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Reflections on a Wandering Life.....
Monday, May 09, 2005
An Unhealthy Spit on Taiwan
By Ma Ying-jeou (mayor of Taipei)
Everyone knows that China and Taiwan have strong differences, but sharp contradictions and deep divisions also exist within Taiwan itself over cross-Straits relations. This was dramatically illustrated by two recent events.
The first was a protest against the Anti-Secession Law passed by Beijing in early March. It drew 275,000 people on the streets of Taipei on March 26, the second largest rally in the city’s history. But then, a series of trips to the mainland by opposition leaders, culminating in the recent visit by Kuomintang Chairman Lien Chan and the current one by People First Party chairman James Soong, have won widespread public approval. How can such different reactions be reconciled?
Ever since President Chen Shui-bian and his Democratic Progressive Party took power in 2000, an odd phenomenon has emerged in cross-Straits relations. While the two governments remain locked in confrontation, people-to-people exchanges continue to scale new heights.
On the one hand, there has been no dialogue between the two governments since the DPP took office, compared with 27 rounds of talks that were held in the 1990s while the KMT was in power. To be sure, the KMT was in power in 1996, when China launched dummy missiles over Taiwanese waters. But these days, unfriendly diplomatic tussles erupt with monotonous regularity and the threat of military conflict, whether through miscalculation or accident, looms larger every year.
But if the cross-Strait situation is one of the world’s most military explosive, the area is also one of the most economically integrated and interdependent. In the last four years, two-way trade has more than doubled to reach $61 billion in 2004, up from $27 billion in 2001. Taiwanese investment in the mainland increased by 150% to around $7 billion, from $4.6 billion in 2003, with the contracted amount totaling $79 billion since 1991. The number of visits by Taiwanese to the mainland increased by one third, to 3.7 million in 2004 from 2.7 million a year earlier.
All these figures are unprecedented in the history of cross-Straits relations and reflect the political/economic dichotomy that currently exists within Taiwan. One might say that Taiwan is in the midst of a personality split, with its “heart” and “head” going in different directions.
The heart is exemplified by the identity issue. The number of those who identify themselves as Taiwanese only has risen substantially over the past decade and now stands at roughly 45% of the island’s population. By contrast, those who identify themselves as both Taiwanese and Chinese has remained stable at 45%, while the number who identify themselves as only Chinese has fallen to just 10%.
But the head can be seen in opinion polls on whether Taiwan should seek unification or independence. Here there has been far less change over the past decade. Now, as then, the vast majority support a continuation of the status quo, with only a minority favoring unification or independence.
So while the heart now more closely identifies with a purely Taiwanese identity, the head remains strongly in favor of the status quo. That’s a distinction President Chen’s DPP failed to recognize last year when it misinterpreted popular support for a purely Taiwanese identity as a green light to move ahead with steps that were widely interpreted as taking the island closer to de jure independence. These steps included the government’s plan to adopt a new constitution in 2008 and to use the name “Taiwan” rather then “China” or “Taipei” in state-owned enterprises and overseas missions. That not only rocked the boat internationally, but brought an adverse reaction from most ordinary Taiwanese, whose heads told them it was the wrong thing to do.
Taiwan’s deep divisions were only too evident in the March 26 rally. Those who turned out to protest were showing, with their hearts, their anger at Beijing’s behavior. But many of the other Taiwanese who stayed at home that day were just as unhappy with Beijing’s unilateral and non-peaceful approach toward cross-Strait relations. However their heads told them it was better to nurture accommodation through a continuation of the status quo, rather than resort to confrontation.
This split is extremely unhealthy and the political/economic dichotomy that currently exists is neither stabilizing nor sustainable. The recent about-face by prominent business tycoon Hsu Wen-lung—a long-time DPP supporter with substantial business interests on the mainland, who declared his opposition to independence and his support for the “one China principle.”--only goes to show how painful the dichotomy can be even for those who have long identified themselves as purely Taiwanese.
The way to improve the situation is through bilateral exchanges rather than the unilateral actions to which both sides have resorted over the past year.
Beijing first reached a 10-point consensus on cross-Strait relations with KMT Vice Chairman Chiang Ping-kuen in early April and then a five-point “common vision” with KMT Chairman Lien Chan a few weeks later. Earlier, President Chen had separately reached his own 10-point consensus on cross-Straits relations with James Soong. Since these consensuses or visions are largely compatible, and in view of the highly successful trips by Mr. Lien and that of Mr. Soong, which is also likely to succeed, I see no reason why Beijing and Taipei shouldn’t be able to sit down and merge them together into a single, mutually acceptable and enforceable document.
That would reduce the risk of military conflict and bring benefits to Taiwan, China and the whole Asia-Pacific region. It’s time to move forward with bilateral exchanges to ease cross-Strait tensions.