Wed, Jul 15, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Why 2012 will be a deadly deadline

By J. Michael Cole 寇謐將

At no time since the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government fled to Taiwan has the Chinese Communist Party been so close to accomplishing its objective of annexing Taiwan.

Rather than achieve this through threat of force or diplomatic pressure, Beijing is using economic integration — a process launched soon after President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) came to office last year — to reel Taiwan in.

Through three rounds of talks between the Straits Exchange Foundation and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, direct cross-strait charter flights, increased Chinese tourism, large purchases of Taiwanese electronics by Chinese corporations and direct investment in 100 industries in Taiwan’s manufacturing, services and public infrastructure sectors, China has successfully increased Taiwan’s dependence on its economy.

Despite the Ma government’s claims to the contrary, a proposed economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) between Taiwan and China would only exacerbate that dependence by forcing all of Taiwan’s exports to ASEAN countries to pass through China, thus killing Taiwan’s chances of striking bilateral trade agreements with countries in that bloc — the very kind of market diversification that Taiwan should be aiming for.

As Taiwan inexorably drifts into China’s sphere of influence, politicians and academics around the world have hailed Ma’s policy, calling him a “masterful” politician who is not only “saving” Taiwan’s struggling economy, but more importantly, defusing tensions in the Taiwan Strait and creating the conditions for a peace agreement.

Amid enthusiasm for Ma’s “pragmatic” policymaking, the apprehensions of millions of people who fear for their livelihoods and the future of their country have been ignored, as has the fact that poll after poll has shown high levels of dissatisfaction with the Ma administration for its failure, among other things, to meet election promises and to halt the erosion of democracy.

Over and over again, experts and foreign media have portrayed the Taiwanese independence movement and the majority of Taiwanese who want to maintain a political “status quo” on the question of unification as immature throwbacks of the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) administrations whose political agendas supposedly risk war with China.

Very few China and Taiwan “experts” have asked why the Lee and Chen administrations acted the way they did, and an equally small number seem to have bothered to explore the local political impact of Ma’s pro-China policies — or, for that matter, what the consequences would be should his plans be sidetracked.

Lee — a statesman of a standing that Ma could never match — and Chen were childish, irrational and dangerous because they were more cautious and patient in their engagement with China. Ma, on the other hand, has plunged in head first, and for this he is being called mature.

As economic integration intensifies, we are hearing calls for cross-strait talks on more convoluted political matters, which, despite Taipei’s claim to proceeding cautiously on that front, are inevitable given that Beijing has already made it clear that it sees economic integration as a stepping stone to political integration.

But few experts have asked what a “peace” agreement between Taipei and Beijing entails, namely Taiwan’s capitulation and admission that it is part of China. If things continue apace, it is possible that a few years from now Beijing will accomplish its objective by “peaceful” means — peaceful in the sense of a hostile corporate takeover.

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