In supporting his proposed economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has often claimed that failure to liberalize cross-strait economic relations would result in Taiwan being marginalized like North Korea. Following suit, the Mainland Affairs Council has published half-page ads in local newspapers making the same point.
However, no matter how often it is repeated, this analogy is not only wrong, but it is also insulting to the 23 million Taiwanese — and their many supporters abroad — who fought to turn this nation from an authoritarian regime under the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) into a democracy. It is also insulting to the 23 million North Koreans who are crushed under the heel of the Kim Jong-il apparatchik.
North Korea is isolated for many more reasons than its national policy of juche, or “self-reliance.” Far more importantly, its isolation is a direct result of its long list of Cold War-style policies, among them: Pyongyang’s starvation of its citizens, the thousands of ballistic missiles it aims at Seoul, belligerent behavior in the Korean Peninsula (including the seizure of the USS Pueblo in 1968), its kidnapping of Japanese nationals, its development of nuclear weapons and proliferation of internationally banned material.
Taiwan hasn’t been isolated by choice; rather, its isolation stems from Beijing’s efforts at undermining Taipei’s international space. Through education abroad and a vast global business network, Taiwanese have demonstrated without doubt that they do not seek a domestic version of North Korea’s failed juche policy.
Furthermore, it shed the characteristics of a “rogue state” alongside North Korea decades ago, when it abandoned its secret nuclear weapons program, stopped harassing Taiwanese dissidents in the US and ended the systematic terrorizing of its citizens — all activities that took place under the KMT.
No one in Taiwan wants the country to be compared to North Korea, not even those who oppose an ECFA.
Ironically, the very president who would prevent Taiwan from turning into another North Korea is heading an administration that is showing increasing signs of roguishness. Chief among them were the executions on Friday night, after a four-and-a-half year moratorium under “troublemaker” former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), of four inmates on death row. Granted, executions are matters of national policy and continue to have strong support among Taiwanese, but Friday night’s development went against international norms and brought the country back to the ranks of a shrinking list of countries that continue to use the death penalty — among them China, the US, Iran, Saudi Arabia and North Korea.
This is also an administration that has grown silent on human rights violations in China at a time when it is intensifying cross-strait exchanges and at all levels, from economic to cultural. Alleged Taiwanese spies are executed by China without so much as an official complaint from Taipei. Beijing cracks down on Tibetans and Uighurs in Xinjiang and again the Ma administration remains mum, ostensibly for the sake of better relations between the two countries. And for two consecutive years under Ma’s rule, press freedom in Taiwan has also declined, as shown in a recent report by Freedom House.