Over the years, Chinese authorities have relentlessly attempted to prevent Taiwan from joining international organizations lest this give Taipei the sovereign legitimacy that Beijing considers anathema to its “one China” principle.
Although such behavior has made it impossible for Taiwan to have its voice heard in international forums like the UN or the WHO, Beijing’s object was ostensibly the symbolism of Taiwanese participation rather than the practicalities and benefits that Taiwan would derive from membership.
Despite superficially warmer ties between Taipei and Beijing since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) launched his cross-strait lovefest two years ago, Chinese officials have often overlooked the “goodwill” they are alleged to have showered on their Taiwanese compatriots by continuing to deny Taiwan international breathing space. This has targeted symbols of Taiwanese nationhood, such as a delegation of moviemakers at the Tokyo International Film Festival in late October attending under the name “Taiwan.”
However, behind such headline-grabbing acts of insanity lurk several instances of Chinese officials impeding Taiwanese efforts in a different sphere altogether: the economic sector. This is often the result of Chinese officials at the local level pressuring governments by raising the specter of Chinese “anger.”
By virtue of their proximity to and growing dependence on China, developing countries in Southeast Asia — Cambodia, to name a recent example — have often yielded to such pressure, leading to delays in the establishment of Taiwanese trade missions there.
Meddling of this type touches on matters of economics, as if it were illegal for Taiwan to trade with regional economies. The object here is not the signing of free-trade agreements or other measures that could be construed by Beijing as conferring sovereignty upon Taiwan, but rather the fundamental right of human beings, regardless of their race or nation, to seek economic prosperity through trade.
We could, for the sake of generosity, show forbearance to officials in Phnom Penh and attribute their dishonorable behavior to their position of weakness vis-a-vis Beijing. Where magnanimity is less easily summoned, however, is when officials in rich countries — say, state governors in the US — engage in similar acts of prostration to appease Beijing. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon canceling a trip by a business delegation to Taiwan this month after the Chinese consul general for the Midwest hinted that the visit could be being misinterpreted in Beijing and “endanger” plans for China to start using Lambert St.-Louis International Airport for cargo shipments, was just the latest in a growing list of disgraceful weakness by politicians who, unlike their Cambodian counterparts, cannot reasonably be considered to be in a position of weakness.
Even more deplorable is that these officials are seemingly being cowed by Chinese officials who are, as far as we can tell, freelancing and not acting on directives from Beijing. That the stern officials in Zhongnanhai would spend their days plotting against every trade and business agreement between Taiwan and other countries is difficult to imagine; Beijing has far too much on its hands to waste time and energy ordering officials to counter every such endeavor.