On the day Zhang Zhijun, director of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, arrived in Taiwan for a four-day visit, the Chinese-language magazine Business Week published an interview with former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in which she warns that Taiwan is "facing a turning point" in its relations with the mainland. Clinton says Taiwan must carefully consider to what extent it is willing to open up its markets to China, because once it loses its economic independence, its political independence will be dramatically affected as well.
Clinton’s comments come in the midst of speculation that one of the major breakthroughs that Zhang hopes to accomplish through his sweep around Taiwan will be to shift the focus in exchanges between the two sides away from purely economic aspects and more toward political issues.
Clinton cautions Taiwan that becoming too dependent on China "makes you vulnerable." Addressing the Cross-strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA) and the controversy it has aroused in Taiwan, she says the dissonance being heard clearly indicates that the government believes CSSTA will be of great benefit to Taiwan, but others disagree. She advises the people of Taiwan to “keep sharp eyes and a calm mind” in considering whether the agreement will help them enter markets in Shanghai or Beijing.
Clinton points out that Taiwan has a number of interest groups that would like to see Taiwan and China move even closer to each other, mainly because they are making a fortune from the closer ties. She warns, however, that the media as well as the government need to step back right now and ponder, "Is all this really in Taiwan's long-term interest?"
Widely touted as a candidate for the Democrats for president in the next US presidential election in 2016, Clinton has been making the rounds of talk shows and book signings to flog her recently published book Hard Choices. She says she accepted an interview with Business Weekly because she is deeply concerned about the changes taking place in the triangular relationship between the US, China and Taiwan.
Clinton says Taiwan must maintain a balance in its dealings with China. She cautions that doing this "will become increasingly difficult for you because China will make more and more demands." She warns, "Every time you make a decision, whether it is in a trade agreement or on flight routes, you must take a prudent view of the expected results and whether there may be unintended consequences."
She points to the current crisis in the Ukraine, where that nation’s economic dependence on Russia severely limits its options. For example, Russia is the primary source of the Ukraine’s energy, in particular its natural gas supplies, and if Russia cuts off its supply of energy to the Ukraine it will quickly lead to higher prices and threaten the nation’s political independence.
In light of this, says Clinton, Taiwan must decide how economically dependent on China it can afford to be. This means managing the cross-strait relationship by establishing a bottom line and then saying, "We can go this far, but no farther." By that, she explains, Taiwan must say it can cooperate in some ways, but in other ways, it cannot.
Clinton adds that if China wants more from Taiwan, it will not hesitate to exert pressure on the island. "The pressure will weigh you down,” she says, and “you have to consider the long-term interests of Taiwan in these things. No one can help you decide."
Speaking of Taiwan-US relations, Clinton stresses that the US places a very high priority on Taiwan and hopes that China and Taiwan will be able to live in peace in the face of the US’ One China Policy. "We do not want to see Taiwan's independence or democracy threatened or destroyed, and we do not want to see Taiwan's economy suffer from unfair competition. Thus we continue to consider Taiwan one of our highest priorities."