Sun, Nov 02, 2008 - Page 8 News List

A three-pronged confidence crisis

By Lai I-Chung 賴怡忠

Debate on the so-called mobbing of Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Vice Chairman Zhang Mingqing (張銘清) in Tainan last week has focused on whether the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) should draw a line between itself and those involved so that its image won’t be tarnished.

Commentators have largely overlooked the real problem here: There is a high degree of uncertainty about Taiwan’s future and a crisis of confidence about the nation’s sovereignty.

A concern that Taiwan will disappear as a country within four years is gradually spreading. The lack of confidence among Taiwanese, the incompetence of Ma’s government and gloom over the economy are the biggest problems at this time. They are also the factors that sparked the incident with Zhang and will likely lead to protests against ARATS Chairman Chen Yunlin’s (陳雲林) next week.

This crisis is a result of three factors.

Today’s international environment is unfavorable to Taiwan’s development. In terms of security, the US, bogged down as it is by the Iraq War and the War on Terror, has been paying scant attention to East Asia while China’s influence has grown significantly. In Japan, unstable domestic politics have made the country very cautious, causing it to take a step backward in diplomacy. Since the US-Japan alliance is key to security across the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan’s situation in the face of such developments is worrisome.

These worries have been further deepened by the impact of the global economic downturn on the national strength of the US and Japan. International security and the economic order are being reshaped and there is an impression that dictatorships seem to be able to respond more effectively to market competition. As a result, democratic values are being downgraded in assessing international strategic interests. While Taiwanese have been told repeatedly that Taiwan does not necessarily have legitimacy simply because it is a democracy, the public’s interpretation is that the international community may no longer be willing to assist Taiwan against annexation by a dictatorship. In fact, the US has warned Taiwan several times by pointing to its non-intervention in Georgia.

The next factor is international relations. China has not ceased efforts to downgrade and obstruct Taiwan since Ma’s election. China has continued deployment of missiles targeting Taiwan. In response to Ma’s capitulationist line that Taiwan should seek “meaningful participation” in UN activities rather than full membership, China not only blocked Taipei’s efforts but also stressed that such proposals must be dealt with first through cross-strait talks. This set a precedent for Taipei having to ask Beijing’s permission to participate in the international community. Only then would Taiwan have room to exercise its initiative in international relations.

As for Ma’s remark during Zhang’s visit that there would be no war in the next four years, Zhang publicly embarrassed Ma by making the thinly veiled threat that “there will be no war if there is no Taiwan independence.” Considering Zhang’s haughty attitude during his visit to Taiwan and his complete disregard for Taiwan’s democratic diversity and desire for peace, what can we expect when Chen arrives?

China’s actions also lend substance to speculation before the Olympic Games that it might adopt a tougher stance. Is unification now on the agenda as China’s strength reaches new heights following the Games? Worthy of note is that Beijing is facing a power transfer in four years’ time, and it is not certain that Ma will be reelected in 2012. Many observers believe Beijing sees this four-year period as an unmissable opportunity, and that constructing a framework under which Taiwan has no chance of independence has become a priority between now and when Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) retire. This is a cause of much concern in the pro-independence camp.

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