After news broke of the devastating earthquake in Sichuan Province, Taiwanese people generously donated to the relief efforts, in spite of the fact that this vicious “distant relative” and close neighbor has targeted over 1,000 missiles at their country. They did so simply out of humanitarian concern. China, however, continues to obstruct Taiwan’s efforts to join the WHO. The nation’s donations were apparently not enough to buy a letter of indulgence.
Faced with such a big and unfriendly neighbor, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) proposed to set aside disputes in his inaugural address. Seeking common ground in differences may sound like a rational choice. Yet with China claiming Taiwan as its province, any humble wish for peace sounds like a plea for mercy.
If there is truly no cross-strait animosity, how can there be a need for reconciliation? If neither side wants a war, why the rush to sign a truce? What wrong has Taiwan committed to provoke the Chinese? China must have understood long ago that oppressing Taiwan only aggravates the repugnance felt by the Taiwanese public and speeds up the consolidation of national consciousness. A new and imaginary cross-strait community has silently been created, with China as the catalyst.
Looking back on the last fifty years, from the banshan — Taiwanese who went to China to join the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) during Japanese colonial rule — to the arrival of Mainlanders after World War II and the emergence of the terms “Taiwanese businesspeople” and “Taiwan compatriots,” the collective identity has changed from “Chinese” to “Chinese in Taiwan” to “Taiwanese.” But this is just an issue of self-identification. People living in Taiwan never got involved in the struggle between the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party, and later, under the KMT propaganda machine, “anti-communist” was not necessarily equal to “anti-China” and there was no need to take a hostile attitude toward the Chinese.
Is it true that Ma’s “three-noes” policy — no unification, no independence and no use of force — will dissolve concerns over “eventual unification?” Also, if China is willing to give Ma a chance, the government should consider three major issues before entering into a dialogue with Beijing.
In the short term, will our economic system be capable of facing China’s dramatic political and economic changes and manipulation? The government should consider whether economic integration with China would develop toward functionalism — easing cross-strait tension — or lean toward mercantilism — eventual economic dependence on China, with the consequence of becoming a political vassal.
In the medium term, what kind of “peace” are we pursuing? It could mean to avoid war, maintain a military balance, bring about disarmament under the direction of the major powers, or pursue neutrality. Or it could mean forming some sort of East Asian security community that includes Taiwan and China, similar to the EU or NATO. In order to answer these questions, the government must have a profound understanding of international developments, especially the influential roles of the US and China in the global arena and the East Asian region.
In the long term, how do we position our country vis-a-vis China, especially after it has become either democratic or affluent or both? We must begin by asking ourselves whether we would want to remain a nation or join China, assuming that China joins the ranks of civilized countries and the international community is willing to ensure and respect the rights of Taiwanese to self-determination.