Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Failing a Democracy: The US-Japan-Taiwan alliance and its implications for conflict with China.

This article is posted by AH.

This has been a banner year for the pro-Taiwan movement and its independence-orientated President Chen Shui-bian. From accelerating business investment, evidenced by the growing number of Taiwanese companies operating in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), to Beijing’s agreement to resume and extend direct flights from Taipei to the mainland during the all important Chinese New Year holidays, Chen has remained at the helm of Taiwan’s hawkish Democratic Progressive Party (DDP). Earlier last year Taipei’s relationship with Beijing appeared to have stabilized to an appeasing level and domestic business leaders touted the benefits of a strong economic relationship with China. Yet although economic relations are strong, there is a categorical rejection by Taiwan’s DDP leaders to rescind their independent ambitions. Clearly, Chen is operating a fairly successful two pronged foreign policy vis-à-vis China, delineated along two distinct lines. On the one hand, by utilizing cross-straits investment opportunities Taiwan is overtly strengthening economic relations with China; while on the other, Chen’s domestic vision for Taiwan’s sovereignty is the catalyst for Taipei’s increasingly assertive secessionist behavior and its pro-independence ideology.

Through the economic lens relations between Taipei and Beijing are largely one-sided, verified by the rapid influx of cross-straits investments now anchoring China as Taiwan’s largest trading partner. This is significant for two reasons: (1) historically, increased economic integration has often paved the way for assuaging relations, and (2) as a result of Taiwanese investment in mainland China, Taipei enjoys a substantial trade surplus and is keen to further strengthen economic growth. While trade and investment may serve as facilitators of stalwart economic ties, underneath the smiles there lies a political and military element to the relationship that will ultimately have to be addressed. Whether Chen is successful in securing Taiwanese independence from China remains to be seen, what is determinable is that it will not be the strengthening of economic trade alone that will dictate the direction the relationship takes.
Contradicting the positive overtones of Taiwan’s economic relationship with China, cross-straits political and military relations remain tense. Despite a trade boom, the fact remains that Beijing has had no constructive sustainable dialogue with the Taiwanese constituency since the rupture of official political ties in 1972. Although Taiwan and China have maintained separate governments and political systems since 1949, for Beijing, having separate governments is not indicative of any allowance or thought to legitimate state partition. It has been one year since Beijing successfully legislated the ‘use of force anti-succession law’ against Taiwan and political relations have soured accordingly. Taipei and Beijing have adopted opposing antagonistic stances which are reflected in Taiwan’s increasingly assertive, pro-independence movement and China’s reactionary political rhetoric and threats of force.

The Taiwan Straits issue specifically impacts Taiwan, China, Japan and the US and is simply not a bi-lateral or localized matter. Further, regional and international institutional organizations serve as impediments constraining any direct military action by China. These organizations include such regional pacts as ASEAN and APEC and internationally, the United Nations (UN). Importantly, due to the fragility of cross-straits relations coupled with region-wide wariness of Beijing’s intentions, China does not enjoy unanimous support in its quest for Taiwanese reunification. At present, Chen’s DDP political objectives are for Taiwan independence and so accordingly, tensions across the straits have heightened with warnings from Beijing and the US calling for Taipei to support the status quo. The fact that China sees Taiwan as rouge province comes as no surprise as their economic and political apparatuses are formulated on opposing foundations, one Democratic, the other Communist. This clash of political and economic cultures plays an increasingly pivotal role in Sino-Taiwanese relations.

The US position in the cross-straights issue is elucidated by articulated longstanding support for Taiwan’s market economy and pluralistic domestic political system. However, Washington’s backing is not predicated on Taiwanese independence. To the contrary, US leaders have consistently upheld the status quo of the three No’s policy; No to Taiwanese independence, no to two China’s (the one China policy), and finally, no to Taiwan’s participation in any international organizations or alliances where members are sovereign states. Additionally, the Taiwanese Relations Act (TRA) in no way alludes to Washington’s support of an independent Taiwan. In its essence, the TRA seeks further multifaceted economic and cultural integration. However, it stops short of calling for increased political or military relations. This policy remains intact today with US President Bush reassuring Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao as recent as 2003 that the US does not support Taiwanese independence and is opposed to unilateral activity across the Taiwan Straits. Whether the US would become militarily engaged with China over the Taiwan issue is something that Washington would rather not have to face. While it is the case that the US does militarily support Taiwan by selling Taipei military equipment, these military acquisitions are largely symbolic against the backdrop of over 700 missiles aimed across the straits at Taiwan.

Although recent domestic political actions taken by Taiwanese President Shui-bian have called Washington’s commitment into question, US policy remains unchanged. Even as Chen advances the DDP’s agenda by abandoning the National Unification Council (NUC) and exploiting power politics by moving Taiwan closer to independence, the US continues to support the one-China policy.

Tokyo’s view of Taiwan seems to reflect soft support for Taiwan’s DDP party which enjoys a favorable relationship with Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). However, this support is militarily flimsy and politically attenuated at best. With China as Japan’s largest trading partner, Beijing increasingly yields considerable influence in shaping Tokyo’s perception of Taiwan. Eager to benefit economically from the PRC’s rise to world superpower, Japan is not willing to sacrifice relations with Beijing over the Taiwan issue. Lack of military capacity notwithstanding, Japan’s Article 9 effectively prevents any Japanese military action should a conflict ensue. In truth, Japan remains trapped between the desire for economic trade with China and Tokyo’s desire to uphold a fellow Asian democracy, one that looks to Japan for cultural and political influence. Obviously Tokyo’s true ability lies not in military power but in soft power, encouraging cultural and economic ties while politically placating to Beijing on the one-China principle and although the US and Japan signed the joint declaration for the easing of tensions across the Taiwan Straits in 2005, any military support will come from the US and not Japan.

Finally, as this issue is still evolving, it is impossible to predict any outcome. Though, it behoves that given the economic prosperity of Asia-Pacific, any disruption impeding further economic development must be avoided. Certainly there are domestic factors influencing Chen’s push for independence such as his slumping popularity and his desire to secure his political legacy. Chen has stated that he will make constitutional reform an issue in future elections. Any reform will facilitate the government’s ability to move towards full independence. Chen is due to step down in 2008, should Taiwan’s strategic imbalance with, and geopolitical bulling by China continue, Taipei’s next leaders will forced to weigh the merits of secession against maintaining the status quo. This will be an important flash-point to watch and will likely be profound in its ultimate impact on both regional and international relations.

by AH

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Carnival on US-German Relations

The Atlantic Review hosts the Carnival on US-German Relations on March 25. Bloggers submit their posts on US politics and transatlantic relations. Last time, I was the only participant outside the Atlantic area. More bloggers will attend the carnival this time.

Staunch transatlantic alliance is the key to world peace and prosperity. Reading blog posts submitted to this carnival, you would understand political and economic trends on both sides of the Atlantic.

I have submitted my post “Iran Review: America, Europe, and Japan at Crossroads to Deal With Nuclear Theocracy” to the carnival. I explore policy options against Iran. Nonetheless importantly, America and Europe are overcoming transatlantic rifts since the Iraq War. On the other hand, Japan is too dimwitted, because it does not pay sufficient attention to improving US-European relations on Iran.

Don’t miss this carnival, and learn more about things between America and Europe.

by Shah Alex

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Iran Review: Students Rally at Harvard

I received an e-mail from the Iran Freedom Concert planning committee. Please read the following message, and join the activity against Shiite theocracy.


Harvard Students Hold "Iran Freedom Concert" in Solidarity with Iranian Student Movement for Democracy and Civil Rights

CAMBRIDGE – On Saturday, March 18, Harvard University will host the Iran Freedom Concert, a rally organized by Harvard students to support their counterparts in Iran. Prominent Iranian student leader Akbar Atri and Harvard's Undergraduate Council president John Haddock will address the crowd.

"As tensions rise over nuclear issues, our diverse student coalition wants to spotlight the human side of the Iran crisis," said co-organizer Adam Scheuer, a senior and editor at the Harvard Middle East Review.

"Iranian students are denied basic rights Americans take advantage of every day. But there is a brave student movement in Iran working for change, and we need to support them." Widespread student protests in Iran have broken out in recent years, despite a brutal crackdown by the regime's security forces.

The concert, which begins at 9 p.m. at Leverett House, features leading campus musicians and speakers from campus groups exposing repression in Iran. Nine organizations are co-sponsoring, including an unusual alliance of campus Democrats and Republicans.

"The coalition doesn't take a stand on policy debates like foreign intervention," explained freshman co-organizer Alex McLeese. "But we agree that the fundamental rights of Iranians cannot be held hostage to diplomatic maneuverings over Iran's nuclear program.

"The Iran Freedom Concert takes place just before the traditional Persian new year of Norouz – reflecting the students' hope for a new day for freedom in Iran."Iranian students are arrested for what they write on their blogs and have to take their exams in handcuffs," noted freshman co-organizer Nick Manske. "In fact, the essential elements of this concert are illegal in Iran: live singing, mixed dancing, and discussing social messages. Not to mention the restrictions on women, minorities, and journalists."

That message is being echoed on campuses across the country, with simultaneous rallies planned at Georgetown, UPenn, Duke, and other schools. Prominent Iranian dissidents, as well as the American Islamic Congress, are sending statements of support.

"This is a critical moment for Iran," Scheuer said. "Iranian activists need to know that American students are ready to help them hold the Iranian regime accountable. We want to help our counterparts in Iran seize the moment and advance their civil rights movement."

For more information, see http://www.iranfreedomconcert.com/ or call617.661.0053.

by Shah Alex

Monday, March 06, 2006

Iran Review: America, Europe, and Japan at Crossroads to Deal With Nuclear Theocracy

It is my pleasure to submit the first issue of “The Iran Review” to the German-American blog carnival. As mentioned in the previous notice, this is a new project on this blog.

In this post, I am going to explore policy gaps and cooperation among the United States, EU 3, and Japan. It is worth to note that America and Europe are acting closer on Iran, though they split on Iraq. While the transatlantic rift is being repaired, Japan does not articulate its stance on Iran. Will this disturb the common front of the Western alliance?

I will discuss policy options, including military actions, diplomatic negotiations, and sanctions. It is necessary to talk of Western assistance to Iranian civil resistance when I discuss this issue. Nonetheless importantly, we need to understand the nature of current theocracy in Iran.

Let me begin with the nature of Iranian theocracy. Reza Pahlavi, former crown prince of Iran, argues that the current regime in Iran will not abandon their ambition for nuclear power status. He says that this regime pursues to export Islamic revolution abroad, and aggression and confrontation against the global community is inevitable. In an interview with Sky TV of Italy, Pahlavi denounces that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitism ruins Persian tradition of ethnic tolerance since Cyrus the Great who liberated the Jewish from Babylonian oppression. Furthermore, he says that the current regime does not represent Iranian public.

Michael Rubin, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, agrees with Reza Pahlavi. In an AEI policy leaflet, entitled “Iran Means What It Says”, he points out that Iran has the second largest Jewish population in the Middle East after Israel. More interestingly, Rubin mentions that many Iranians express pride that Israeli president Moshe Katsav was born in Iran. Apparently, anti-Israel policy by Ahmadinejad does not win a nationwide support from Iranian people.

Islamic extremism has become rampant since the Iranian revolution in 1979. Since then, Iran has been sponsoring terrorist organizations, like Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and so forth. A regime like this is exploring nuclear development. This is a serious threat to the global community.

In order to curb Iranian threat, it is necessary to think of policy options. Currently, military strike, diplomatic negotiation, and punitive sanction are considered. The West has to support Iranian civic movements for democracy, in parallel with those measures. Among those, military attack is unlikely. Iranian theocrats will claim holy war against Western invasion, Reza Pahlavi says in a BBC interview on February 6. Also, Flynt L. Leverett, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution argues as the following.

“The United States (or Israel) could strike militarily at Iran's nuclear installations. But these are spread across Iran, and planners may not know all of the targets that would need to be hit. Moreover, a strike could prove counterproductive by hardening Iranian resolve to acquire a nuclear weapons capacity.”

Therefore, two options remain: either to continue talks or to impose sanctions. Can the global community talk with mullahs? Reza Pahlavi told Fox News that diplomacy does not work for a fascist regime, because they need confrontations against outside world in order to survive (January 7). To examine his comment, let me review some articles. As witnessed in recent failure in the negotiation with Russia, why is Iran so adamant?

According to Michael A. Ledeen, Freedom Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Iran acts based on its assessment of the West’s strength and weakness (“A Mullah’s-Eye View of the World”, National Review Online, February 17). They are not afraid of isolation from the world, because they feel that both the US and Israel face domestic divide to stand tough against Iran. Also, Michael Rubin argues in an AEI publication that as long as Iran retains extremist ideology, more diplomacy will give Iranian theocrats time to achieve its nuclear goal.

Things are going on as Rubin says. Prior to the Russo-Iranian talk, Reza Pahlavi appeared in C-Span to warn that mullahs use this negotiation as a delay tactic. Actually, the negotiation ended in failure.

If diplomacy does not work, punitive sanctions remain as the final option. Just as Reza Pahlavi says, this must be smart, not sanctions for sanctions. How to make it effective, while posing minimum damage to the Iranian public?

I saw an interesting file in an e-news from the Regime Change Iran. According to the file, Senator Rick Santorum proposed the following measures at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 2.

1) A travel ban on Iran's leaders;
2) A ban on international flights by Iran Air;
3) A ban on receiving cargo carried on Iranian government-owned ships; and
4) Aggressive action to see that government leaders in Iran responsible for human rights abuses and executions are brought to trial.

George Perkovich, Vice President at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, advised not to speak about sanctions prematurely and too hastily at the testimony before the House Armed Services Committee. When sanctions are imposed, all important investors and traders must be involved, he says. At the committee, he testified that Britain and France had been examining their sanction models.

Sanctions must hurt the regime, not the Iranian public. This is not only because of humanitarianism. Iranian people can work with the West to topple extremist mullahs. According to a policy brief by Chris Foster and James Owen at the Foreign Policy Centre in Britain, Iranians youth are more pro-American than those in Arab neighbors, and getting increasingly frustrated with brutal police and poor economy. Michael Rubin points out that only 10 % of people around Tehran believe in Ahmadinejad’s political vision. He argues that the United States and Europe could make Iran a potential anchor democracy in the Middle East, if they succeeded in empowering Iranian citizens.

As the latest Russo-Iranian negotiation was unsuccessful, it has become increasingly important for the Western alliance to explore sanctions.

Finally, I would like to mention the repair of transatlantic alliance on Iran. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Washington last time, people realized how serious Euro-American gap is on Iraq. However, “thanks” to adamant Ahmadinejad, the transatlantic bond is cementing again. Jim Hoagland, Columnist at the Washington Post, and Reuel Marc Gerecht, Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, welcomes this trend. A solidified unity of the Western alliance is essential to defeat mullahs’ ambition.

While America and Europe are working closely, Japan has not shown its strategy on Iran. Currently, Japan is engaged in developing a large-scale oil field in Azagaden, southwestern Iran. It is time to reconsider this project. Japan should understand its role as a key member of the Western alliance. Moreover, Japan needs to take implicit messages from President Bush seriously. The President requested India to stop the pipeline project when he offered technological assistance to civil use of nuclear energy. Also, at State of the Union Address this year, the President warned people of excessive dependence on Middle East oil.

Things have become increasingly critical, and staunch Western unity is required. America and Europe move closer together. Japan must not hesitate to join this transatlantic endeavor, if it is seriously pursuing for a leading position to manage the globe.