President of Taiwan Calls for a “Community of Reciprocity”
In a recent interview with the Sankei Shimbun, the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), stated that the international community should develop the concept of a “community of reciprocity” (互惠的共同體) based on shared values and interests. The interview, her first as president with the conservative Japanese news outlet, covered a range of issues from cross-Strait relations, US-Taiwan relations, and Taiwan-Japan relations. While the emphasis among Taiwan’s domestic and international press coverage of the interview focused on the president’s call for a security dialogue between Taiwan and Japan, they have arguably missed the more geopolitically meaningful part of her remarks. In response to the reporter’s question about the impact of current US-China relations on Taiwan, which has been described as a “new cold war,” the leader of the island-democracy explained that the approach of her administration is to garner support from more international friends by sharing Taiwan’s values, interests in trade, economics, and other security matters to form the concept of a “community of reciprocity.”
A “New Cold War”
That the United States and China are in a “new cold war” is neither a new idea nor simply an academic concept. The deputy assistant director at the CIA’s East Asia mission center, Michael Collins, stated at the 2018 Aspen Security Forum in July 2018, that “the Chinese fundamentally seek to replace the United States as the leading power in the world. … What they’re waging against us is fundamentally a cold war. A cold war not like we saw during the Cold War, but a cold war by definition. A country that exploits all avenues of power, licit and illicit, public and private, economic, military, to undermine the standing of your rival relative to your own standing, without resorting to conflict.”
Further underscoring the return of ideological competition in the geopolitical arena, the US Intelligence Community’s 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment, which was released in January 2019, clearly pointed out the coming ideological battle. Specifically, it assessed that “Chinese leaders will increasingly seek to assert China’s model of authoritarian capitalism as an alternative—and implicitly superior—development path abroad, exacerbating great-power competition that could threaten international support for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.”
These premonitions issued by the US government are supplemented by an unprecedented and detailed study by the Hoover Institute and the Asia Society published in December 2018 called “Chinese Influence & American Interests: Promoting Constructive Vigilance.” While never referring to the situation as a “cold war,” the study, which was conducted by many leading American scholars on China, underscored the “myriad ways Beijing has more recently been seeking cultural and informational influence, some of which could undermine our democratic processes … through various methods that … [target] a range of groups and institutions, including the Chinese American community, Chinese students in the United States, and American civil society organizations, academic institutions, think tanks, and media.”
The combined statements and assessments by the US government and the academic report taken together reflect a significant change in public attitudes of the US government and American intellectual elites towards China. As part of the recommendation, the report articulated three principles to guide the response of government and various sectors to China’s interference activities that could undermine the democratic values and institutions. They include commitments to transparency, integrity in maintaining the independence of democratic institutions, and reciprocity in pursuit of a productive relationship with China.
Taiwan as a Model
In addition to calling for a “community of reciprocity,” President Tsai also highlighted how the international community may better understand the importance of Taiwan’s existence, in particular its existence as a model for political and economic development. Tsai continued, “Whether Taiwan is a democracy or a free place is very important to the whole world.” She explained,
Taiwan’s democracy, Taiwan’s persistence in human rights and many values are a model [for other countries]. Taiwan’s economic development has grown together with the development of Taiwan’s democracy. Many countries now believe that the development of democracy should be sacrificed for economic development, but Taiwan has proven that the development of the economy and the development of democracy can be combined. Moreover, they are complementary and mutually reinforcing.
The democratic development of Taiwan is a very important model for the process of democracy in the world. Therefore, we must continue to tell the international community how important Taiwan is. Taiwan is willing to share these values with the world. We also form a mutually beneficial relationship with the world and jointly maintain this relationship between security and stability.
In other words, we hope that the whole world can know the importance of Taiwan’s existence, cherish the existence of Taiwan, and give us the greatest support when Taiwan needs it.
In 1989 after fall of the Berlin wall, American scholar Francis Fukuyama published his seminal essay “The End of History?”, hailing the victory of democratic capitalism over all its ideological competitors. Despite Fukuyama’s prediction, there is now a resurgence of ideological competition in the rise of revisionist authoritarian powers in the 21st century and, in particular, China’s model of authoritarian capitalism. A contributing factor in this resurgence may be attributed, at least in part, to the longstanding policy that sought to integrate China in the international system and thereby incentivize conformity. But rather than conform, Beijing has exploited the asymmetry of the political-economic systems to further their interests while further closing up to legitimate external influence.
President Tsai’s call for a “community of reciprocity” did not appear out of thin air and its meaning snaps into clear view within the larger context of the ideological competition underway. It is also perhaps not a coincidence that a Japanese newspaper was chosen as the Taiwan president’s outlet for this policy pitch since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is one of the first Asian leaders to call for greater cooperation among democracies through his concept of “Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond,” which started as far back as in 2012. In his essay for the Project Syndicate, the Japanese prime minister wrote: “Japan must first anchor its ties on the other side of the Pacific; for, at the end of the day, Japan’s diplomacy must always be rooted in democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.” Indeed, reciprocity can only be based on shared values and interests.
The main point: President Tsai’s call for a “community of reciprocity” should be viewed within the larger context of the ideological competition between democracies and autocracies.
China’s National People’s Congress Re-Emphasizes “Xi’s Five Points” to Taiwan
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), began its annual meeting on March 5. Always held in conjunction with the advisory-body Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the largely ceremonial gathering of the NPC included a contingent of Taiwan delegates since 1975. This year was no exception. Among the 2,980 members body (of which 2,119 seats are controlled by the CCP) that reportedly attended the meeting, there were 13 so-called “representatives” for Taiwan, comprised of “second-generation Taiwan compatriots,” whose parents or grandparents were from Taiwan.
The NPC has been described as the body that “turns the party’s propositions into the will of the state.” With respect to Taiwan policy, the role of the NPC is limited in terms of formulation of policy, which is firmly controlled by the top echelons of the CCP in the Taiwan Affairs Leading Small Group (TALSG). Yet, the legislative function of the body serves as a means for the Party to “legalize” its directives on Taiwan (not only on Taiwan, but also towards many NGOs, culture, intelligence, and defense), such was the case of the passage of the Anti-Secession Law in 2005. Indeed, the NPC may be seen as a tool for implementing China’s legal warfare—which in a sense attempts to legitimize the Party’s directives through State legislation. How the CCP may attempt to legislate “Xi’s Five Points” remains to be seen.
At the NPC’s opening, the Party’s number two, Premier Li Keqiang (李克强), pointed out in his “Government Work Report” that this year’s emphasis on Taiwan work will be on implementing “Xi’s Five Points” (習五點), adhere to the “one-China principle” and the “1992 Consensus,” and oppose Taiwan independence. Additionally, Li pointed out the necessity to fully implement the spirit of Xi’s speech at the 40th anniversary of the message to the Taiwan compatriots, promote the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations, and advance the process of peaceful unification. The premier added that the compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait share the same fate and that they should work together to create a better future for all Chinese.
The Chinese premier’s sentiment was echoed by Wang Yang (汪洋), the deputy director of the CCP Central Committee’s TALSG and chairman of the CPPCC—who attended a meeting with the Taiwan delegates to the NPC and also called on them to study and implement “Xi’s Five Points” and promote cross-Strait economic and cultural exchanges, as well as cooperation through the 31 measures to deepen the integration of cross-Strait development. Since becoming chairman of the CPPCC, Wang Yang, who is also a politburo standing committee member in charge of United Front, has met with the Taiwan delegates during the NPC for two consecutive years.
The head of the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) under the State Council, which is in charge of implementing CCP policy towards Taiwan also stressed “Xi’s Five Points” as the guide to Taiwan work in the new era. Director Liu Jieyi (劉結一) added that cross-Strait relations will invariably move towards a unified direction and highlighted themes such as how “one country is a historical conclusion” (一國是歷史定論) and how “the two sides must be unified, and inevitably will be unified” (兩岸必須統一，也必然統一).
Reiterating the clear line set by Xi’s 40th anniversary speech to the Taiwan Compatriots, Liu asserted that the “one country, two systems” formula—which the CCP has applied to Hong Kong and Xi has hoisted as the model for cross-Strait unification—takes into account the reality of Taiwan’s political situation and will protect the interests of Taiwan compatriots. According to Liu—after “peaceful unification”—and “under the premise of ensuring national sovereignty, security, and development, the lifestyle and social system of Taiwan compatriots will be fully respected; private property, religious beliefs, and legitimate rights and interests will be fully protected, and Taiwan compatriots will feel more comfortable and happy.”
There were 13 so-called representatives of Taiwan to the 13th National People’s Congress: Kong Lingzhi (孔令智), Zhu Taiqing (朱台青), Jiang Erxiong (江爾雄), Yang Xiaohong (楊曉紅), Wang Yifu (汪毅夫), Zhang Xiaodong (張曉東), Zhang Xiong (張雄), Chen Yunying (陳雲英), Chen Jun (陳軍), Chen Qinghai (陳清海), Chen Weiwen (陳蔚文), Fu Zhiguan (符之冠), Liao Haiying (廖海鷹). The delegation was reportedly headed by the president of the All China Taiwan Compatriot Federation (中華全國臺灣同胞聯誼會)—a United Front group—Huang Zhixian (黃志賢), and representative Chen Yunying and others, spoke at the meeting with Wang.
The main point: CCP leaders’ emphasis on “Xi’s Five Points” at the National People’s Congress further cements those points as the central guidance of the PRC’s Taiwan policy, The NPC is a tool for implementing China’s legal warfare, how China may attempt to legislate “Xi’s Five Points” remains to be seen.