Remarks by Chair Su Tseng-chang: China's Rise and National Security Strategy in the Asia Pacific Region

China’s Rise and National Security in the Asia Pacific Region

Remarks by Chair Su Tseng-chang at the International Symposium on “The China Rise and the Asia Pacific Regional Security”

September 21, 2012

China’s rise is no longer an issue, but a reality. Its influence has affected the world in political, economic, military, environmental and diplomatic levels. Some see the glamorous side of China’s rise and have either positioned themselves or are thinking of entering the Chinese market. Many worry that China will become a hegemony that will create instability in regional security. China internally faces its own contradictions in trying to preserve “stability maintenance” (維穩維權), especially in making sure that a stable transfer of power takes place in the upcoming 18th Party Congress. Externally, China emphasizes the “keeping a low profile” strategy (韜光養晦) in order to avoid its international responsibilities to the world. This is turn creates the contradictions in which most Asian countries have both expectations and precautions for China.

Reasons to conflicts in Diaoyutai and South China Sea Islands

In 2009, before the first visit to China by U.S. President Barack Obama, many Asian countries encouraged the U.S. to take a more influential role in the Asia Pacific region in order to prevent China’s rapid hegemonic expansion. The result showed that Beijing was not only unable to fulfill international expectations of being a “responsible stakeholder”, but also challenging the Asia Pacific peace sequence through its attempts to highlight the “core interests” regarding sovereignty over Tibet, the South China Sea islands and Taiwan.

For this reason, since 2010, we have been seeing the military and diplomatic wrestling between the U.S. and China in the Korean Peninsula and the East and South China Sea regions. Even though the U.S. does not believe it “contains” China, and continues to engage in strategic and economic dialogue with Beijing, it is hard to deny that after US involvement in the Middle East, the U.S. now echoes the demands of its Asian Pacific allies with a pivot towards Asia in foreign relations and defense policy. The U.S. presently shows a strong leading role in regional security over the Asia Pacific region with a hedging and re-balancing strategy and also deepening its relations with Japan, South Korea, India, ASEAN countries and Australia. In the midst of the U.S. return to Asia, Taiwan is, as a result of President Ma Ying-jeou’s China-inclined cross strait strategy, becoming a huge security gap.

Reviewing the recent raising of tensions involving the Diaoyutai and the South China Sea islands, we can see that the underlying causes did not just develop suddenly. Rather, they were the result of China’s active attempts to expand its sea power and to break through the First Island Chain, as well as increasing its sea influence in the Second Island Chain, over the recent years.

Other factors that further intensify conflicts involve major domestic political changes among the player countries. These include: China’s power transfer in the upcoming 18th Party Congress; the presidential elections in the U.S. and South Korea; a possible parliamentary election in Japan; and in Taiwan, the continuous low approval rating of President Ma Ying-jeou’s administration. The instability of domestic politics leads many leaders to divert internal problems through spinning foreign issues, and this causes more complex circumstances where the slightest mistake could trigger military conflict.

Now especially, there appears to be an out-of-control situation as a result of the recent incidents involving the Diaoyutai Islands sovereignty, already leading to massive anti-Japanese protests in ten cities in China. Some believe that China has played a role behind the scenes in promoting the current anti-Japan movement, but it is possible that this type of social force may turn into anti-government sentiments, and at this period in time when China is facing economic decline and a power shift, the Chinese government is also worried that extreme nationalism may lead to worst consequences.

The most balanced approach for Taiwan during this period of conflict is to uphold firmly to its sovereignty standpoint over the Diaoyutai and the South China Sea islands. However, it is even more important to incorporate these geo-strategic changes into the reconsideration of Taiwan’s national security policy.

DPP standpoints over the issue of Diaoyutai and South China Sea Islands

I will cite the example of the DPP handling the Diaoyutai Islands sovereignty issue during its years in government. Taiwan and Japan both persisted in claiming sovereignty over Diaoyutai, but most disputes involved fishing rights. Nevertheless, both governments at that time used diplomatic means to resolve these differences, and over a dozen fishing rights exchanges were held. The issue of the Diaoyutai islands never reached to the point of a Taiwan-Japan diplomatic crisis. During my term as premier, tourism between both countries reached to new highs, and even Taiwanese people viewed Japan as the most friendly foreign country, according to various public polls.

On the contrary, the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou has only held one negotiation meeting regarding fishing rights with Japan in the last five years. In 2008, the collision incident involving the Lian-He fishing boat prompted then-premier Liu Chao-shiuan to publicly say that Taiwan did not rule out the use of force against Japan to resolve this dispute. However, four years later in July of this year, pro-safeguarding Diaoyutai activists embarked to the islands to declare sovereignty, but when our government sent patrol boats from the Coast Guard to protect them, they allowed the activists’ boat to display the five-star PRC flag. Just last month, President Ma issued the Peace Initiatives in the East China Sea, but official Taiwanese boats once again provided assistance to Hong Kong activists expressing that Diaoyutai Islands belong to China and that Taiwan was part of China. From these incidents, we saw that President Ma on the one hand is saying internationally that he wishes for peace, but on the other hand, he is portraying a wrong image that Taiwan is cooperating with China.

The DPP standpoint towards the Diaoyutai Islands disputes have been consistent. We emphasize our sovereignty over the islands, but through peace and diplomacy. In order to prevent conflict escalation, we believe the priority for this government is to engage with Japan. We must also ensure safeguarding Taiwanese fishing rights in this area. Most importantly, Taiwan cannot cooperate with China on this issue. In order to avoid the loosing of control over negotiations, the DPP appeals every related party to remain calm. In regards to the recent announcement by the Japanese government to nationalize the Diaoyutai Islands, we believe this will intensify the already existing tensions and not contribute to regional stability, therefore, we call on President Ma to immediately engage in dialogue with the Japanese government. At the same time, the lack of response by President Ma towards China’s increasing claims pass the Taiwan Strait line has deepened the international image of Taiwan belonging to China, and the DPP strongly urges this administration to ensure the interests of Taiwan’s sovereignty and fishing rights.

Regarding the conflict in the South China Sea, the DPP formerly issued the “Spratly Islands Initiative”, which also emphasized Taiwan’s sovereignty over the South China Sea islands. However, we also appeal that any conflict should be resolved through peaceful negotiations and to ensure the preservation of high sea navigation rights. We believe that Taiwan must actively engage in dialogue with other countries, insisting on not being left out in the ASEAN talks. The DPP makes a strong appeal to President Ma to respond to China’s announcement to set up Sansha City for the administration of the South China Sea islands. We must prevent international countries have the impression that President Ma is cooperating with China in South China Sea disputes.

These are the main standpoints in which the DPP believes Taiwan should play its role in the transformation of Asia Pacific’s regional security, and that is to become a force of promotion of peace and stability. We clearly stand on the position of declaring sovereignty, promote peace and stability and engage in dialogue. We also strongly believe in pursuing fishing rights and absolutely not engage in sole cooperation with China.

Strategic approach to DPP’s China policy

The DPP has had experience in government, and now as an opposition party, we are committed to constructing a China policy that is in line with Taiwan’s national interests, ensuring the peaceful interaction in the Taiwan Strait and continuous stability in the region.

Recently, the DPP has been holding forums (titled Open Studio) regarding challenges that will be confronted after China’s 18th Party Congress from the aspects of economic, social and human rights topics. In the future, the DPP will deepen its dialogue with the Chinese society in common (庶民社會) in order to fully understand China.

Most importantly, the DPP will strive to increase dialogue and formulate policy on how to face China’s rise. This is not an election gimmick or a strategy for domestic politics, but rather, to confront the transformations occurring in the Asia Pacific region. At the same time, we will seek to engage in dialogue with the U.S. and with Japan so that Taiwan becomes a key center in the Asia Pacific security and defense network.

Faced with the instability of leadership changes in China, as well as the hidden unrest in China’s economic and social levels, the DPP believes that Taiwan, along with the rest of the Asian Pacific nations, must remain cautious and calm, adopting a comprehensive attitude towards these transformations. We must replace confrontation with dialogue, resolve conflict through peace and democracy!