Prospects for US-PRC-Taiwan Relations after China’s Third Plenum


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When: Dec 12 2013 - 10:30am until Dec 12 2013 - 12:00pm
Where: 1819 L St, NW, Washington, DC. Sixth Floor Conference Room

Prospects for US-PRC-Taiwan Relations after China’s Third Plenum

An Asia-Pacific Security Seminar featuring:

Mr. Wen-Ti Sung
2013 Asia Studies Visiting Fellow, East-West Center in Washington
Australia National University

2013 Asia Studies Visiting Fellow, Wen-ti Sung, from Australian National University, discussed his analysis of the policy outcomes of China's Third Plenum and their implications for Sino-US-Taiwanese relations in his seminar at the East-West Center in Washington.

The dynamics of US-PRC-Taiwan trilateral relations seem to be gradually tilting in the direction of Beijing. After one year into his tenure, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has consolidated his power most visibly through the creation of the new State Security Committee (SSC) at the Third Plenum of the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th Central Committee. The SSC has been established to centralize decision-making on diplomatic and security policy; bringing the advisory arms of the Party and PLA, along with the offices that deal with issues on the peripheries such as Taiwan, into a unified body under Xi’s command. The result could be a more cohesive and coordinated application of China’s foreign policy.

Meanwhile in Taipei, the second-term President Ma Ying-Jeou’s commitment towards preserving the cross-strait status quo seems to be under ever greater strains as the perceived underlying power balance continues to evolve in Beijing’s favor. At the same time, in Washington, the Obama administration is at risk of drifting into assuming a benign neglect approach towards China and cross-strait relations.

In his presentation, Mr. Wen-Ti Sung discussed these internal political developments in China, and what implications they may have on the future of US-PRC-Taiwan trilateral relations. He described the plans for the SSC to integrate foreign and national security policy portfolios, including those dealing with Taiwan and other "periphery issues." In the case of the PRC's approach to Taiwan, he foresees Taiwan policy being less subject to inter-party fights, and given the expertise of many party leaders on cross-straits issues, he believes there will be a greater appetite for strategic patience vis-a-vis Taiwan.

On the Taiwan side, Mr. Sung noted that in both military balance and economic interdependence with the mainland, things are tilting in Beijing's favor. Therefore the US is receiving mixed messages on the state of the PRC-ROC relationship: that its good when Taiwan wants to project the image of a peacemaker (opposed to a troublemaker) in the region, or that it is bad when it wants to purchase arms to defend against China. Meanwhile, the care the US is taking with its Asia-Pacific rebalance strategy to assure China that it is not intended to constrain China, and the lack of attention to straits issues, are stoking fears in Taiwan on US abandonment.

 Joanna Yu Taylor, the Director of the China and the Pacific Program, Center for the National Interest and Adjunct Senior Policy Analyst at the RAND Corporation, comments on Wen-ti Sung's analysis of China's new policy initiatives and Taiwan relationsMr. Sung stated his belief that the present strategy for the "wait until the melon is ripe" before pushing for reunification. Presently the PRC has no interest in risking war with the US, and feels it must tread carefully out of consideration for the domestic (the potential demonstration effect on the Chinese middle class from the introduction of a functioning democracy into China) and international (Taiwan integration seen as a model for "life under China" to other Asian nations) implications of reunification.

Ms. Joanna Yu Taylor served as a discussant for Mr. Sung presentation. While she agrees with the potentially positive impacts of reorganizing China's "peripheral issues" portfolio under umbrella of "ethnic affairs" shows the central party's optimism on controlling these issues, and noted premier Xi Jinping's experience with the Mainland Taiwanese communities throughout his career, she is less sanguine on the notion of the PRC placing a greater emphasis on strategic patience. She suggested that because Xi is in a stronger position than his predecessor, he might want to take a more activist role. Moreover, recent remarks from a government official stating that there needs to be a timetable for reunification is indicative of China's confidence on the issue at the moment.

Mr. Wen-Ti Sung is an Asian Studies Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center in Washington and a PhD Candidate at the Australian National University. He was previously an inaugural Summer Research Scholar at the Australian Parliament’s Parliamentary Library and an Australian delegate to the Australia-China Futures Dialogue: Emerging Leaders Dialogue. He received a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and a B.A. (First Class Honors) in International Relations from the University of Queensland. His areas of research interest include contemporary Chinese politics, US-China relations, cross-strait relations, and East Asian politics.

Ms. Joanna Yu Taylor is the Director of the China and the Pacific program at the Center for the National Interest, and an Adjunct Senior Policy Analyst at RAND. Previously, Ms. Taylor served as a Policy Staffer at the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon, and worked extensively on US defense policy toward China and force distribution in the Asia Pacific. Other professional experience includes positions at Booz Allen Hamilton, the US House of Representatives, and the American Enterprise Institute. Ms. Taylor received her M.A. in International Affairs from Johns Hopkins SAIS and her B.A. in Politics from Princeton University.

Primary Contact Info:
Name: Grace Ruch Clegg
Phone: 202-327-9762