August 12th 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The lessons for euthanasia are there for the learning

EDITORIAL Shorten's agenda will cripple Australia

CANBERRA OBSERVED Candidates must polish their paperwork skills

FOREIGN AFFAIRS EU v Poland: disquiet on the eastern front

EUTHANASIA How safe will Victoria's 'locked tin' be?

ASIA-PACIFIC AFFAIRS Pacific likely to focus for Taiwan's Iron Lady

PHILOSOPHY Aristotle and the virtues as products of reason

FEDERAL POLITICS Backbench marriage push angers Coalition colleagues

MUSIC Time and times: Melody is moments gathered for an instant

CINEMA Dunkirk: When survival is victory

BOOK REVIEW Just socialism by another name?

BOOK REVIEW The rightness of goading the left


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Pacific likely to focus for Taiwan's Iron Lady

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, August 12, 2017

Australia and Taiwan have a common interest in maintaining peace and stability in the Pacific region.

The microstates of the Pacific often have a small economic base and are prone to destabilisation. Their governmental structures are often weak, meaning that their resources can be exploited by foreign interests that have no interest on the long-term effects of their actions on the islands’ economies.

Taiwan is the target of a storm brewing over the Pacific.

Resources such as timber and fisheries immediately spring to mind. Criminal elements, including drug smugglers and gangs dealing in weapons, plus people smuggling, can take advantage of political and social disorganisation.

Restoring law and order in these island nations can be time consuming and expensive, as Operation “Helpem Fren” in the Solomon Islands demonstrated. This operation, in the Solomon Islands alone, cost several billion dollars and absorbed the time of thousands of Australian and allied personnel in the 14 years that it ran.

Australia is the superpower of the South Pacific region. The historic links Australia has mean that we have a good understanding of the region and can operate there effectively. Other powers, for example the French, are too far away, or are simply too big, like the United States. A relatively small amount of money can go a long way in the Pacific.

Taiwan’s diplomatic battleground

While Australia’s interests lie in maintaining stability, for Taiwan the Pacific is a diplomatic battleground with its archenemy, the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Only 20 countries have formal diplomatic ties with the Republic of China (ROC), including the Holy See. Of these, six are in the Pacific: Kiribati, Nauru, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands and Palau.

Panama, a very old friend of Taiwan, recently broke ties with the Republic of China (Taiwan’s official name) after over 100 years – since the Ching Dynasty.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, who has been in power for over a year now, has proved that she is a lady who is not for turning. Among other things, she has reformed Taiwan’s pension scheme for civil servants, teachers and soldiers. Although the government pension scheme, had it been maintained as it was, would have certainly bankrupted the country, many government employees objected to losing any entitlements, including an interest rate of 18 per cent on their savings.

It is true that President Tsai has had some poor poll numbers, but she has also won respect for her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) by standing up to mainland China. She has refused to endorse the “1992 Consensus” with mainland China, which former President Ma Ying-jeou used to stabilise ties.

Under the “1992 Consensus”, each side would recognise the principle of “One China”, each with its own interpretation as to what it meant. The bottom line is that Beijing will not accept “One China and One Taiwan” or “Two Chinas”. The DPP will not accept the Hong Kong model, where Taiwan becomes a local government under the control of Beijing. Moreover, Young people, the basis of the DPP’s support, increasingly see themselves as “Taiwanese” rather than “Chinese”.

China has been squeezing Taiwan’s diplomatic space for the last year. Sao Tome and Principe, one of Africa’s smallest states, cut ties in December and Panama followed suit in June, as mentioned above. Less well known is that Fiji closed its representative office in Taipei in May, while retaining its office in Beijing.

Also earlier this year, Beijing, which has a de facto veto in United Nations affiliated organisations, refused to allow Taipei to attend the World Health Assembly as an observer, as it had done in the past.

President Tsai is widely reported to be planning a trip to the Pacific allies. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has announced that Taiwan is adopting a new model for its dealings with the Pacific allies that is not just based on money and aid. Taiwan will adopt a “win-win” policy whereby both sides benefit from closer economic integration, so that they benefit from economic complementarily.

Pacific trade

The links between Taipei and its allies will be firmer and more durable if both sides are clearly benefitting from the relationship. A mutually beneficial partnership, including two-way trade and people-to-people diplomacy, will benefit both Taiwan and its allies. Taipei cannot outspend Beijing, which is one of the world’s biggest economies, so it must show its allies that it is a better friend than Beijing. This is similar to President Tsai’s “New Go South” policy, which aims to build ties between Taiwan and Southeast Asia and South Asia.

It is not in Australia’s interests for the small Pacific nations to become a diplomatic battleground between Taipei and Beijing. Beijing is likely to continue to squeeze Taiwan slowly rather than go for a knockout blow, thus adding to Taipei’s humiliation and gradual strangulation.

Beijing will not relent in its frosty outlook on Tsai’s administration until she recognises the “One China” policy. This seems unlikely.

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