Now that somewhat-direct Lunar New Year charter flights have been approved by Taiwan and China, the next "meat and potatoes" issue that must be dealt with in cross-strait relations is whether to allow large numbers of Chinese tourists into Taiwan.
American Institute in Taiwan Director Douglas Paal alluded to this in his speech to the annual general meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday: "We are encouraged by signs of progress toward cross-strait charter flights and the further opening of Taiwan to tourists from [China]. These measures promise important economic benefits for both sides."
Experts from the tourism industry feel that they will benefit greatly by having hordes of Chinese tourists swarming through Taroko Gorge and scuttling around Yangmingshan. And maybe they will. But surely the more important issue to be addressed is whether this influx of tourists will benefit Taiwan's continued survival as a de facto independent nation.
It may be that having erstwhile communists enjoy a little capitalism and freewheeling democracy will be a positive thing -- surely it can not hurt to temporarily remove them from their imposed shell of state control. A few hours watching cable news coverage, perusing local newspapers, or arguing politics with a taxi driver will do more to shape a person's opinion of Taiwan than years of programming by Xinhua.
However, regardless of a person's views toward China, whether one supports unification or independence, any Taiwanese who has traveled to China knows that, for all of the "shared language and culture," the two countries could hardly be more different. After all, one is a developed, freedom-loving democracy, and the other is, well, not.
Even the most die-hard unificationist, when traveling abroad, takes care to let people know that they are from Taiwan, not China. Even taishang, Taiwanese businesspeople operating in the "mainland," mostly live in enclaves, isolated from their counterparts on the other side of the Taiwan Strait.
It isn't that Taiwanese have a problem with China or their Chinese heritage necessarily. It's just that the modern histories of the two countries have diverged so dramatically that people on either side really have little understanding of the other society.
However, this does not mean that the two sides have nothing to gain from interacting; indeed, in many ways both countries are becoming more and more interdependent.
Therefore, Chinese tourists should be welcomed. It is unlikely that the possible threat of Fifth Columnists will greatly affect the security of this country, which after all, is already within striking range of hundreds of Chinese missiles and aircraft.
But it will not be easy to deal with the large influx of Chinese. There are cultural issues to which Taiwan should be sensitive.
For this reason, and in the spirit of cross-strait reconciliation, there are a number of phrases which should not be employed when speaking to tourists from China. Failure to not say these things will only exacerbate the mutual misunderstanding and cultural rift that exists between the two countries.
Therefore, do not -- under any circumstances -- say any of the following 10 phrases to Chinese tourists: One, noodles, paper, gunpowder. What have you done for us lately? Two, one-child policy plus patriarchal society equals no women. Three, 5,000 years of civilization, and all you have to offer us is pandas? Four, welcome to Taiwan. Please don't spit. Five, Simplified characters for simple people. Six, Mr. Hu, tear down that wall! Seven, our opposition leaders get to have dinner with your president, but your opposition leaders get shot. Eight, our Chinese culture is better than yours. Nine, my dad owns the factory your dad works in. Or finally: We were going to "retake the mainland," until we went there.
Thus, we can maintain cross-strait harmony.
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