Economic Integration, Democratization and National Security in East Asia: Shifting Paradigms in U.S., China, and Taiwan Relations

Economic Integration, Democratization and National Security in East Asia

Author(s): Peter C.Y. Chow (ed.)

ISBN:          9781845429782

Publisher: Edward Elgar Publishing

Year:            2007

Price:            $130.00

Reviewed by Lisa Fischler, Assistant Professor, Moravian College, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

In the face of the primary question about what constitutes the major security concerns for 21st-century East Asia, Economic Integration, Democratization and National Security in East Asia definitively answers “Taiwan.” Although focused on East Asia, the book places the issues of security, economics, and politics squarely within the triangular relations among the U.S., China, and Taiwan, rather than equally considering either nuclear weapons and the Korean Peninsula or regional hegemony and Sino-Japanese relations.  Framed by a detailed introduction and a concise “Postscript,” the remaining thirteen chapters consider cross-Strait relations from multiple perspectives, including Taiwan’s, China’s, the U.S.’, Japan’s, North Korea’s, and the European Union’s.  As implied in its straightforward title, the volume is divided into three sections: democratization, economic integration, and national security.  A theme that underlies many of the chapters is the extent to which leaders use domestic (or internal) policies to influence international relations.  In the Taiwanese context, this theme not only makes sense due to the regional and global ramifications of tensions between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC), but also serves as one of the collection’s main contributions.  The book offers such significantly in-depth evidence of the tremendous complexities involved in PRC-ROC relations that scholars and policy-makers alike will greatly appreciate its broader applicability to current comparative research on contemporary East Asia.

Based on a wide variety of sources, from interviews and journalistic accounts to official documents and surveys, the first substantive section, “Democratization in Taiwan and its Impact on the Triangular Relations,” involves five chapters the subject matter of which ranges from Taiwan’s party politics and national identity to Taiwan-related domestic laws in the U.S. and the PRC.  Chapter Two by Edward Friedman and Chapter Three by Tun-Jen Cheng and Yung-Ming Hsu evaluate the roles Taiwan’s national identity, ethnicity, and party politics play in cross-Strait relations, but reach dissimilar conclusions.  Chapter Two strongly contends that the PRC, in ways reminiscent of its actions in Tibet during the first half of the 20th century, is taking advantage of the more ethnic (Chineseness vs.  Taiwanese identity) than national identity (rapprochement vs.  independence) polarization between the Blues and the Greens so as to undermine the DPP’s political status.  Chapter Three, while acknowledging the ethnic cleavages and PRC actions to which Chapter Two refers, sees Taiwan’s partisan competition more as an issue of national identity and affirms that the “PRC may remain a source of threat to Taiwan’s security, but it now has emerged as a possible solution to Taiwan’s security concerns” by leaving the door open for KMT elites to “do business” with Beijing (p.  72).  Cross-Strait relations may be positively impacted by closer KMT-Beijing ties, but it is still worth pondering Chapter Two’s timely question: “[Given Taiwan’s] difficult international situation, might ordinary communalist polarization be suicidal to the nation?”  (p.  42).

Expanding the discussion on democratization, Chapter Four by June Teufel Dreyer and Chapter Five by Jacques deLisle examine the connection between domestic politics and Taiwan’s international status from the U.S. and PRC perspectives.  In the face of concrete evidence for declining Congressional passion over Taiwan’s efforts to garner a greater international presence, Chapter Four lays out perceptive reasons, from Beijing’s growing lobbying skills to Taiwan’s own ambiguities over its identity, for doubting the U.S.’ future political will to serve as Taiwan’s protector.  The chapter also concludes, along the lines of Chapter Two, the U.S. may see the 2004 KMT elites’ visit to the PRC as proof that cross-Strait tensions will soon be resolved, thereby negating the need for an American arbitur.  Chapter Five, more directly than Chapter Four, addresses the link between internal politics and Taiwan’s international situation by investigating how the U.S.’ 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and the PRC’s 2005 Anti-Secession Law weigh in on five criteria for statehood sanctioned by international law, but also preserve the status quo with regards to Taiwan.  In terms of the PRC’s law, Taiwan is Chinese not an independent territory; the island’s people are part of the PRC rather than a distinct population; the Beijing leadership governs Taiwan with the “one country, two systems” formula; and Taiwan can neither conduct international relations on its own nor assert its “sovereign identity separate from China” (p.  126).  Reflecting the opposite side of the coin, the TRA buoys Taiwan’s claims to “state-like” status, but preserves the cross-Strait status quo by “remaining agnostic” on the issue of full statehood for Taiwan.  Laws in both the PRC and the U.S. allow each side sufficient room to maneuver within the existing status quo and have strongly connected domestic legal forms to international criteria for statehood.  As the chapter, echoing Chapter Two, warns, however, the Anti-Secession Law was “one side of a new and dangerous PRC gambit to use both carrot and stick and to divide…and conquer Taiwan” (p.  106).       

Functioning as a conclusion to the section on democratization, Chapter Six by Nat Bellocchi assesses the potential for Taiwan’s future path, be it status quo, independence, or unification.  Citing ambiguity as the foundation of cross-Strait relations and of Taiwan’s status, the chapter finds that, in light of the 2000 and 2004 elections, opting for the status quo in the near term will be the choice of most of Taiwan’s voters.  Selection of this option is due, first,  to the risks associated with provoking the PRC should the island declare independence and, second, the threats to an autonomous way of life if Taiwan pursues unification.  Many of the chapter’s conclusions reflect the assertions of the chapters preceding it.  Like Chapter Five, the chapter shows solid support for the status quo in the short term, even given new domestic laws in the U.S. and the PRC.  Such support, as shown in Chapter Three, may moderate the possibly negative impact of a closer KMT-PRC association. The chapter, along with Chapter Two, discuss the amelioration of ethnic polarization within Taiwan that has been brought about by a younger generation of KMT Taiwan-born supporters, who have more affective ties to, or at least a greater understanding of, an indigenous Taiwanese identity.  Nevertheless, the downside of increased PRC involvement in Taiwan’s partisan politics may be greater chances for misunderstandings among the triangular relations (U.S., PRC, Taiwan), and therefore greater future risks.       

The second section, “Economic integration and security of the global supply chain,” includes four chapters that, based on official documents, scholarly journals, and think-tank studies, deal with prospects for further East Asian trade, albeit focused on the Taiwan Straits.  While noting that East Asian economic integration has lagged behind both the EU and NAFTA, Chapter Seven by Dan Ciuriak proposes a future scenario in which the governments and firms in East Asia have deepened economic integration, reduced the risks of doing business, and decreased the price of communication, but face rising transportation costs.  Chapter Eight by Tain-Jy Chen and Ying-Hua Ku and Chapter Nine by Frank S.T. Hsiao and Mei-Chu W.  Hsiao employ statistical analysis to evaluate the costs and benefits to Taiwan of regional free trade agreements (FTAs).  Both chapters agree that Taiwan’s exclusion from regional agreements like ASEAN Plus One (AP1) and ASEAN Plus Three (AP3) would mean a loss, but a minimal one. However, an FTA between Taiwan and the U.S. would result in gains for both sides.  Beyond the economics of these arguments, however, lies geopolitics, particularly in cross-Strait relations.  Chapter Eight documents a shift in East Asian integration from market driven (since the late 1960s) to politically manipulated (beginning with the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis).  Taiwan, according to both chapters, has been excluded from regional integration agreements due to politically-tied reasons such as the lack of PRC-ROC direct shipping links and national security concerns on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.  Chapter Nine demonstrates that the greatest risk to Taiwan, in terms of being excluded from regional FTAs, is to its IT/high tech sector.  Therefore, the best future plan for Taiwan would be to divest itself from its dependence on the PRC through its FDI and sectoral investments.  A U.S.-Taiwan FTA would very much help Taiwan to implement this plan.  On a concluding note, Chapter Ten by Merritt T.  Cooke not only reaches the same conclusion as Chapter Nine as to the potential benefit of an FTA between the U.S. and Taiwan but also makes other key points similar to previous chapters.  There are parallels between Chapters Four and Nine about the role played by U.S. perceptions of a lack of political will, on the part of Taiwan, to make the changes necessary to merit serious American consideration as a worthy partner.  In addition, Chapters Eight, Nine, and Ten all point to politics, as opposed to economics, specifically Beijing’s efforts to undermine Taiwanese efforts to gain international stature, as a major reason for Taiwan’s exclusion from regional and bilateral trade agreements.       

The four chapters that comprise the book’s third section, “U.S. strategic and security interests in Asia,” examine national security from both regional and global perspectives.  Although they are the only two chapters focusing on North Korea as a player in East Asian politics, Chapter Eleven by Robert Sutter and Chapter Twelve by Richard D. Fisher underscore the importance of the North Korean issue to cross-Strait relations.  Acknowledging the growing antipathy toward the U.S. in East Asia, Chapter Eleven nonetheless shows the trends favoring an ongoing American presence in the region.  U.S. commitments to military security, based still on the 1955 San Francisco “hub-and-spoke” system of alliances with key East Asian nations, to an open market policy, and to foreign policy pragmatism, conjoined with limitations in China’s influence relative to U.S. power and Asian governments’ focus on domestic concerns all work to shore up stability within the region.  Yet, as emphasized by Chapter Twelve, there are a number of contingencies that could tip the balance in the other direction.  These contingencies include regional misperceptions of U.S. actions, the model for other East Asian governments of North Korea’s reliance on bombastic, nuclear-threat diplomacy, the PRC’s lack of resolve over change in North Korea, and the U.S. sacrifice of Taiwan to gain PRC support.  East Asian politics is clearly multi-faceted, as revealed by Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen.  Chapter Thirteen by Alexander K.  Young brings the voice of Japan into cross-Strait relations by documenting the reasons that Japan “finally woke up” to the threat posed by the PRC to its interests in 2004 after decades of pursuing, almost at all costs, a “goodwill” policy towards the Beijing leadership.  In addition, the chapter highlights the key significance of Taiwan to Japan’s relationship with the PRC and offers two future scenarios for Japan’s China policy–either a more assertive approach or a more spineless approach.  The former would protect the status quo on Taiwan and delay, but not rule out, a PRC-centric world order; the latter would split Taiwan, based on the partisan and social cleavages discussed in Chapters Two and Three, and rapidly bring about a PRC-centric world order.  Chapter Fourteen by Peter Brookes enriches understanding of cross-Strait relations in the broader East Asian context by drawing on the EU perspective.  Despite the chapter’s initial contention that its goal is to answer the question of whether the EU’s desire to lift the Tiananmen Square arms embargo against the PRC constitutes “soft bargaining” against the U.S., the predominant message gleaned from its findings is that the outcome of such a move by the EU would dramatically endanger Taiwan’s security from a variety of vantage points.       

Finally, the “Postscript” of this nicely diverse volume reflects important conclusions drawn in previous chapters, but also contains dire predictions, for other nations, of the PRC’s future goal.  Just as other chapters demonstrated how the PRC’s divide and rule strategies work in both Taiwan and the Korean peninsula, this final chapter delineates multiple ways in which the PRC employs the same strategy regionally and globally to achieve its penultimate desire–the elimination of the U.S. as the current unipolar power in the international system.  In addition, the PRC’s ultimate goal, according to the chapter, is an “Imperial China” dominated world-order by the end of the 21st century.  This conclusion creates a more sinister logic than possibly implied in the other chapters as regards the PRC’s pursuit of multilateral FTAs with ASEAN, of more intricate economic ties with the U.S., of rapproachement with the KMT, and of strategic partnerships with nations and regions such as Russia, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. In relation to connections between the book’s chapters, however, readers might have been better served by the drawing of more insightful comparisons through both explicit references in individual chapters and deliberate evaluations in the concluding chapter.  Moreover, a number of the chapters would have benefitted to better referencing of sources and the inclusion of endnotes as these additions would have enhanced the already well-informed and analytical content of the volume.  Nevertheless, these suggestions should not detract from the work’s overall appeal to and usefulness for scholarly and policy-making concerns regarding East Asia for the duration of the contemporary era.