It would be tempting to blow the matter out of proportion, or to turn what remains an isolated incident into signs of a conspiracy. However, this does not mean that we should look the other way in cases like that of Ni Zichuan (倪子川), a Chinese official at the Fengze District office in Quanzhou, Fujian Province, who was caught stealing skincare products in Hsinchu on Friday.
Ni is believed to have twice stolen from the same store, pinching products with a total value of NT$198. Although this is a minor offence by any yardstick, his behavior fits a pattern in which a growing number of visiting Chinese have acted in a manner unbefitting of civilized people. There have been occasions when Chinese tourists simply refused to pay for meals at restaurants, and last year, Ma Zhongfei (馬中飛), a Chinese businessman, was caught taking pictures in an off-limits area at an army recruitment center in Taipei.
These are only the cases when the wrongdoers were caught.
What is troubling about the latest incident is that it involves a Chinese official. If visiting government employees cannot be bothered to set an example, how can we expect ordinary tourists to behave? It would be interesting to hear what Ni has to say about the reasons why he felt compelled to steal. Did he do it just because he could, or was this, like the Ma case, an attempt to determine how the Taiwanese authorities would react (and in the process show that Chinese usually get away with it)?
This type of conduct stems from the sense of entitlement that some Chinese have toward Taiwan. When a government official has no compunction in stealing from an ordinary merchant and faces little consequence in the host country or upon his return to China, it sends a signal that it is permissible to steal from Taiwanese. While it is true that the majority of visiting Chinese do not see things that way, all it takes is a minority — among those in power, especially — to turn this sense of entitlement into theft on a grand scale.
For the sake of good cross-strait relations, the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has bent over backwards to avoid criticizing China. This excessive patience, however, has at times bordered on obsequiousness, which in some hardline Chinese circles could be construed as subservience and capitulation. Add to this Han nationalism and the colonial tendencies of the Chinese government and it would be perfectly acceptable to plunder Taiwan the same way the Tibetan plateau has been raped since the Chinese invaded in 1959.
As Taiwan tests the waters with its new, closer relationship with China, balance is necessary and this is what has been missing under Ma’s guidance. It is generally accepted that in the name of good neighborly relations, Taiwanese should not be too sensitive and should try not to overreact to every misstep Chinese visitors make. This does not mean, however, that they should roll over when someone steps on their back.
When Beijing’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Vice Chairman Zhang Mingqing (張銘清), visiting Tainan in October 2008, lost his balance and fell, elderly demonstrators who allegedly “swarmed” him faced criminal charges. This type of behavior was unbecoming of Taiwanese, we were told, and would not be tolerated. However, in no way should this make stealing military secrets from Taiwan, or snatching products from hard-working Taiwanese merchants, any more acceptable.