2010 Symposium | Economics Panel | Investing in the Future: Economic Exchange and Cross-Strait Political Stability

Panelists (L-R) Randall Schriver, Dan Blumenthal, and Dr. Merritt Cooke

Providence, RI, Nov. 1 – Still going strong on its fourth day, the annual Strait Talk Symposium held one of its most interesting and relevant panel discussions yet. About 40 people came to Smith-Buonanno Hall 106 at 7pm on Monday to attend the panel on economic relations between mainland China, Taiwan and the U.S., and their effect on cross-strait relations. The panel, formally titled “Investing in the Future: Economic Exchange and Cross-Strait Stability,” consisted of Randall Schriver, Dan Blumenthal, and Dr. Merritt Cooke.

Randall Schriver is the CEO and President of the Project 2049 Institute, a nonprofit research organization that researches security trends in Asia, and he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs. Dan Blumenthal is a current commissioner and former chair of the United States’ U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, and he served as Senior Director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia in the Secretary of Defense’s Office of International Security Affairs. Dr. Merritt Cooke received his Ph. D. in cultural anthropology at U.C. Berkeley, has worked in East Asia for 15 years for the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service and is the founder of GC3 Strategy, Inc., a consulting firm that connects the U.S. with emerging South and East Asian markets.

Strait Talk Symposium Chair Alina Kung

The panel began with a brief introduction from Alina Kung '12, Chair of this year’s Symposium. She gave audience members an overview of Strait Talk as an organization and of some of the most recent economic developments in cross-strait relations.

Panelist Dr. Merritt Cooke

Following the introduction, each of the panelists spoke for about 15 minutes, discussing cross-strait economics and its implications for political stability between mainland China and Taiwan. The first to speak was Dr. Cooke, who discussed the topic from a unique cross-disciplinary perspective, drawing on both his educational background and his professional experience to “analyze the dynamics that are driving change” across the Taiwan Strait. In fact, his first comment, the first comment of the entire panel, was to make sure everyone knew that he is “not an economist.” He then went on to analyze cross-strait relations in three stages: background and history, realities of the present moment, and the next steps for cross-strait relations.


Panelist Dan BlumenthalNext spoke Dan Blumenthal, who analyzed the issue in terms of how the economic relationship affects the political process, the ultimate determinant of cross-strait stability. He asserted that the economic relationship, though it certainly makes conflict more costly, does not tie politicians’ hands when it comes to actual decision-making time, particularly considering that Chinese leaders have taken such a hard stance on the Taiwan sovereignty issue that it may prove difficult for them to later come to a compromise. At the same time, Taiwan must make itself more of an international presence by becoming an international commercial center and by joining more international organizations if it wants to achieve more than just economic prosperity in the future.

Panelist Randall Schriver

The final panelist to offer his view of the issue was Randall Schriver, who focused his commentary on the security issue and how economics and politics affect it. He pointed out that the economic relationship is often quite detached from the political relationship, noting that it was during a time of particularly poor diplomatic relations across the strait that the economic relationship really started to take off. He also posed questions about political incentives on both sides of the strait: since current aspiring mainland politicians have an incentive to take a hard stance on Taiwan, they have very little space to maneuver in diplomatic relations; and since more and more Taiwanese people are in favor of preserving the status quo in the short-run with the long-run goal of independence (rather than reunification), will this lead to conflict as the mainland runs out of patience?

After having their individual turns to speak, the panelists were given the opportunity to make joint remarks, or to comment on something another panelist had said. One important idea was brought up by Dr Cooke, who noted that “people-to-people contact is a net positive force” and that accepting this principle is part of the basis for progress across the strait. In one of the more humorous remarks of the panel, Dan Blumenthal said that “This is not your father’s KMT,” referencing the dynamic political environment in Taiwan, as well as on the mainland.

Before the conclusion of the panel, audience members were given an opportunity to pose questions to the panelists. One interesting question was the role of the U.S. in resolving the current cross-strait situation, considering its role in the economic relationship as well as its role as an seller of arms to Taiwan. Interestingly, the panelists were in agreement that such arms deals were actually beneficial to the peace process, since they prevent conflict from breaking out across the strait, and they allow Taiwan to come to the negotiating table without being coerced into a settlement.