How Can Taiwan Engage in Meaningful Dialogue Across the Strait

By Chao Chien-min

United Daily News, January 3, 2021


Because of the ravaging coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the global economy has seen a rare depression in a century, and the competition between the United States and China has promoted the transformation of the international order; some people have called year 2020 as the first year of an “Asian Century”. There are two factors that drove the transformation of the international order last year:


First, the downgrade of China’s international reputation caused by government measures dealing with the coronavirus, promulgation of a national security law in Hong Kong, strong measures against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, and military coercion in the Taiwan Strait. When Australia answered America’s call to investigate independently the pandemic, Beijing immediately adopted retaliatory tariff measures that led to huge negative impacts. According to a Pew survey, negative views towards China internationally is at a historical high point, Japan and Australia had over 80 percent negative views, and the United States, United Kingdom, and South Korea had over 70 percent negative views towards China.


On the other hand, because of the U.S.-China trade war, Beijing decided to strengthen economic cooperation by concluding economic cooperation agreements in Asia and Europe. China had first signed the largest free trade agreement—the “Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership” (RCEP)—with 14 Asia-Pacific countries and then completed the seven-year-long negotiation of an investment agreement with the European Union recently. China has apparently become the key power of the global economic and trade order.


The above examples indicate that although many countries are not totally satisfied with the wolf warrior diplomacy brought about by China’s rise, they have to cooperate with China economically. The result is a special situation that many countries are leaning towards the United States politically but leaning towards China economically.


Take the Indian Ocean as an example. The Strait of Malacca is the life line of China’s trade as well as the strategic sea area of China’s western extension of sea power. But it is also the weakest link of China’s sea power. Former Chinese president Hu Jintao talked about the “Malacca Dilemma” in 2003. In recent years, China built a naval base in Djibouti, invested $46 billion to open a 3,000-kilometer China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and leased a deep-water port in Hambantota, Sri Lanka. All these efforts were attempted to open a route of a new Silk Road on the sea. The most import part is the construction of a new canal in Kra Isthmus of southern Thailand.


The idea of the construction of the Kra Isthmus is being considered for a long time. Once built, the canal would shorten China’s sea trade route by 1,200 nautical miles, realizing the strategic concept of going to the Indian Ocean and connecting Djibouti.


However, the construction of the canal concerns the interests of Singapore and Malaysia, the U.S. global strategy, and Thailand’s diplomatic and domestic problems. As the United States reacted coldly to Thailand’s military coup in 2014, China was given an opportunity. The political elite in Thailand began to change their attitudes last year and think positively of building the canal with China.


The above background served as India’s countermeasures to China’s new strategy that resulted in two border conflicts between India and China last August. It is not surprising that India had participated in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue led by the United States. But the disputes between India and China had not hindered India’s active participation in RCEP negotiations, although absent temporarily, it is highly possible that India will join RECP in the future. 


Members of the international community have to face the change of status quo by China’s rise. There are ongoing disputes between China and Australia. China had imposed sanctions on 13 Australian goods. For red wine alone, the annual commercial value is at $40 billion. The reason behind is the fear that China’s influence had entered into the South Pacific that may affect Australia’s dominating status in the region. In July 2020, the United States and Australia held the “two plus two strategic dialogue” and signed a joint cooperative defense plan against China. The Japanese defense minister said in last July that China had attempted to change the status quo of the Senkaku Islands, and Japanese defensive aircraft had to respond 675 times in 2019. The minister also said that Japan looked forwards to joining the Five-Eyes Alliance and hoped to establish a free and open Indo-Pacific.


Nevertheless, Australia’s foreign minister said publicly that Australia would not harm its important relations with China. China and Australia signed a free trade agreement in 2015. Japan and Australia are actively participating in RCEP, and a China-Japan-South Korea free trade agreement is in the making.


The situation is very clear. Facing the competition for hegemony between the United States and China, other countries are adopting a hedging strategy of dual political and economic alliances. The countries formed value and strategic alliances with the United States but established economic alliances with China. Taiwan is the only exception. It ignored China’s economic influence and leaned towards the United States completely!


President Tsai Ing-wen’s New Year’s Day address still used the style of hipster exaggeration. She advocated the “meaningful dialogue across the Taiwan Strait,” but she had eradicated the political and cultural bases of dialogue completely. She deemed U.S. President Donald Trump’s anti-China campaign strategy as the normal situation of international Cold War's circling of China. President Tsai only relies on politics and ignores the economy, so it is natural that her road will become narrower and narrower.


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