Modus vivendi remains the unwavering strategy of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration on cross-strait issues — to the point of brushing aside the diplomatic reality.
In an exclusive interview with the Taipei Times on Wednesday, Ma dismissed the idea that Taiwan should be considered anything but a normal country. The nation governs itself, the president said, and with 23 allies and diplomatic offices in another 87 countries, “our relations with those countries are not any less than a UN member state enjoys.”
Let’s talk quality, not quantity. A UN member state can count on its normal status and the help of other countries and international organizations in ways that Taiwan cannot. That is a lesson Taiwan learned during the SARS outbreak, when it was isolated from the help of WHO experts until the crisis had almost completely run its course.
“Normal” and “independent” are not one and the same. That this nation is independent is clear. What Taiwan seeks at this point is the international community’s concern for its security. With no hope of winning recognition in any context from China — the sole threat to the nation’s sovereignty — we must ensure that Taiwan is part of an international network that respects its independence and the rights of its people to representation at key global bodies.
While insisting the nation has already achieved normality, Ma said relations with China remained abnormal in terms of finance and trade. In this context, he was ready to portray the country as still in the process of normalization: “Do you think we are a normal country if our ships are required to make detours to a third country [to reach China]?”
Normalizing economic ties with China does not constitute normalizing the country. No amount of negotiation with Beijing over trade and financial mechanisms will win room on the issue of Taiwan’s future, nor gain it recognition from other governments. It is this point that triggers concern that the government’s cross-strait policies could further constrain Taiwan by leaving it overly dependent on China’s economy without addressing Taiwan’s status as a country.
Ma is not concerned that Beijing is seeking to control Taiwan through political and economic weapons. The president dismissed the argument that there are dangers in depending on China, saying: “We have not seen any attempts by communist China to force Taiwan to do things we cannot accept,” nor “have we lost the freedom to make decisions.”
Ma said Taiwanese must have confidence in the nation’s strengths, including democracy and human rights, which help keep the playing field level. That these are invaluable goes without saying, and they have won respect and sympathy abroad for Taiwan in the face of an obnoxious neighbor. However, it would be foolish to think these things in themselves have the power to obstruct Beijing’s plans for unification.
Nor should we pretend that a “diplomatic truce” with China has weakened Beijing’s aggressive agenda. Ma said that Beijing was tacitly adhering to this “truce” and that this would allow Taiwan to pursue economic opportunities and greater international participation, while preventing its remaining allies from changing sides. This is possible, Ma argued, because Beijing and Taiwan are refraining from engaging “in vicious attacks,” which he called “fruitless efforts.”