Saturday, 12 February 2011

Clueless about Taiwan and One China policy

Government needs to do homework on foreign policy
Manila Times

OFFICIAL statements about the brewing row with Taiwan betray the government’s lack of understanding about cross-straits issues and the country’s One China policy. That foreign affairs is the so-called Achilles heel of a national leader would not matter so much, if a particular issue did not have serious diplomatic, economic and sovereignty implications as seen in the case of the 14 Taiwanese who were deported to China earlier this month. Worse, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino 3rd seems, based on the statements attributed to him, to be misinformed about the issues.

Probably because the Palace wants to avoid violating the One China policy, for instance, the President said on Thursday that the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) would handle the situation. The problem with that is MECO cannot speak in behalf of the Philippine government—precisely because of the One China policy.

The Philippines has no diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which remains officially at war with the China. And to this day, China considers Taiwan a renegade province. The Philippines recognizes the government in Beijing as that of China, but Manila maintains cultural and economic relations with Taipei. The President should consult with experts at the Department of Foreign Affairs if MECO can officially speak in behalf of Manila, because we doubt it can.

President Aquino should also consult with experts about sending an emissary to Taiwan. He said also on Thursday that he might send someone to explain the government’s actions. He should be careful, because the One China policy restricts whom the government can send to deal with leaders in Taipei.

Actually, the Philippines has to tread a narrow path between Taiwan and China to avoid offending either one. Maintaining good relations with both is important to the national interests of the Philippines.

China is a military superpower and the second-largest economy in the world. Taiwan is the third-largest economy in Asia after Japan, host to some 90,000 Filipino workers, and a source of foreign direct investments. A hot war between China and Taiwan would have repercussions worldwide, especially the Philippines, which will be literally caught in the middle.

Again based on official statements, the Palace does not seem to grasp that by deporting the Taiwanese to China, the Philippines has unwittingly stepped into the sensitive cross-straits affairs.

Apologizing to Taiwan courts the ire of China, and conversely, refusal to say sorry would likely anger Taipei.

If Palace officials are listening carefully, though, Taiwan’s representative in Manila may have already provided a clue on how to deal with this sensitive issue. He has argued that the deportation is a matter of law, not at all concerned with the One China policy.

We, too, believe that the issue ought to be legal, not diplomatic. Were laws and procedures at the Bureau of Immigration and at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) broken in the deportation of the 14 Taiwanese? And if so, what is the Philippines doing about it?

Official statements argued that the Philippines did nothing wrong because the deported Taiwanese were criminals. But that is way off the mark. Whether they are criminals or saints, the issue is that they should have been deported to Taiwan, not China, in accordance with Philippine immigration laws. Also at issue here is what power—foreign or criminal—can trump a writ of habeas corpus issued by the Court of Appeals for the Taiwanese to appear before a hearing that did not happen because they were already flown out? And who or what was powerful enough to hasten the deportation ahead of hearings already scheduled by prosecutors?

To invoke the One China policy as a rationale for sending Taiwanese to China is plain ignorant. Palace officials also seem unaware or insensitive that the deportation issue is being used as ammunition against Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou by the opposition in Taiwan. President Ma is up for reelection next year.

Repairing relations

President Aquino and his people should consider making the issue a legal one, rather than diplomatic to avoid the One China policy trap.

Instead of turning down Taiwan’s demand for an apology so soon, the Palace should have taken time to study and consider the protest by Taipei’s representative, Donald Lee. Why respond so quickly, especially if the message is negative? If the Palace was compelled to reply, it could have said that it takes seriously all reports on alleged violations of laws and reports of maltreatment of foreigners, whether they be from Taiwan or elsewhere.

DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima

Instead of the Palace spokesman, perhaps the Department of Justice should do the talking for now. Justice Sec. Leila de Lima should order an investigation on the alleged breach of procedures by the Immigration bureau and NBI, which are both under her administrative control. Both bureaus are accused of mishandling the deportation. Sec. de Lima, too, should assure all foreigners, not just those from Taiwan, that the Philippines abides by the rule of law, and that the government is intolerant of those who believe otherwise.

Tough words should then be followed by an investigation into the allegations of Taiwan—not because it demands it but because that is proper. If laws and procedures were indeed broken, appropriate sanctions must be applied. And if there are foreign powers or criminal elements influencing government offices and public officials, they must be dealt with immediately and vigorously.

Finally, the President should consider using backchannels to soothe the feelings of Taipei. Sending an emissary from the President is a public act that may invite a protest from Beijing.

The Philippines needs to be careful, because it inadvertently walked into a minefield. The safest way out requires careful thought and deliberate moves.

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