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President Ma's Remarks at Ministry of Foreign Affairs: The Concept and Strategy of the “Flexible Diplomacy”

The Concept and Strategy of the "Flexible Diplomacy"

Ma Ying-jeou


Republic of China (Taiwan)

4 August 2008


Ministry of Foreign Affairs



In the past eight years our foreign policy was the so-called "scorched earth diplomacy" and "checkbook diplomacy," which proved to be detrimental to Taiwan's national interest.  Most recently I took a look at our annual government budgets and discovered that the budget of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) as a percent of the total budget was raised from 1.11% in 1993 to 1.82% in 2008, a growth rate of 64%.  However, the mutual trust with our non-diplomatic allies has fallen, the number of our diplomatic allies has decreased, our participation in international activities has encountered unprecedented pressure, and Taiwan's international image worsened.  Obviously a new direction is needed for our foreign policy to ensure that our national interests can be safeguarded, that our diplomatic efforts are effective, and that our resources are optimally deployed. 


1.      Basic Concept of Flexible Diplomacy


The idea of "flexible diplomacy" I proposed during the presidential campaign is aimed at improving our international standing and increasing the cost-effectiveness of our diplomatic budget. Flexible diplomacy does not require Taiwan to be at loggerheads with the mainland in each and every international encounter. There simply is no need to perpetuate a vicious cycle.  Instead, it actually encourages the two sides of the Taiwan Strait to gradually engage with each other so as to create rapprochement or win-win results, thus leading to a virtuous cycle.  The cornerstone of this "flexible diplomacy" is a certain degree of mutual trust across the Strait, which could later be extended to the international arena.  Naturally, mutual trust in international arena will likely have a positive feedback on the health of cross-strait relations.  Since my inauguration initiatives have been taken to establish basic trust across the Strait. Let me now talk about how we should proceed with flexible diplomacy,


2.      Bilateral Relations—Diplomatic Allies


Let me first start with our diplomatic allies. Currently, there are 23 countries that recognize the ROC while 171 recognize mainland China.  "Flexible Diplomacy" is to pursue rapprochement and truce with mainland China in international arena for national interest. That is, both sides should be committed to not wasting national resources in a vicious cycle to win over diplomatic allies from the other side, or conducting diplomatic activities that will hurt the feelings or interests of the other side.  Of course, some people may ask what if the other side doesn't want a diplomatic truce.  My answer is cross-strait relations are in lockstep with our relations in international society. If rapprochement across the Taiwan Strait benefits both sides, then there is no reason why both sides can't reach some common ground in international arena. If both sides for whatever reason have to fall back to the same old habit of cut-throat competition in international politics, then what has just begun to thaw in cross-strait relations may be frozen again.  It will be a great misfortune for both sides' authorities and people. 



If diplomatic truce can be achieved, then we can conduct a meaningful review of our foreign aid programs. Let me elaborate on three points. First, we can begin to set rational objectives, strategies and standards for our foreign aid programs. There is no longer the need to practice the so called "Dollar Diplomacy" which many of our diplomats and citizens find so distasteful. Second, Taiwan was once a recipient of foreign assistance itself. Given Taiwan's current level of development and per capita income, it naturally behooves us to provide foreign assistance to less developed countries.  However, some methods of our foreign aid have led some in the international community to perceive us as corrupting the governments and politicians of recipient nations, thus greatly damaging our international image.  In reviewing our foreign aid programs, we will take into consideration the standards set by certain international organizations with regard to foreign aid such as the Transparency International and the UN Convention against Corruption.  At this moment the National Security Council is coordinating with Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other relevant ministries to design a new foreign aid framework.  Third, as long as we no longer engage in inappropriate foreign aid activities, we will be less likely to corrupt ourselves.  Scandals a la foreign aid to Papua New Guinea, for instance, will not happen again. 


3.      Bilateral Relations—Non-Diplomatic Allies


Regarding those countries that do not recognize us diplomatically but are major players in the world politics, we must jettison our past image of a troublemaker, refurbish our international credibility, and re-establish mutual trust with these countries—especially between high-echeloned officials.  To these countries we must clearly voice three points. First, the improvement of cross-strait relations is aimed at transforming us into a responsible stakeholder and peacemaker. Second, our foreign aid will be based upon humanitarian need, rationality and not merely diplomatic gains.  Assistance to LDCs will also add stability to international community.  Third, by weaning itself of the troublemaker image, Taiwan can regain its soft power as a lighthouse for other countries' political development. We firmly believe that democracy contributes to world peace. 


4.      Relations with the United States


Of those countries that do not formally recognize Taiwan, the US certainly comes first and foremost.  We will rebuild a trusting relationship with the US and refrain from giving any surprises.  Shortly, I will be visiting Central and South America and I will transit through the United States.  But the transit will purely be for transportation needs.  I will not use transit to score points for domestic consumption.  This is crucial to building and safeguarding Taiwan's international credibility.  Regarding military affairs, we will firmly tell the US that we are committed to self-defense.  We will demonstrate our determination to defend ourselves by: (1) reiterating the importance of arms purchase; (2) raising our defense budget to 3% of GDP; and (3) moving towards an all-volunteer military to enhance its professionalism.  On economic ground, we will facilitate solving outstanding issues between our two countries.  Eventually we still hope to sign an FTA with the US.  On July 30, US President Bush said that "the Taiwan-Chinese relationship and that issue…is in a better place" and that "I'm very pleased with the state of relations now…and I recognize it took a lot of work to get them there." This reveals that Foreign Minister Ou has seized the opportunity of improved cross-strait relations to advance our relations with the United States. In light of recent past, I am also pleased that we can simultaneously improve our relations with mainland China and the United States in two months' time since my inauguration. 


5.      Relations with Japan


With regard to Taiwan-Japan relations, we value our traditional friendship and hope to further promote exchanges in various aspects between our two countries.  We support the US-Japan security alliance as the cornerstone for East Asia security.  We want to encourage business alliances between Taiwan and Japan's enterprises to facilitate access to mainland Chinese market. Regarding issues between our two countries, we will adopt a peaceful, rational and realistic stance in our negotiations with Japan.  On June 10 this year, a Taiwan fishing boat "Lien Ho" was rammed and sunken by a Japanese patrol boat near Diaoyutai, a small island in our territorial waters.  In less than two weeks both Taiwan and Japan reached a settlement calmly and peacefully. Our two governments set a good example for conflict avoidance.  On June 22, Japanese Foreign Minister Komura Masahiko openly praised Taiwan's handling of the case. This demonstrates that not only had the efforts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs done no harm to Taiwan-Japanese relations, but they actually had enhanced our two countries' mutual trust.  We should pay MOFA our due respect.  


6.      Relations with Europe


When it comes to bilateral relationships with European countries, we want to urge the European Commission and European Parliament to adopt more accommodating measures towards Taiwan.  We will provide more incentives for European businesses to invest in Taiwan and encourage Taiwan businesses to invest in Europe.  On top of that, I intend to set up a European Information Center and to expand cultural exchanges between Taiwan and Europe.  Contacts between Taiwan and the European representative offices stationed in Taiwan will also be strengthened.


7.      Relations with the ASEAN


Furthermore, as part of the Asia-Pacific region Taiwan is willing to actively participate in the economic integration of the area.  We applaud the achievements by ASEAN countries. We also hope to sign various FTAs with ASEAN countries to achieve the objective of "ASEAN10+3+1". 


8.      Relations with International Organizations


Support from major countries is a necessary condition for us to participate meaningfully in international organizations.  Since 1993, we have tried to apply for UN membership every year. And every year we came away empty handed.  In the presidential election in March of this year two referendums were held regarding our UN application.  In the end both referendums were vetoed by the voters.  Thus our efforts to return to the UN are constrained this year not only by the international environment but also by our domestic law.  On the other hand, numerous public opinion polls showed that the majority of the people still believed Taiwan needs to participate in the UN or its specialized agencies.  These functional organizations are particularly relevant and crucial to the livelihood and welfare of the people of Taiwan.  Thus we will continue our efforts in this regard with some pragmatic adjustments, taking into consideration those major changes affecting our international and domestic environments.  Ultimately, we hope that mainland China and the international community can empathetically understand Taiwan people's desire and need to participate in international organizations.  Our meaningful participation in IOs do not need to involve the question of sovereignty.  As I suggested in my inaugural address, both sides across the Taiwan Strait "should help and respect each other in international organizations and activities.  In light of our common Chinese heritage, people on both sides should do their utmost to jointly contribute to the international community without engaging in vicious competition and the waste of resources."  Taiwan needs to clearly convey to other countries our non-zero-sum pragmatism so as to cultivate more international support for our international space, especially our international space in specialized agencies.


9.      World Health Organization


For Taiwan the most important international organization is probably the World Health Organization (WHO).  Nearly all G8 countries support Taiwan's participation in the WHO. Undoubtedly this support is extremely important to us.  At the same time Mainland China has shown some degree of flexibility.  Further negotiation, however, is needed especially regarding some practical issues (e.g., the capacity in which Taiwan would participate, the International Health Regulation practices regarding Taiwan, and the MOU between Mainland China and WHO Secretariat).  I cannot emphasize enough that for Taiwan and its 23 million people participation in the WHO is a matter of health, human rights, and not an issue of sovereignty.  Furthermore, Taiwan has not only a highly developed and sophisticated public health system, but also experiences and professional expertise in humanitarian relief efforts.  Therefore, Taiwan has much to offer in these regards and we hope to have the opportunity to contribute to the world. 



Lastly I want to emphasize: the most important asset of our foreign policy is our democracy, our way of life, our willingness to maintain cross-strait stability, and our determination to fulfill our obligations to the international community in accordance with the universalistic values of the family of nations.  Upon the strength of our dedication and sincerity we hope to pave a new path for the peaceful development of Taiwan and the region.  This is what I call "Flexible Diplomacy".


Thank you.

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