Since assuming office, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his administration have aggressively promoted China-leaning economic policies, including direct transport links, Chinese tourism and Chinese investment in the stock and real estate markets.
With opportunism on the rise and under an economic shadow, the Taiwanese public is gradually becoming dependent on China, if not addicted, and may become subject to manipulation by the Chinese government.
The reason the Ma administration has managed to deceive a number of people with its policies is that it is has been calling for a separation of politics and economics, and has claimed that economic exchanges between Taiwan and China do not have to be political.
The government has gone so far as to say that controversial issues can be put aside, and that this means the public would not have to worry that Taiwan might lose its sovereignty, national identity and autonomy in the process.
It is a discourse that is both deceitful and dangerous.
Ma’s rhetoric of separating politics from economics has two pillars.
First, China’s economic power is so strong that it will not only help Taiwan ride out the financial crisis, but also bring the nation prosperity.
Second, China is a philanthropic state that asks for nothing in return; its economic activities relating to Taiwan are constructive and have no political connotations.
These presumptions are demonstrably wrong. For this reason, it is surprising that the Ma administration has managed to avoid stronger public dissatisfaction for failing to boost the economy since taking office more than a year ago.
On the other hand, the public has little choice but to sit on the driftwood of Ma’s policies through a once-in-a-century financial storm even if they know that it is a charade.
China has progressed to a certain extent after 30 years of reform, but its economic power has an aura only because its population accounts for one-fifth of humanity.
Even if average income per capita in China does not sit among the world’s well-to-do, this number multiplied by 1.3 billion is formidable and seductive.
When the term “BRIC” — Brazil, Russia, India and China — was coined to cover the economic entities with the most potential for development, the acronym was accompanied by a new bout of received wisdom that China’s GDP would soon surpass Germany’s and Japan’s to become the second-largest in the world.
Others chimed in by saying that China would overtake the US within 20 years.
This discourse deliberately ignored the huge discrepancy between national populations and intentionally highlighted comparisons that were calculated using different standards. China’s average income per capita is one-twentieth of the US’ and one-tenth of Taiwan’s. How could Taiwan pin its hopes on a country with a national income that in per capita terms is extraordinarily small?
Second, China’s economic infiltration of Taiwan has never been free of political motivations and intentions. Although China often avoids talking about politics in the context of Taiwan, it always employs political strategy.
Examples of this are direct transport links and the opening up of Taiwan to Chinese tourism.
In one year, Taiwanese tourist arrivals in China reached 4 million, while only around 300,000 Chinese visited Taiwan. The government, however, was reluctant to use this as leverage and demand that China respect Taiwan’s sovereignty and national identity and engage with it on an equal footing. Instead, China did so — requesting that Taiwan open up the Taiwan Strait median line.