards the 2008 Summer Olympics without the slightest reform to China's cruel and stifling political system. Some highlights:

Neither independent nor subjugated, commanding one of the world's largest economies but officially recognized by few nations, the island democracy of Taiwan endures a tenuous existence in a world that requires global access. If that weren't bad enough, it is menaced by a hostile neighbor that claims ownership.


Taiwan's dilemma offers a similar set of difficulties for the United States. Taiwan's de facto U.S. ambassador, Joseph Wu, outlined for members of the Houston World Affairs Council the several bitter ironies of the situation. The United States must maintain workable relations with China and can't recognize Taiwan, even though:

• China menaces Taiwan with missiles and threats, while Taiwan poses a danger to no one.
• Taiwan is a major U.S. trading partner, importing many tons of agricultural products, including Texas beef, and exporting electronic equipment that meets high standards of quality and safety. China sends us tainted food and toxic toys.
• Taiwan has curbed its air and water pollution, but China's regime fears environmental activists more than environmental degradation.

Chinese leader Hu Jintao recently called for talks with Taipei officials to maintain peace in the region. China and Taiwan should "resume talks on an equal footing as soon as possible," Hu said before his recent summit with President Bush in Washington.


As for the United States, the least it can do is grant Taiwan the same generous trading terms it recently gave South Korea, one of Taiwan's chief competitors. Washington should also champion Taiwan's desire to work with vital international institutions such as the United Nations' World Health Organization. To deny Taiwan access is to punish a peaceful, democratic ally while rewarding an oppressive competitor.

We couldn't have said it better ourselves. Pay particular attention to the call for increased trade (TUFTA?) and UN/WHO membership for Taiwan in the pentultimate sentence. These actions are the first solid step towards righting the wrongs collectively forced upon Taiwan over the many years that it has been a legitimate democracy.

The second article was by Simon Tisdall of the U.K. rag The Guardian. Entitled, "Taiwan squeezed as US and China negotiate," it highlights an unsettlying dynamic that was recently discussed during a panel discussion at the Heritage Foundation: the more the United States suffers from diplomatic tunnel vision dealing with the Middle East, the more it is forced to rely on major regional players like China to help maintain at least a semblance of order elsewhere in the world. In doing so however, the United States may end up bargaining away foreign affairs objectives it would never have conceded otherwise. One can easily see how this might apply to Taiwan:

According to Taiwan's president, Chen Shui-ban, China now has 988 missiles aimed at Taiwanese targets and is continually adding to its arsenal. Chen, who strongly opposes unification and the communists' "one China" mantra, recently described Beijing as a threat to regional peace and said it was preparing to take the island by force by 2015. Last month China said it had deployed a high-performance radar system designed to complement its surface-to-air missiles and jet fighter interceptors.

Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, questioned the build-up during a visit to Beijing last week. The two sides agreed to create a military hotline to help defuse crises. But Gates' overriding stated priority was securing China's backing for steps to curb Iran's nuclear activities. On Taiwan, he merely reiterated Washington's formulaic support for maintaining the status quo.

. . .Taiwanese officials say China has become adept at manipulating the Bush administration. "They are under pressure from China. China is very clever. If they want to do something on Taiwan, they call the White House and tell the Americans that Taiwan is rocking the boat. Then the US government puts pressure on us," a senior official said. "Of course we are afraid about the growing cooperation between the US and China. It's a problem for us. It is definitely squeezing Taiwan."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Lost in the Mail: PRC fails to deliver vital health alerts to Taiwan

What do the government of China and the classic computer game "Oregon Trail" have in common?

They both will give you the occasional case of dysentery:

The government of China recently delayed relaying crucial information provided to it by the World Health Organization (WHO) to Taiwan for 10 days, an unnecessary decision that risked exposing thousands of Taiwanese to the deadly bacterial disease dysentery.

The news came from within the WHO that Thailand had recently exported several shipments of baby corn that were possibly contaminated with the pathogenic bacteria Shigella dysenteriae, which, when ingested, induces the deadliest form of the disease dysentery. Taiwan is barred from membership in the WHO as it is an organization under the umbrella of the United Nations. The government of the People's Republic of China, due to its consistently irrational bouts of paranoia regarding Taiwan's international status, has repeatedly pressured the WHO to sign memoranda of understanding (MOUs), some of which are classified, which more or less assure Beijing that the World Health Organization will continue to toe the China line.

Meanwhile, the 23 million citizens of Taiwan have been excluded from direct representation in the organization, an alarming fact that represents a gaping hole in the global health, disease control and response network the WHO was formed to maintain. Of course, the PRC claims that Taiwan is covered by the WHO, as the island is supposedly a province of China -- a dilusionary assertion that the international community is forced to accept.

The consequence of this policy of appeasement towards Beijing is that the global health network remains incomplete, at great risk not only to the 23 million people on Taiwan but indeed to people everywhere. Imagine what happens when the government of China decides to use the same stalling tactics if, say, they are informed that an airborne pathogen has possibly traveled to Taiwan. As a large shipping and commercial transportation hub, such a disease could easily leapfrog all over the planet using Taiwan as a departure point before Beijing decides it has the time of day to let the authorities on Taiwan know about it. Such a global risk taken for the sake of Beijing's hubris is unacceptable.

These recent developments provide a case in point. Beijing claims that Taiwan is a territory that falls under its jurisdiction, yet when the international community agrees to go along with this bogus idea, China's government consistently shirks all responsibilities regarding Taiwan. Not only does it consistently wave military threats under Taiwan's nose and take every measure to isolate Taiwan's people politically and economically, the PRC government also apparently finds it acceptable to wait ten whole days to inform the people of Taiwan that, sorry:

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

2007 Baseball World Cup opens in Taiwan

Baseball has become a truly international sport over the years, even if many in the United States may not be very aware of the increasing popularity of their favorite pastime. When Cuba won last year's World Cup over second place-winner the Netherlands, there were many American baseball fans who opened their paper to the sports page the next day, and then exclaimed to themeselves, "the Netherlands?"

[The International Baseball Federation, IBAF, notes on their website that the Netherlands has had a professional baseball league since 1922]

Alas, it is the fortunate truth: today baseball has a presence in countries all over the globe. This year's Baseball World Cup, which opened today after a day of rain delays on Taiwan, includes as diverse a set as you'll find anywhere. More diverse, in fact, than in the UN, as Taiwan's own national team is competing in the event, albeit under the name "Chinese Taipei." Just to give you an idea, todays matches were (winner w/ asterisk): Spain v. Panama*, South Africa v. Japan*, Mexico v. United States*, Cuba* v. Australia, Netherlands* v. Thailand, Korea v. Canada*, and Germany v. Venezuela*, with Taiwan v. Italy postponed due to rain.

In our opinion, anything international hosted in Taiwan, especially a sport as fun and accessible as baseball, is a win for the good guys when it comes to furthering Taiwan's status in the international community. We wish Taiwan's baseball team much luck and hope they progress far into the tournament. As for the Netherlands, we here at R.O.C. the Boat have a new-found respect for the Dutch when it comes to all things stickball.

Oh, and by the way:

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Refocused: Beijing, Burma, and the UN

In his article, "Burmese Blood is the UN's Shame," Professor Hu Shaojiang of the University of Cambrige's China Research Center reminds us of the real "shame" when it comes to the UN: the organizational composition of the UN allows powerful-yet-irresponsible nations with permanent seats on the Security Council to hijack the entire international political process.

There was essentially only one moment during the six decade-long history of the United Nations, Hu reminds us, that the UN was able to take firm action in response to an international crisis. That was when the Soviet Union boycotted a session of the General Assembly back in the 1950s, unintentionally clearing the way for the Western powers to lock in a vote in favor of fighting North Korea at the outset of the Korean War.

Before and ever since, virtually every renegade dictator, every despotic and backwards government to arise during the history of the UN has been able to find at least one supporter among the five permanent members of the Security Council. In his commentary, Hu illustrates the repeated political hamstringing that has resulted from this dynamic, paired with the notoriously gratuitous veto power enshrined in the UN Charter:

It is the totalitarian Chinese government that is supporting its counterpart in Burma. In fact, back in January, several democratic countries submitted a proposal that the United Nations pressure the military government in Burma to stop political repression. However, China and Russia, as permanent members of the Security Council, vetoed the proposal.

On the eve of the crackdown against monks and civilians in September, a number of countries had proposed a U.N. resolution calling for restraint in Burma, to prevent a repeat of the brutal suppression that occurred in Burma 19 years ago. But again China's opposition put the proposal on the shelf. With the support of big brother China, the Burmese military leaders were especially violent in suppressing the protests.

The United Nations accomplished nothing toward protecting the legal rights of Burma's citizens, once again revealing its incapability in dealing with major international affairs. As a matter of fact, since the United Nations was founded it has almost never played a decisive role in major international issues.

The only exception was in the early 1950s when the United Nations discussed whether or not to fight against the North Korean regime led by Kim Il Sung, which had invaded South Korea. Because the former Soviet Union made a wrong decision and did not attend the meeting, the United Nations had a good opportunity to exercise justice.

During the Cold War period, there was no understanding and no forgiveness among the superpowers. The United Nations didn't have the chance to work even in a superficial function as a rubber stamp. This situation hasn't really improved substantially even now that the Cold War is over.

. . . and so on, and so forth.

It is this same veto power, of course, that has been the central factor in barring Taiwan's government from even observer status in the UN all these years since 1971. Yet political disenfranchisement pales in comparison to the horrendous atrocities that are allowed to run their course, as concerned nations with a respect for international law feel they must pass the buck to the UN for action, only to run into the recurring truth that the UN is inherently unable to act.

China's government repeatedly reminds us that an unrestricted veto is more power than any member of the United Nations is fit to singularly wield. As Hu states:

"Equality among countries" is not equivalent to "equality among governments." If we let totalitarian governments enjoy the same rights as democratic ones that are elected by their citizens' free choice, it is humiliating to people who are deprived of their rights under totalitarian governments. . . .if a country violently suppresses its people's right to participate in political affairs, that country's right to speak and participate in international affairs should be taken away.
Currently, each individual UN Resolution, no matter how token in nature, can be tossed out at the drop of a hat without the slightest need of justification. At the very least, it would seem reasonable for the individual veto power of the five permanent members of the Security Council to be replaced with, say, a single veto that can only be wielded by a 3-2 vote or with the unanimous consent of all five members.

Only when the world's majority of humanitarian, peaceful-minded nations are free to act in concert despite the dissent of a small minority of powerful despots will the UN be a politically relavent institution, and the reward for every nation will be a more peaceful and democratic globe.

Monday, November 5, 2007


A birds-eye view of the Industrial Technology Research Institute in
Hsinchu County, Taiwan [image courtesy of Taiwan Journal]

. . . many of our global competitors are actively seeking to "lock-up" East Asia's fast growing economies into economic relationships that exclude the United States and U.S. firms, it is worth reflecting on this trend.

Today, there are 176 free trade agreements in existence in the Asia Pacific region alone, and many more either under negotiation or consideration.

  • China already has an FTA with ASEAN that covers goods, and a comprehensive services FTA between the two parties will enter in to force[sic] in July. In addition, the Chinese are actively negotiating or have proposed FTA discussions with, among others, Korea, Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand, the GCC, Pakistan, and the South African Customs Union.
  • Japan has concluded FTAs with Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines, and is considering engagement with the major players within Asia.
  • India has implemented FTAs with Thailand, Singapore, and Sri Lanka and, as the aforementioned facts indicate, is actively entertaining discussions with the region's larger economies.
  • Demonstrating that the interest in establishing trade deals in Asia is not limited to the region itself, the EU is actively courting partners that include China, India and. . .Korea.
  • We are witnessing efforts to construct an exclusive Asia Pacific regional free trade bloc – so-called ASEAN +3 or +6 arrangements.

A number of these FTAs unfortunately do not constitute high standard, comprehensive FTAs of the variety that we have negotiated. However, they do afford preferential trading positions to the companies of these countries, and do have the effect of placing U.S. businesses, workers, and farmers at a relative disadvantage in accessing fast-growing East Asian markets. One potential effect of this web of agreements is to encourage U.S. companies seeking to compete in these markets to relocate production to those countries.

- from the testimony of Ambassador Karan Bhatia, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative to the House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee, 20 March 2007

Although the above excerpt is from testimony given by DUSTR Bhatia to the Trade Subcommittee regarding a free trade agreement with Korea (KORUS), Mr. Bhatia's words ring just as true when one considers the need for a Taiwan-U.S. free trade agreement (TUFTA) and, indeed, further trade agreements with many countries in the East Asia-Pacific region.

Without lowered tariffs and higher levels of economic cooperation with key countries in the region, American industry and economic interests will increasingly be edged out of the Pacific Rim marketplace. In order to remain competitive, the United States ought to act to increase its free trade portfolio in this region, and a good place to start would be agreements with strong regional players -- like Taiwan -- that pose relatively little direct competition to major American industries.

The beauty of a U.S.-Taiwan FTA is that each economy brings to the table strengths that the other lacks. Lowered prices on Taiwan-produced electrical components that are crucial to the electronics industry (and are probably in the computer that allows you to read this), will lower overall prices of electronics sold in the United States. Taiwan's investment and financial sectors will encounter added stability with the increased service quality brought about by improved competition from American financial service companies, and so on, and so forth. Even the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement that Ambassador Bhatia so aptly endorsed in the Trade Subcommittee hearing is in some respects less attractive than TUFTA, in that any final form of KORUS will have to negotiate around headed competition between the large automotive industries that are so important to each country's economy.

Hence, we have here a few more reasons why Congress and the Administration should take more time to seriously look at and move towards the signing of a free trade agreement between Taiwan and the United States.