Sun, Aug 31, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Is Taiwan prepared to engage the present?

By Nat Bellocchi

In Taiwan as elsewhere, the Beijing Olympics were the focus of attention for two weeks this month. Now is perhaps the time to consider what has been going on at home.

Taiwan has talked a lot about economic matters that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait might agree on, but has only signed agreements for cross-strait charter passenger flights and allowed larger numbers of Chinese tourists to visit Taiwan.

The Mainland Affairs Council says Taiwan is likely to initiate plans allowing Chinese investments in Taiwan’s manufacturing sector. Other issues on the agenda are shipping services, direct charter cargo flights, Chinese investments in commercial property, allowing in Chinese management personnel and general investment in Taiwan.

Meanwhile, the Council for Economic Planning and Development plans to change 67 restrictive policies.

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) shares these views on economic issues, but often includes broader and sometimes more political views as well. Therefore, Taiwan’s UN bid this year will seek “meaningful participation,” not full membership.

Ma supports having Taiwan’s allies enter into economic and cultural relations with China and he will seek participation in 16 UN agencies. Many see these and other issues — suggesting a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement with China similar to Hong Kong’s; seeking UN observer status; and suggesting name flexibility — as undermining Taiwan’s sovereignty.

At the same time, the main opposition party, just beginning to recover from its election loss, was jolted by allegations surrounding former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) and his family’s alleged financial irregularities. Though the issue is still under investigation, the Democratic Progressive Party is treating it as another crisis.

Taiwanese will see it as inflicting serious damage on their country. If the present situation remains unchanged, the next election may be much more one-sided.

Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) said Taiwan would be disappointed if relations with China did not improve after the Olympics. The New York Times said Beijing obtained what it wanted — “a huge prestige … that it will surely use to promote its international influence, and … further tighten its grip at home. It pocketed these gains without offering any concessions in return.”

An opinion piece by Willy Lam in the Wall Street Journal is probably something Taiwanese want to hear more about as Taiwan moves closer to China. Lam says “a good number of the strategies and institutions put into place to ensure a fail-safe Olympics are here to stay.”

That means the powers of the law and order establishment — military, police, judiciary — have been strengthened and the neighborhood committees are back. Lam states that “All of this together bodes ill for the prospects of a post-Olympics thaw for China’s aggrieved residents and political dissidents.”

While all this might be a concern for Beijing, Taiwan will be busy trying to move closer to China.

At the same time, Taiwan is trying to rekindle US interest. That is difficult with the US focused on the election race, which will produce a new government in about five months. Its relations with a growing China will be more difficult than before. Its problems in the Middle East will not end, while recent tensions with Russia over Georgia are causing it more headaches.

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