A couple hundred years ago China thought it was at the center of a world divided into two parts: one which accepted Chinese superiority and received the benefits of Confucian culture and another which ought to have. The idea that China can legislate for the world seems to have held fast. Last week we learned that a law mandating Taiwan's unification has been drafted in Beijing. We wondered what other country might pass laws about places and polities over which it had no control. Imagine the environmentally conscious Swedes passing a law forbidding gas-guzzling Americans from driving SUVs. Or the workaholic Germans passing a law restricting Spanish lunch breaks to a swift 30 minutes.
Chen Shui-bian (
Taiwan has to see passage of this "law" as a threat. But the cloud may have a silver lining. To say that China needs to come up with new thinking about Taiwan is a familiar refrain for this newspaper. Officially China has staked everything on "one country, two systems." And when that formula might yet have worked, there was little reason to give thought to any other way of bringing Taiwan back into the Chinese fold.
By any standards, however, "one country, two systems" has clearly failed. Far from Hong Kong basking in enviable prosperity created by its capitalist system, enviable freedoms guaranteed by the Basic Law, and enviable security as a part of the "upcoming superpower," it now has none of those things. The only people there who appear content are the clique of businessmen China has appointed to run the place. It is quite obvious that Hong Kong's fate now provides the strongest disincentive for Taiwan to consider a unification deal.
The only solution Beijing will consider to its "Taiwan problem" is therefore vacuous. Beyond that there are also a host of limitations on the way the Taiwan issue can be discussed in China. Taiwan independence, which in de facto or de jure forms is what the majority of Taiwanese want, can only be regarded as the wish of a small minority of deluded "compatriots," most of whom are dupes a "foreign power." However unrealistic this is -- and the delusion is perfectly obvious to any Chinese scholar with Internet access -- it is a thought crime in China to discuss Taiwan in any other way.
That doesn't mean people haven't been doing so. The very prominence given to rent-a-quote "academics" toeing the official line by Xinhua and other state-owned media, along with anecdotal evidence from personal contacts, suggests to China-watchers both new thinking and an attempt to suppress it. The draft law is a tool in that suppression. It is there to, in effect, criminalize any proposal concerning resolution of the Taiwan issue except that mandated by the government. Ironically, Beijing needs this not because of Taiwan itself -- over which it has no control -- but because new thinking on Taiwan calls attention to the failure of Hong Kong. And that is something that simply cannot be admitted.