With closer, more frequent and open cultural and academic exchanges across the Taiwan Strait, the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) may hope to foster an image of rapprochement, if not understanding. While such contact is not new and happened, albeit in a low-profile fashion, during the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration, the seniority of the Chinese officials and academics invited to speak at forums in Taiwan and the coverage the meetings have received is unprecedented in 60 years of cross-strait diplomacy.
If this weekend’s series of forums are any indication of the shape of academic debate to come, however, the Ma administration could be in for a surprise, for the Chinese officials who spoke in Taipei made it very clear that they are in Taiwan to dictate and to threaten — not to listen or learn.
When Chinese President Hu Jintao’s (胡錦濤) confidant and alleged ghostwriter Zheng Bijian (鄭必堅) tells an audience in Taipei that the Taiwanese independence movement is doomed to fail, or retired People’s Liberation Army general Li Jijun (李際均) threatens Taiwanese with a choice between war and accepting Beijing’s “one China” policy, they are not here to build consensus. Not only that, they underscore the antiquated groupthink that characterizes Chinese officials’ view of Taiwan.
There is no doubt that Chinese political thinking has matured in the past decades and is no longer a communist monolith. Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cadres today are better educated, better traveled and increasingly refined in their view of the world. One core issue that has remained frozen in time, however, is that of Taiwan, which has not lost its nationalistic and emotional value to Chinese. As a consequence, where Chinese officials are willing to listen, learn, adapt and build consensus on matters of less importance to Beijing, Taiwan and “one China” remain exceptions — taboo subjects that brook no opposition or divergence of opinion. Even the newer generation of Chinese thinkers, such as Fudan University’s Jian Junbo (簡軍波), perpetuates the language of intolerance and war in its discourse on Taiwan.
This explains why the Zhengs and Lis who spoke over the weekend sounded so ideological and implacable — like old textbooks that failed to evolve with the circumstances.
For the Taiwanese independence movement, this is a good thing, and more CCP officials should be allowed to speak in Taiwan. If they’re willing to crucify themselves in public by putting their intolerance and ignorance on display, then so be it. More Taiwanese will realize that Ma’s sweet talk about peace and warmer ties is nothing more than wishful thinking. This will make it increasingly difficult for the Ma administration to ignore the opposition — both political and, increasingly, in the business sector — as it forges ahead with less-than-transparent negotiations with Beijing, because an increasing number of Taiwanese will see that Chinese goodwill is a mirage, a facade that its emissaries cannot be bothered to keep up on Taiwanese shores.
The DPP’s International Affairs Department director, Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴), understood that perfectly when she put Chinese Consulate-General in Fukuoka Wu Shumin (武樹民) on the spot in June by translating his threats to Taiwan into English — comments that were then picked up by news outlets, revealing the wolf in the diplomat’s suit.