Less than three weeks have passed since the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration was sworn in and already, if we are to believe world headlines, the Taiwan Strait has been transformed from one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints to the milieu for a neighborly spat.
Optimism is high, especially in the wake of KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung’s (吳伯雄) recent visit to China and talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), which prompted some, including US National Security Council Senior Director for Asian Affairs Dennis Wilder, to praise the rekindled dialogue across the Strait.
Wu, who has described his mission to China as “successful,” has even hinted at the possibility that as a sign of goodwill China could cut back some of the 1,300-odd missiles it aims at Taiwan. He also quoted Hu as saying that the Chinese were grateful for the generous aid from Taiwan following the May 12 earthquake in Sichuan Province. Indeed, it looked like there might be light at the end of the tunnel.
But it is wise to remain skeptical on just how solid the basis for all this optimism is.
As the Democratic Progressive Party has rightly pointed out, the KMT has shown impatience in starting negotiations with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and done so in a manner that could compromise this country’s sovereignty. The lack of accountability inherent in party-to-party talks, furthermore, threatens to bypass the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), lending credence to fears that real diplomatic work will be conducted in backrooms by individuals who were not democratically elected into office — a system with which Beijing is, by design, fully comfortable, but one that does not represent how a democratic country should conduct diplomacy.
Wu’s optimism about a possible reduction in missiles, meanwhile, is gullibility at its most extreme. For one, even if China were to dismantle or redirect some of its missiles, the fact remains that hundreds would still be aimed this way. One missile — and the threat to use it — is one too many. Furthermore, quantitative cuts mean very little when they could easily be offset by the increasing precision of those still active. In other words, as long as the intent to use missiles against Taiwan exists, talk of cuts is meaningless.
As for Chinese gratitude for the generous response of Taiwanese to the earthquake, while there is no doubt that ordinary people have been touched, the fact remains that this will have no bearing on diplomacy. Peace in the Strait cannot be bought for some US$120 million, and those who argue that the CCP can be persuaded by grateful Chinese to end its efforts to isolate Taiwan seem to have forgotten that China remains a country where the voice of the people — especially on geopolitical matters — is largely ignored.
It is too early to tell where thawing relations between Taipei and Beijing will take us. While there are, indeed, signs that tension might be diminishing, it is in the long run, when Beijing’s patience is tested — and it will be, if Taiwanese negotiators meant what they said when they vowed to protect Taiwan’s interests and dignity — that we will see if the KMT’s professed intentions will be answered in kind.