Risky cross-strait misperceptions

Published in Taipei Times, April, 1st, 2017
Original link: http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2017/04/01/2003667845

Risky cross-strait misperceptions

By Eric Chiou 邱奕宏 /
Sat, Apr 01, 2017 – Page 8
China’s detention of Taiwanese human rights advocate Lee Ming-che (李明哲) can be viewed as a blunt retaliation against Taiwan’s detention early last month of Chinese former student Zhou Hongxu (周泓旭) on suspicion of recruiting officials for a spy ring. Due to the lack of direct communication and mounting misperceptions on both sides, relations across the Taiwan Strait have gradually headed into a vicious spiral.
Since President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) inauguration in May last year, relations between Taiwan and China have plunged into a deep quagmire of “cold peace,” distinct from the “warm peace” during former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) terms.

From Beijing’s perspective, this dramatic conversion can be attributed to the new administration’s refusal to recognize the so-called “1992 consensus,” which is highly regarded by Beijing as the foundation of maintaining peaceful cross-strait relations.
From Taipei’s viewpoint, with the latest mandate of the people, the Tsai administration has few reasons to uphold the “flawed and fabricated” consensus between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party.

Since Taiwanese broadly believe that cross-strait relations during the Ma administration resulted in overdependence on China, it was necessary for the Tsai administration to adjust its China policy in response to the expectations of its electorate.

Due to different understanding of each other’s behavior, political friction between Taipei and Beijing becomes inevitable. Irrefutably, lack of mutual trust between political leaders on the two sides has made relations increasingly fragile. Any reckless rhetoric and policies by one side might easily be misinterpreted as malicious and hostile behavior by the other.

Since peaceful, stable and sustainable relations are beneficial for both sides, leaders must sagaciously manage any flash points of conflict, while preventing any remarks and policies that could be perceived as provocative in the eyes of the other.

Most importantly, political leaders in Taipei and Beijing should devote more efforts toward facilitating empathic understanding, while doing their best to minimize the risks of foolhardy policies due to misperception of their counterpart’s behaviors. After all, the accumulation of misperceptions would eventually lead to an irreversible self-fulfilling prophecy, which would not only distort decisionmakers’ comprehension of their counterpart’s intentions, but could also trigger catastrophic consequences that neither side wants.

The hazards afforded by misperceptions are especially pervasive and precarious in today’s delicate relations. Its crucial effect lies in its ability to twist or conceal reality to mislead political leaders into making flawed decisions.

To Beijing, the most conspicuous obstruction is Tsai’s refusal to acknowledge the “1992 consensus.” However, it might merely be a verbal excuse. Many Taiwan experts in Beijing might have subjectively assumed that Tsai is an ingrained proponent of Taiwanese independence and might subconsciously hold pessimistic prospects about the next four years.

Tsai’s downplaying of the “1992 consensus” might fit into Beijing’s existing assumption that she is a low-profile, but determined adherent to independence. The worst consequence of this self-fulfilling prophecy is its influence on the distortion and screening of undesirable facts that shape reality in accordance with anticipated outcomes.

When Beijing holds arbitrary prejudice toward Tsai, any of her administration’s policies are likely to be politicized through the tainted lens of the ideological microscope. Any policies would be interpreted as malevolent plots with a hidden political agenda. Therefore, the prevalence of biased misinterpretations and deep-rooted prejudices would obscure any gestures of goodwill and lead to the negligence of conciliatory opportunities.

For instance, Tsai has repeatedly asserted her intention of maintaining the “status quo” and devoted herself to constructing “consistent, sustainable and predictable” cross-strait development, implying that Taiwan’s government promises not to pursue any radical political initiatives that could dramatically overturn the “status quo” during her term.
This political statement toward Beijing is viewed by most experts as fairly moderate, but weak by pro-independence advocates. Compared with former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) fickleness and unpredictability, the Tsai administration’s China policy is prudent, moderate and consistent.

In practice, the Tsai administration has borne enormous pressure from her supporters and deliberately excluded political fundamentalists from taking important positions in the Cabinet to avoid any hasty political reforms or ideology-driven policies that might be ill-perceived by Beijing and disrupt peace and stability across the strait.
As this fact illustrates, the Tsai administration has attempted to show its goodwill toward Beijing by exerting self-restraint and undertaking unilateral efforts to defuse possible political provocation.

However, Beijing has seemingly not only taken Taiwan’s low-key policies for granted, it has also strongly insisted that any future cross-strait development should submit to the precondition of the “1992 consensus,” which makes the political stalemate unsolvable.
If Beijing remains stuck in its self-made ideological trap, any conciliatory gestures from Taipei are likely to be misinterpreted as malicious scams. This not only hinders healthy development of relations, but also undermines Tsai’s incentives and patience in sustaining a moderate China policy at the expense of alienating and irritating the radical factions in her political camp.

What is worse is that Beijing seems to have a tendency to apply its political yardstick to gauge Taiwan’s vibrant and diverse political reality, which usually breeds more misconceptions instead of empathic understanding.

For instance, there have been various appeals from Taiwanese asking for revision of the national anthem, participation in the UN and so forth. It would be naive for Beijing to falsely assume that all of these political movements are motivated by and collude with the Tsai administration to secretively alter Taiwan’s status quo.
After all, Taiwan is a dynamic democracy. Unlike China, the government has to abide by the law and guarantee freedom of speech. It cannot brutally clamp down on lawful political activities, regardless of their political stance toward Taiwanese independence or unification with China.

Due to insufficient empathy, Beijing’s policies toward Taiwan are more inclined toward achieving satisfaction of its domestic political needs, rather than impartially facilitating a sustainable and constructive relationship.

However, Beijing’s ignorance about Taiwan’s political reality perhaps is not the most intimidating. What is more dangerous might be Beijing’s increasingly hegemonic mindset toward Taiwan and its other neighbors.

With its growing economy and ascending military capabilities, Chinese have become more confident and nationalistic than ever. The flip side of the coin is that some Chinese have become more conceited and self-centered, with a looming danger of fanatical nationalism. Threats from some Chinese to not exclude military means to unify with Taiwan shows this latent hazard.

As unbridled nationalism appears, Beijing’s growing authoritative proclivity to bully the weak might prove to be a double-edged sword. While it might satisfy domestic nationalist sentiment, its overbearing behavior might induce more backlash in the long run.

According to the latest opinion poll, Beijing’s heavy-handed retaliation against South Korea over the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system has made China the most-hated nation in South Korea — higher than Japan. This should offer Beijing meaningful reflection on its Taiwan policy.

Given nationalism’s inflammability and destructiveness, it is undesirable for both Taipei and Beijing to turn the political deadlock into a clash between people on both sides. This is why both leaders have exercised tolerance and prevented political discord from escalating.

Both governments should do their utmost to reduce the odds of misperceptions. The best way to do this is to keep an open mind, avoid judgement and listen sincerely.
However, breaking the political impasse will require both sides to have a more flexible, creative and emphatic understanding of each other. These elements are needed to jump-start the stalled engine of cross-strait relations.

Eric Chiou is an assistant professor of international relations and international political economy at National Chiao Tung University.


Put national interests first in trade

Eric Chiou, Nov. 15, 2017  in Taipei Times

In the world of fierce competition among nations, an open and free global trade system is not self-evident, but hinges on steadfast support from some great powers that benefit from it.

Hence, no country should naively believe that nations have a sacred obligation to shoulder the responsibility of global economic growth by sacrificing their national interests and enduring aggravating trade deficits that hollow out their economic foundation and national capabilities.

Thankfully, US President Donald Trump’s administration has bravely hit the nail on the head and confronted this challenge, at least verbally.

Despite the fact that Trump’s protectionist tone has been heavily criticized by liberal economists and foreign leaders, it is irrefutable that the US’ comprehensive economic power might soon be surpassed by China’s economic clout, if the present trend of global economic imbalance continues.

Unfortunately, that is not only bad for the US, but also an undesirable consequence for the free world.  Full Text in Taipei Times (Link)




但另一方面,我們也看到支持自由貿易與反對保護主義的區域整合運動持續邁進。例如今年6月底在德國漢堡舉辦G20峰會,與會領袖發表聯合公報指出將持續堅守市場開放與打擊保護主義。緊接著日本─歐盟自由貿易協定(Japan-EU EPA)在7月初達成框架協定,隨後不久歐盟即宣布與加拿大簽署的全面性經濟與貿易協定(CETA)將於9月實施。在大型區域協定方面,TPP在美國退出下,其他11個成員國仍持續談判商討未來TPP-11的進展,並期望在年底完成談判。

此兩股相反的趨勢顯示,全球間促進經濟自由化與區域整合的力道,儘管在去年接連遭受英國脫歐與川普當選後貿易保護主義的重創,但並未因此消失匿跡。反而是各國在審時度勢後,仍有志一同地持續朝更自由開放的貿易環境迂迴前進,而不是陷入相互提高關稅、競相保護國內市場之以鄰為壑(bagger-thy-neighbor)的惡性循環。本文目的在分析受到川普衝擊下的亞太區域整合之近期發展。此外,受到川普貿易保護主義衝擊影響,此將迫使亞太各國進一步思考應如何面對缺乏美國領導的亞太經貿秩序。此類思考與反省不僅不會讓更多國家步入美國後塵而走向保護主義,反而激發更多的動機與努力來維繫自由開放的亞太經貿秩序。……全文刊於 APEC通訊,217期,民106年10月(PDF)

US protectionism is not working

Eric Chiou,  Oct. 9, 2017  in Taipei Times

This year has gradually revealed itself to be an exciting roller-coaster journey characterized by several astonishing ups and downs in the global economy.

The expected tsunami of trade protectionism, primarily stirred up by US President Donald Trump’s intriguing “America first” agenda and aggravated by the withdrawal of the UK from the EU — the so-called “Brexit” — has surprisingly not invoked broadly devastating effects on the global economy, nor has it undermined the solid direction of global free trade as many pundits expected.

Although Trump’s rhetoric of economic nationalism has not yet caused any conspicuous damage, compared with the remarkable progress of economic globalization in the past two decades, optimistic prospects for the world economy have been irrefutably overshadowed by a rising skepticism over globalization and the looming storm of trade protectionism, which has not been seen since the 1999 WTO protest in Seattle.

Trump’s “America first” agenda has mainly focused on job creation and a reduction of the trade deficit by encouraging manufacturing firms to shift their production back to the US and by renegotiating the terms of trade deals to be more favorable to the US, while wielding the stick of trade sanctions to accomplish the goal of boosting sales of US goods in overseas markets….Full Text in Taipei Times Link



        今年(2017)越南作為A P E C的主辦經濟體,以「創造新動能、促進共享未來」(Creating New Dynamism, Fostering a Shared Future)為APEC會議主軸,並提出四項優先議題作為今年APEC優先推動的項目。這是繼去年由太平洋東岸的秘魯舉辦APEC會議後,再次將APEC會議重新拉回到亞太區域成長最為快速的東南亞地區。

        越南作為東協重要成員之一,其經濟近年來成長快速,且與我國民間經貿互動往來向來十分密切,是我國「新南向政策」的重點國家之一。倘若我國能妥善利用越南作為今年APEC東道主的機會,將我國的新南向政策與越南在APEC推動的四大優先議題適恰地結合,此不僅可使新南向政策的推動得以利用APEC的多邊合作平台來達到事半功倍的效果,亦可藉此強化我國在APEC場域政策倡議的強度及表示我方參與APEC的積極態度,也能藉此彰顯我國對於越南今年主辦APEC會議的支持,進而達到提升與越南官方關係及增加實質雙邊合作之目的,可說是一箭三雕的作法…..(全文刊於 APEC 通訊,212期,2017年5月) PDF


亞太貿易秩序的發展在過去十餘年間有迅速的發展,但2017年年初美國總統川普決定撤出TPP,為未來亞太貿易的發展投注諸多不確定因素。本文從亞太貿易秩序的演變出發,探討美國在形塑亞太貿易秩序的角色,分析川普的美國優先政策意涵與對亞太貿易秩序的衝擊,並研析前途多舛之TPP的可能命運與中國對亞太貿易秩序的影響,最後將探討地緣政經變動下台灣的機運與挑戰。(全文刊於台經月刊,2017年4月號)  PDF


Trump’s reverse on multilateralism

Published in Taipei Times on Feb. 26, 2017

Beating the odds and most pundits, US President Donald Trump’s victory in the election last year indicates a sharp departure from the course of the political establishment prescribed in Washington’s elite circles. The impact of his administration is expected to generate gigantic storms in the coming years, shaking the global political architecture and economic order established since World War II…..