Wed, Aug 02, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Identity crisis nears tipping point

By Huang Tien-lin 黃天麟

A number of signs have arisen from the Conference on Sustaining Taiwan's Economic Development that took place on July 27 and 28. These signs highlighted the ongoing loss of national identity in Taiwan today. At a symposium of the conference's cross-strait task force, a representative of China-based Taiwanese businesspeople slammed the government, and referred to Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) as "Comrade Hu Jintao."

Although he, in embarrassment, corrected his slip of the tongue, the episode highlights that China-based Taiwanese businesspeople have accepted and integrated China's political dogma into their lives and thinking. The longer they live in China, the more assimilated they become. This is just human nature and there is nothing strange about it.

The problem is that there is a huge difference in population, territory, and political power between Taiwan and China. China therefore normally holds the upper hand in the process of cross-strait integration, while China-based Taiwanese businesspeople are just a disadvantaged group being subjugated by China.

China, of course, has made good use of this advantage. Several years ago, it systematically organized Taiwanese businesspeople and helped them establish associations in various Chinese cities. This lies at the very heart of China's strategy to apply political pressure through business to help achieve its goal of unification.

The phrase "Comrade Hu Jintao" that was unintentionally repeated in Taipei is a standard expression among Taiwanese businesspeople in China. As long as the government continues to push for opening up toward China, it won't be many years before the phrase is no longer considered a slip-up in Taiwan, but rather becomes necessary for Taiwanese businesspeople when expressing their loyalty to Beijing.

During the Period of Communist Rebellion, investing in China was equated with funding the enemy and was punishable by death, but just a dozen or so years later, everything has changed. Today, these Taiwanese businesspeople can come back to Taiwan to participate in the Conference on Sustaining Taiwan's Economic Development, and ask in public, "Who doesn't love Taiwan?"

This national identity crisis also appeared in another meeting related to the Conference on Sustaining Taiwan's Economic Development. In order to placate Chinese tourists who visit Taiwan, the National Association of Travel Agents requested that the government accept the yuan as "semi-official national currency" and allow free New Taiwan dollar-Chinese yuan exchanges.

Later, the association said that the request was simply a typo, but that does not sound very persuasive. In fact, this was not the first time Taiwan's tourist industry has trampled on national dignity.

Last year, 4.1 million Taiwanese tourists visited China, but the Taiwanese flag never flew at the hotels where they stayed. A few days ago, however, TV reports showed Chinese tourists cruising on Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) in a boat flying the Chinese flag. Maybe it was just commercial hype to boost local business.

But there are a thousand ways to promote one's business, and there is no need for Taiwanese to attract business by belittling themselves as if they were Chinese slaves. Now that we've seen Chinese flags flying on Taiwan's soil, it is not surprising to hear talk of the yuan becoming semi-official national currency.

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