Books on Taiwan
Update No: 044 - (29/10/07)
Taiwan celebrated its National Day on October 10 (10/10-or
Double 10) and as expected the occasion was rife with partisan rivalry.
President Chen Shui-bian eschewed a formal national day address but in remarks
made to reporters prior to the parade and celebration, he again called upon the
world to criticize Beijing for its record on human rights, its military
exercises simulating an invasion of Taiwan, and its military build-up much of
which is directed at Taiwan.
KMT presidential aspirant, Ma Ying-jeou and the entire KMT team stayed away from
the official celebration and conducted their own rival commemoration at a
flag-raising ceremony in Taipei County.
Of course it was all over semantics: the government was bent on pushing its
pro-Taiwan agenda and downplaying the concept of "republic of China"
while the KMT is bent on maintaining the status quo-at least until an opportune
time emerges to negotiate with Beijing over Taiwan's permanent status, which
appears to be something less than the full independence that the DPP is seeking.
If pro-democracy supporters were out in full-force supporting the call of
President Chen, Taiwan's first and foremost ally, the United States, was
conspicuous by its absence. It did not go unremarked in Taipei and elsewhere
that the vigour with which Washington has supported pro-democracy activists in
Burma during the recent demonstrations against the military junta, stand in
stark contrast to the antipathy of the US to democracy in Taiwan.
Increasingly the United States appears to be using Beijing as the cornerstone of
its own Asia policy and that means distancing itself from democratic Taiwan.
Indeed rather than let China stand alone in the use of its veto power at the
Security Council to demolish Taiwan's latest application to join the world body,
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte came out publicly in support of
Beijing with a statement to media in Hong Kong that the US was against any
alteration of the status quo. Local analysts understand the U.S. position but
question why such people as a Deputy Secretary of State needs to continue to
repeat it. In the words of one commentator: "the U.S. increasingly sees its
relationship with China as a zero-sum game: As the relationship with China
warms, the relationship with Taiwan must cool." All that is left to do in
the eyes of Washington is for Taiwan to negotiate the terms of its own
Perhaps not all the blame should be placed at Washington's door. President Chun
during his seven years as President has made little secret of his desire for
independence and has not exactly helped Washington in its efforts to engage
Beijing in constructive dialogue. Relations between the DPP and the Bush
Administration are hardly those of close allies and if the relationship has
indeed cooled in recent years, much of the blame can be traced to the acerbic
Mr. Chen who from the outset of his presidency appeared to overplay his US hand
in a dangerous game of brinkmanship.
It seems that the Bush Administration is hoping that Mr. Chen's departure from
office next year will lead to some settling back into a more statesmanlike
relationship or even the status quo that existed for more than two decades after
Washington switched its recognition of China from Taipei to Beijing, in the late
seventies. The world, of course, has changed much since that time. China was
still deciding whether it would allow both black cats and white cats to catch
the mice and Taiwan of course was still under a martial law regime that claimed
that it was preparing to retake the mainland.
And a regime change does appear likely in Taiwan. Taiwan is now a fully-fledged
democracy-albeit one that the U.S. might yet sacrifice to political expediency.
Dissatisfaction with the ruling DPP is sufficiently high that Mr. Ma might take
the presidency. That at least is the hope of much of the local business
community and of China and the United States. Mr. Chen's wholesale undoing of
the trappings of the Republic of China might yet prove to be his biggest
miscalculation. Of course, he is gambling that with China focused on the Olympic
Games, he can rock the boat mightily this time without provoking retaliation.
From Washington's standpoint he is an unnecessary wildcard in an already
difficult relationship. Mr. Chen got his political training as an activist
against martial law. Sadly he never did learn statecraft.
With election season almost upon us the outlook over the short to medium term-at
least until the middle of next year will remain uncertain at best with tensions
between the two main political camps continuing to remain high. The KMT together
with the People First Party, makes up the "pan-blue alliance"
controlling the unicameral legislature. The alliance has often played an
obstructionist role opposing important legislation, particularly matters
involving economic reform for the sheer devilry of it. This has made the
government particularly vulnerable. Among the many "ifs" that will
come to be written about this particularly rambunctious period in Taiwan's
checkered history is whether Mr. Chen would have been quite so assertive on the
independence front had he had more success with his economic agenda.
Be that as it may, we can expect no let up in the rivalries between now and the
elections. Campaigning has already started for the parliamentary ballot, which
is scheduled to take place in January 2008. This will be followed by the
presidential ballot two months later. Most pundits put the "pan blues"
ahead of the ruling DPP which means by the middle of next year there will likely
be a regime change in Taipei. What effect that will have on the international
political scene is the great uncertainty at the present time. Probably it could
be no worse than it is now.
At times there appears a disconnect between politics and economics. Even as the
DPP seeks to maneuver away from Chinese political influence, pragmatism dictates
that the government's economic decision-making must take account of the
realities of the emergence of China as a global manufacturing and trading
In the latest move designed to allow the private sector to take advantage of
China's burgeoning economy, Taiwan's Cabinet has approved a regulatory amendment
that will allow 140 billion New Taiwan dollars, or about US$4.25 billion, of the
island's mutual funds to invest in shares of Chinese companies, including those
traded in Hong Kong. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the
amendment will let Taiwan mutual funds invest as much as 0.4% of their assets
directly in China-listed stocks, and up to 10% of their assets in Class H shares
and "red chips." Class H shares are stocks listed in Hong Kong issued
by a company registered and based in China. Red chips are the shares listed in
Hong Kong of a company registered in Hong Kong but with most of its assets in
With troubles remaining in Taiwan's financial sector, the change is aimed at
improving the returns of Taiwan's mutual funds. While Taiwan's main stock index
has risen by more than 20 percent this year, this is nothing compared to the
gains on the Shanghai bourse. The Shanghai Composite Index has more than doubled
so far this year.
With the US economy continuing to post poor returns, Taiwan probably has little
choice but to look for further opportunity in China, especially with the Olympic
Games due next year which will boost further domestic demand and investment led
growth. Increased tourism arrivals to the Asian region generally will provide a
further boost to the economy next year.