Taiwanese Official Sees Economic Ties Improving Relations Among East Asian Nations

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on this story by Carl Briggs:

July 14, 2011 — Taiwan's economic ties with its East Asian neighbors will pave the way for further improvements in diplomatic relations, military issues and other shared concerns, the chief international spokesman for the Republic of China said Wednesday morning at the University of Virginia.

Philip Y.M. Yang, who earned his doctorate in foreign affairs with a focus on international law and international organizations from U.Va.'s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences in 1996, cited the example of Taiwan's approach to negotiating with mainland China.

"You might ask, what about those political and security issues?," said Yang, whose official title is minister of the Government Information Office of the Republic of China. "Well, our position is that economic matters should go first, and then political and related issues, ranging from security to military."

Yang said that Taiwan's "economic performance now tops the other so-called 'Asian tigers'" of Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea. And with mainland China, "we can build mutual understanding and mutual trust … in the process between Taipei and Beijing discussing economic issues," he said, noting that the Taiwanese people still remain cognizant of the military threat posed by mainland China.

Travel, tourism and education are also helping to improve diplomacy, Yang suggested. Flights between Taiwan and mainland China will soon increase from 370 per week to 558. Chinese citizens may now visit Taiwan, and Chinese students will enroll in Taiwanese colleges this September.

With Japan, charity is playing a role; Taiwanese citizens contributed more than 20 billion yen – more than $200 million – for Japanese victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, returning the favor of tremendous assistance Taiwan received in 1999 after it suffered a strong earthquake. Some funding came from the government, but most was donated by individuals, many of whom responded to a televised plea by Taiwan's president, Ma Ying-jeou, and his wife, Christine Chow Ma.

Yang spoke to about 35 people in the Lower West Oval Room of the Rotunda on "The 'Taiwan Foremost' Strategy." He was introduced by Brantly Womack, Cumming Memorial Professor of Foreign Affairs of U.Va.'s Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics.

A former senior adviser to Taiwan's National Security Council from 2008 to 2010, Yang was appointed two months ago as the country's chief spokesman.

Though his lecture focused on economic concerns, Yang addressed a military issue raised by a Taiwanese television reporter – one of several from Taiwanese news organizations to attend the lecture – who referred to a research report on weapons sales, published earlier this year by U.Va.'s Miller Center.

The question of future arms sales to Taiwan is vital, Yang said, citing military activity in mainland China, Australia, Japan, and North and South Korea. "That's not exactly an arms race. It's probably just a development in terms of military preparedness," especially with modern fighter jets in these other countries and in Guam, a U.S. territory, he said.
U.S. arms sales to Taiwan in 2008 and 2010 disturbed officials in China, which officially considers Taiwan part of its sovereign territory. As a self-governing island, Taiwan has unofficial or "de facto" ties with the U.S. through both the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the U.S. and the American Institute in Taiwan.

Yang recalled coming to U.Va. 20 years ago, saying, "I found this as a beautiful campus." Yang joked then with the international students' office that, as a Fulbright Scholar, "I only got a partial grant, so I'm not full-bright, I'm half-bright." He expressed appreciation for U.Va.'s additional support, including providing him a position as a teaching assistant.

Among his wonderful memories, his most important is meeting the woman who became his wife, Rie Endo, then a Japanese student earning her master's degree in international relations. They met in a course taught by Kenneth W. Thompson, who is now professor emeritus of politics and director emeritus of U.Va.'s Miller Center.

Yang also cited his yearlong study in contemporary political theory under George Klosko, Henry L. and Grace Doherty Professor of Politics. Klosko impressed on Yang the view of G.W.F. Hegel that "everybody, including every country, is struggling for recognition – not just simply the diplomatic and political recognition, but to be recognized by your peer group, by the community and by the society. I think this is equally important for Taiwanese people."

Taiwan understands the difficulty of "diplomatic recognition," and is concerned with "mainly the recognition by the international community and regional countries of our achievements," Yang said.

One U.Va. alumnus who heard Yang's talk said he was pleased that a high-ranking Taiwanese official chose to speak at U.Va. during the centennial of the founding of the Republic of China, the first republic in Asia.

"I think it's very significant for him to visit because of the historical significance of Virginia in terms of the Declaration of Independence, the founding of America. So from that perspective, I see the powerful resonance of that significance," said Stephen C. Meng, a native of Taipei who graduated in 1980 with a bachelor 's degree in chemical engineering from U.Va.'s School of Engineering and Applied Science. Meng and his wife have a daughter attending U.Va.

"I think it's a very thoughtful approach that Taiwan has taken, and it's very reasonable," said Meng, who drove from Raleigh, N.C. to hear Yang. "Rather than, as he said, being a 'troublemaker,' they can be a peacemaker. Even the Bible talks about 'blessed are the peacemakers.' I think it's consistent with the Chinese philosophy."

– by Carl Briggs