Devin Stewart Interviews Chong-Pin Lin

Dec 12, 2008

Full Video

Global Ethics Forum TV Show

Dr. Lin discusses Taiwan's current political crisis; relations with China; climate change; the future of democracy in East Asia; what Obama's presidency may mean for the region; and the surprising "detente" between China and Japan.

DEVIN STEWART: Good afternoon. I'm Devin Stewart from the Carnegie Council for Ethics and International Affairs here in New York City.

I'm sitting here with Dr. Chong-Pin Lin. He is a professor of the Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies at Tamkang University, near Taipei. He is the former Deputy Minister of Defense from Taiwan.

He has graciously come to the Carnegie Council to tell us about United States-China and United States-Taiwan affairs and lots of news.

Dr. Lin, thank you for coming.

CHONG-PIN LIN: Nice to be here.

DEVIN STEWART: First, I have to ask you about the huge news today that Chen Shui-bian now has been hospitalized as a result of his hunger strike against corruption charges by the KMT[Kuomintang Nationalist Party]. What is going on? Please explain to our viewers the current political situation in Taiwan.

Mr. Chen Shui-bian has been a very resilient political player. In every downturn of his political life, somehow he has managed to come back. Ditto for this current crisis. He was detained a few days ago, and then he refused to eat. That act aroused a lot of sympathizers, coming to the streets in support of him. It so happened that two weeks ago, there was the highest-ranking official from Beijing visiting Taiwan, the highest since 1949, when the People's Republic of China wfas founded. At that time, many former supporters of Chen Shui-bian went to the streets. The ruling party somehow gathered around 10,000 police force, so there were some bloody clashes.

Somehow these two events dovetailed, to some degree. The sentiments now in Taiwan, suspicious of Beijing's ulterior motive, are still there, although the majority of people showed their preference in March when they elected President Ma Ying-jeou. In other words, they were saying, "To us, the economy is more important than political dignity. We can sacrifice a little bit on how people call us, but we want to grow economically, improve our livelihood."

DEVIN STEWART: The KMT has run on a platform of better economy, as you mentioned, and also warmer relations with China. You were in the government with the DPP [Democratic Progressive Party].

CHONG-PIN LIN: And KMT before that.

DEVIN STEWART: And KMT before that. But you are framing the current posture as being pro-economy or also pro-relations with China?

The two are linked. Taiwan has been suffering a sagging economy in recent years and the KMT, the ruling party, has argued that one of the reasons for the economy to go down is because the previous administration under DPP refused to interact more with China, a growing economy. So the ruling party said, "We must hook ourselves to this train of economic power, and therefore to improve our own economy."

DEVIN STEWART: You have written quite a bit about this whole phenomenon, including foreseeing some of the political changes in the world, including the election of Barack Obama. Before we get to that, though, a major phenomenon going on is the financial crisis. If the KMT is thinking about economic prosperity, what is the effect of the financial crisis on Taiwan's future policies?

CHONG-PIN LIN: So far Taiwan, luckily, has not been affected as much as other countries have been by the financial crisis. There are various reasons given. But anyway, our economy is bad enough already, so any improvement would be appreciated by the people.

DEVIN STEWART: China's economy is—apparently, there are a lot of corporate closures and factories are closing down. There is obviously a clear link, interdependence, between Taiwan and mainland China. How do you foresee the future of Taiwan's economy, given the hardship going on in China?

I think there's no doubt that Taiwan will be affected to some degree. However, let's take a look at the broader picture. The United States has been suffering from triple deficits—savings, fiscal budget, and trade. China, on the other hand, has enjoyed triple surpluses. Just the first half of this year, China had a 175-billion-U.S.-dollar surplus in its budget, not to mention the almost 2 trillion of U.S. dollars in foreign reserves, and not to mention the traditional habit of Chinese people saving their money all the time. Therefore, the fundamentals, I would call them, for China are much stronger. That's why Beijing is forward-going in terms of playing a role in the financial crisis.

I think it was so interesting. Within one week after Barack Obama was elected president, Beijing announced a huge gift to Barack Obama by saying that China would spend $586 billion within two years for expanding the internal market. That means buying more American products, machinery and equipment.

DEVIN STEWART: Absolutely. As I mentioned to you earlier, I was in Beijing when the financial crisis sort of broke in the news. Bush and Hu Jintao had a telephone call, and Hu Jintao was pleased to say that China will step up and support the United States and the world in shoring up, or at least stopping the tidal wave of destruction from the financial crisis.

This kind of goes to China-United States relations. As we were talking about just a few minutes ago, before we started rolling the tape, it seems like you and I both agree that United States-China relations will get more and more cooperative. Is that how you see things playing out?

CHONG-PIN LIN: Yes, definitely. I even think it may be possible that the first foreign trip to be made by President Obama could be China, after Japan, because he has to stop over in Tokyo, not to make the Japanese unhappy.

DEVIN STEWART: And what will be the biggest topic? Probably the financial crisis?

CHONG-PIN LIN: Probably cooperation on the financial crisis and cooperation on many other issues.

DEVIN STEWART: We were also talking earlier about Al Gore's analysis of looking at climate change, energy policy, and the financial crisis as all being interlinked. How do you see a cooperative approach that is possible, even suggesting ethical leadership, between Asia and the United States emerging? What kind of joint approach can Asian countries and Western countries take toward climate change?

I remember not too long ago, two weeks ago, Beijing suddenly urged the major powers in the world to help the poor countries on emissions. That was something very new. Beijing used to be faulted for letting too much carbon dioxide come out from their factories. Now Beijing is revising its own standards. That's a hopeful sign. I can see, if you project this, greater cooperation between China and the United States and many other Western countries on this kind of issue.

DEVIN STEWART: This is relating to a project that we are trying to get going here at the Carnegie Council. What are the ethical issues of climate change and international cooperation? In other words, what is China's or Taiwan's or even Japan's starting point for what is fair when we talk about addressing climate change? What is the fairest approach? Should we be thinking about what countries are capable of? Should we be thinking about the cost? Should we be thinking about future generations and their rights, or even past history of polluting? What's going to be the top ethical issue that, I want to say, East Asian economies are going to be thinking about? Maybe you want to address Japan, Taiwan, and China. What are some of the big issues?

CHONG-PIN LIN: I think the biggest issue is this debate between the future and the present. People will argue that we have to mine the minerals, we have to do this and that, for our own good, but the others will say, "Think about your children, your grandchildren." You probably have to find the optimal point between these two seemingly opposing choices. But I think, as long as you have the will, you will find that optimal point. Probably you will find more new approaches which may not be economically that disastrous, even for the present or the future.

DEVIN STEWART: Do you see Japan and China and Taiwan drawing from different traditions to make these tradeoff decisions? In Japan we have this notion of mottainai, "don't waste," for example. Also very big in Japan is efficiency. Efficiency is almost an ethic of work.

Meanwhile, in China, according to some of the people we interviewed in Beijing, there is a multilayer of sources for ethical reflection. One is the Confucian past, another one is the socialist traditions—I'm thinking about equity—and a third is taking the best from the world.

What do you see as being the traditions that might emerge for countries to actually make these decisions?

CHONG-PIN LIN: China has been buying from Japan environmental-related technology. Of course, one of the major philosophies influencing China for thousands of years is so-called Taoism. In that philosophy, human beings should be in harmony with nature. I think that concept can lead China in the future to go to the very modern, with new technology to improve the environment.

DEVIN STEWART: Will these ethical traditions also guide China's approach to the world, generally speaking?

CHONG-PIN LIN: I think slowly, although China now, in terms of environmental issues, is not showing a very good record. But I think the trend is switching and gradually shifting, especially from higher up in Beijing. The top leadership is aware of that importance.

DEVIN STEWART: One of the issues of ethical reflection in foreign policymaking and policymaking in general is the future of democracy in Asia. This is an issue that we've heard about from Andy Nathan, who is a professor at Columbia. He presented some results from his study on Asian attitudes toward democracy in East Asia. I understand this is something very dear to the Taiwanese, obviously.

At the same time, there is a lot of ambiguity. For example, according to his study, Chinese people who were surveyed—it was a sample of at least 1,000 people per country, so it was a fairly robust sample—according to his sample, people in China are fairly satisfied with the current government relative to, say, Japan. The Japanese are dissatisfied with their current government, and they are not so sure if democracy is the way to go. Meanwhile, the Chinese feel very confident about democracy, ironically.

One could imagine that a reason for this is that Japan, being so democratic, has more experience from which to draw a judgment on democracy. Or you could imagine that maybe China just is experiencing better governance, on the other hand.

How do you see the future of democracy in East Asia?

CHONG-PIN LIN: A lot of democracies in East Asia are in trouble. Take Thailand, for instance. The popularly elected leader, Thaksin, has been perceived to be a leader who overused his power, and therefore he has been in trouble.

The same in Taiwan. Our popularly elected president now is in jail.

So the Western concept of democracy has been questioned in the East. However, I think the top leadership in Beijing now is facing this dilemma. Up to this point, the leaders in Beijing were quite happy with what they have as democracy, quote/unquote. But now their greatest enemy is internal. Take the poisonous milk issue, for instance. The great issue is that if Beijing does not allow freedom of the press, then Beijing has no way of finding out what is going on at lower levels, and tens of thousands of people would die. Eventually, that kind of thing would make the people unhappy with their government and then they would rise.

Therefore, the future of the Communist Party may be in jeopardy. That's why the leaders in Beijing are thinking, "Is there a better way of finding a midpoint between the two?"

DEVIN STEWART: That was certainly one of the themes we picked up when we were in Beijing. We were there during the tainted-milk scandal, and people were wondering, "How can we promote ethical behavior at home?"

Is ethical behavior abroad for China also a concern?

CHONG-PIN LIN: First of all, the government in Beijing does not allow their people to know too much about the outside world, although elites would have access to the Internet. So far I don't think the Chinese are that much interested in what is going on outside of China—I mean the majority of people. But the elites know. The elites know the necessity of where to guide a country in the future.

DEVIN STEWART: Do you think, as opposed to pure security analysis or moral analysis or values, ideologies—I'll give you an example. One of the professors we talked to in China said that unlike ideology and values, which the United States shares with Europe and Japan, the United States and China share ethical reflection. Do you see this as a starting point to address some of the world's problems, ethical analysis?

CHONG-PIN LIN: Certainly in China, as the offspring of Confucius, ethics have always been more important than if the issue were outside of China. I think there is a possibility that this overlapped attention to ethics may draw China and the United States closer together.

DEVIN STEWART: Interesting.

Going back to talk about democracy in East Asia, we said as we started out that Chen is in jail on a hunger strike. What is the future of democracy in Taiwan? Do you see unification between Taiwan and China?

CHONG-PIN LIN: Not so soon. Our public opinion polls show, since taken in the early 1990s, a bedrock of stability concerning the issue of independence versus unification. The majority or plurality has always been for the status quo. So not so soon.

DEVIN STEWART: What do Taiwanese need from China before it's acceptable to have unification?

: There are currently two major obstacles preventing China and Taiwan from getting closer. One is the mounting number of short-range ballistic missiles deployed across the Taiwan Strait.
The other one is Beijing's insistence of not allowing Taiwan to participate in international organizations, even the functional agencies of the United Nations. For example, take the tsunami incident a few years ago. Taiwan wanted to make a donation, but Beijing boycotted Taiwan from doing that.

DEVIN STEWART: Absolutely.

Have you heard about any military-to-military relations between Taiwan and China?

CHONG-PIN LIN: An interesting topic. Even during the time when Taiwan was ruled by the pro-independence party, I hear now that there were five occasions where the generals in Taiwan's Defense University met with their [Chinese] counterparts in Sweden. That aspect has suddenly opened up. Even the current defense minister of Taiwan has indicated the possibility of talking or interacting with People's Liberation Army generals.

DEVIN STEWART: Is this a concern to American foreign policymakers?

I think so far Americans are happy to see that happen, to see the trend taking place.

DEVIN STEWART: Are people worried that American military technology that is sold to Taiwan could make its way to China?

CHONG-PIN LIN: Yes, you're quite right. There is a red line. If the Taiwanese army shared with the People's Liberation Army their weapons that the United States sold to Taiwan, then that's something else.

What would you expect would happen?

I think what may happen is that, at least, America will stop selling weapons and Washington would either publicly or privately indicate its displeasure with Taipei.

DEVIN STEWART: A couple more topics before you have to head out—I want to talk about the trade relations that you have written about fairly prolifically in the English press. You have noticed that Japan has become relatively more dependent on China for its own prosperity. Do you want to comment on the shifting geoeconomics in East Asia?

CHONG-PIN LIN: The most amazing thing that happened was that when the former prime minister of Japan, Abe, went to Beijing to meet with Hu Jintao on October 8, 2006—after that, scholars did not really come forward to say, "We missed it." I haven't seen a good explanation offered.

My explanation about what happened is that after the November 2004 incident of the submarine invading Japanese waters, it was in the same month when Tokyo announced that trade with China surpassed trade with the United States.

Since then, in Japan the forces coming from below—businessmen, housewives sending their children to study Chinese, professors who went to China and suggested that government should improve relations—the thorny issue for a prime minister of Japan to visit the Yasukuni Shrine stopped when Abe took power.

That trend kept going until—even after May of this year, when Hu Jintao visited the emperor, major headlines in international newspapers said, "No progress, except pandas offered." They were all wrong, because Tokyo and Beijing signed an agreement on 70 issues covering environmental, cultural, technological, political, military—shortly after that, the controversial negotiations between Tokyo and Beijing on East China Sea oil got results. Shortly after that, Japan sent a warship to return the visit of Chinese warships visiting Japan last year. This, again, was the first time in decades.

So Japan-China détente is now a fact. The force of détente, I would say, is the economy.

DEVIN STEWART: Very interesting. That goes back to liberal theory, basically, that economic relations can foster better political relations.

It's often said these days in some of the elite press in America that the Obama Administration will be characterized by practical foreign policymaking, less based on so-called ideology, and that people will put away some parochial politics for a more cosmopolitan, bigger perspective on the world. Based on what you just told me, does it sound like this sort of thinking is catching on?

CHONG-PIN LIN: I even wrote it in January, predicting that when Obama is elected president, he may put emphasis on humanitarian issues, environmental issues, and, of course, on multilateralism rather than unilateralism and many other related issues. I think that seems to be the trend of Obama's administration.

DEVIN STEWART: Before you go, I just want to get back to your op-ed, "What an Obama Presidency Means," written in January 2008. Are there any remaining issues that you would like to tell us about, how you see future Obama Administration policy toward Asia? Any remaining big points?

Take Obama's word, that he would like to talk to the so-called rogue states. I think we should not rule out the possibility, first of all, that he will be more careful on what he said, that he would go into Pakistan with striking forces. He may not, especially if Hillary Clinton is appointed as secretary of state. Obama may talk to the Taliban, I think. He may visit India and Pakistan, and for Pakistan to arrange a meeting between him and the leader of the Taliban.

On top of that, Robert Gates, the secretary of defense, and even the general of the Central Command said the same thing: "We have to talk to the enemy. We cannot use military force to solve everything." "Reconciliation" is the key word.

It sounds like a good word for us. Dr. Lin, I want to thank you so much for coming by the Carnegie Council and telling us about your views. I hope you come back again.

Thank you so much.

Thank you so much.

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