So gullible is the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) when it comes to Beijing’s “promises” that party members are probably the only ones who still believe that the angelic voice heard during the Olympic Games’ opening ceremony belonged to the pig-tailed beauty on stage. It is one thing to believe in something, but quite another to obstinately “want” to believe — which is what the KMT has been doing since it entered talks with Beijing.
As he continues to portray his Chinese counterparts in cross-strait negotiations as honest brokers, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has been whittling away at the nation’s sovereignty by dropping references to its official name. His rationale for doing so is that the emotional baggage of nationalism — as used by the former Democratic Progressive Party government — took us nowhere and should be substituted for “pragmatism,” which in his view would be more acceptable to Beijing and would increase Taiwan’s chances of being allowed to participate in international organizations. Gone, therefore, are references to “Taiwan” in the country’s applications to join world bodies, or the quest for full membership at the UN. The focus is now on “meaningful” participation, however ill-defined and dangerously flexible the term.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with “pragmatism” and “meaningful” participation, and on paper this approach may reflect an understanding by the Ma administration that seeking more at this point would be in vain, given Beijing’s obstruction and the international community’s refusal to grant Taiwan access to institutions that require statehood.
The problem, however, is that while Taiwan has been giving in to Beijing’s pressure on the name and sovereignty issue, all that the other side has done is take what it can, with no promise of reciprocity in sight. What this means is that for Ma’s change of course to be successful, Beijing will have to start delivering on its promises and allow Taiwan to make a space for itself on the international stage. As Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrew Hsia (夏立言) said last week, if, as it claims, China wants to win the hearts and minds of Taiwanese, it should stop obstructing Taiwan’s bids to join organizations. The coming months will show us whether the KMT’s affair with China is a case of unrequited love or a springing relationship in which both sides gain something.
In the end, however, this is all small fry, as without permanent official membership at international institutions, whatever Beijing “gives” Taiwan can just as readily be taken away. An institutional limbo is not a position Taipei wants to finds itself in, as its participation would continue to be held hostage by the vagaries of Chinese politics.
Even more fundamental is China’s refusal to disarm, or redirect, the 1,400 missiles or so it points at Taiwan — a clear indication that in Beijing decision-making circles, hard power continues to have more traction than the “soft” power of diplomacy.
The neighborhood bully may have promised to stop cornering the weakling, but the cudgel remains within his reach and the intention to use it is undiminished. If Ma’s so-called “win-win” approach to cross-strait talks is to have any meaning for Taiwan, the missile threat must go. Otherwise, Beijing’s promises will be as illusory as the red-clad little girl who charmed the world.