TAIWAN: by Jeffry BabbNews Weekly
WikiLeaks rattle Taiwan's external relationships
, December 25, 2010
Taiwan is on tenterhooks as WikiLeaks releases reveal more information than the government would care for about the two relationships that define Taiwan's strategic outlook - those with China and the United States.
So far, WikiLeaks have exposed, among other things, the locations of the four undersea communication cables that link Taiwan to Hong Kong and also information about the triangular relationship between Taiwan, the US and China. As described in the leaked record of conversation between former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Beijing is sub-rational about Taiwan, which it regards as a breakaway province with no legitimate independent right to exist.
Taiwan, which has a population slightly larger than Australia's shoe-horned into an area half the size of Tasmania, is improving ties with mainland China, but at a pace less than initially expected when relations between the two Chinas began to warm after the election in 2008 of President Ma Ying-jeou.
High hopes were held for the burgeoning cross-strait relationship after Beijing dropped its effective veto over Taiwan joining the World Health Organisation, but little progress has been made recently. Taiwan has been campaigning for entry to other bodies affiliated with the United Nations, primarily membership of the civil aviation agreement and climate change conferences. As a member of the UN Security Council, Beijing has an effective power of veto over Taiwan's entry to UN-affiliated agencies.
Taiwan's ties with mainland China are supervised by Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), not the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as this would imply mainland China is a foreign country - something Beijing would be unlikely to accept.
Since 1949, when Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and the government of the Republic of China retreated to Taiwan, no peace treaty has been signed between the two governments, meaning in theory they are still at war. Taiwan's current ruling party, the Kuomintang (KMT), has been forging party-to-party ties with the Chinese Communist Party, which indicates some movement in the political situation may be possible.
In the meantime, MAC chairwoman Dr Lai Shin-Yuan, has outlined seven principles that will govern Taipei's relationship with Beijing - democracy, sovereignty, security, the right of free choice, the right to meaningful participation in the international community, the right not to be discriminated against, and the right of the disadvantaged to survive.
So far, the WikiLeaks releases have not caused major damage to Taiwan, but there is always a possibility that they will. The information that has been released up until now has the potential to damage the Taiwan-US relationship, but most of it is common knowledge and the sort of gossip one hears at diplomatic cocktail parties and national day celebrations, but it is not for public release. Most of the "revelations" so far are embarrassing and not the sort of thing the two parties would publicly admit to, but most are at a relatively low level of security.
The situation in Taiwan at the moment is relatively cheerful. Exports have rebounded strongly and the economy is growing again. The stock market is up and this makes investors happy, and almost everyone dabbles in the stock market. Pundits will be watching upcoming municipal elections closely for omens about the looming presidential elections, at which President Ma is likely to stand again.
Taiwan is influenced by the economic situation in mainland China, where Taiwan businessmen have invested $100 billion.
But the investment tide is showing signs of turning. Taiwan's China-based industrialists have invested $1.25 billion in Taiwan in the first 10 months of this year, attracted by Taiwan's skilled labour force and clean and supportive government.
In China, wages are rising rapidly in the coastal provinces where most of Taiwan's investments are concentrated, and the risk of official interference in business matters is ever present.
At a local level, business in China is controlled by an unholy trinity of the Communist Party, government and business, which divide up the spoils amongst themselves. This unholy trinity is so ingrained in Chinese society that it is unexceptional and barely worthwhile calling it corruption.
Taiwan is regarded as a safe environment in which to do business. Former President Chen, who has been convicted of several counts of corruption, has now been jailed for 17 and a half years and fined $5 million, the first time a former Republic of China head of state has been jailed after completing his term of office.
Chen's wife, who is disabled and must use a wheelchair, has also been convicted of corruption. As she is in delicate health, she must be incarcerated in a prison with hospital facilities. Her death in custody would be deeply unpopular, even though most people in Taiwan believe she was the reason Chen went off the rails.
Chen comes from a very poor family, but his wife's family is wealthy, and Chen was apparently dazzled by the riches he could gain as Taiwan's president.