Ever since coming into office, Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has followed a policy of rapprochement with China. His government inked the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) alongside 15 other agreements and Ma has taken great pride in the warming of cross-strait relations. Other nations, including the US, have also been seen to applaud this approach, as — on the surface — it reduces tensions in the Taiwan Strait.
So far, the perception of China is that it is comparable to the white swan from the recent movie Black Swan, dancing gracefully and elegantly in the ballet of the international political theater.
However, the black swan has already started to make the occasional appearance, indicating perhaps that the image of the white swan is fleeting. Beijing can only fake its white swan appearance briefly.
In spite of the cross-strait rapprochement, Beijing has continued its breakneck military buildup across the Taiwan Strait. Military spending in the People’s Republic of China will rise 12.6 percent this year, and — despite pronouncements to the contrary from People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Chief of Staff General Chen Bingde (陳炳德) during his recent visit to Washington, Beijing continues to aim at least 1,600 ballistic missiles at Taiwan.
China also continues to restrict Taiwan’s international space. The great “breakthrough” claimed by the Ma administration in 2009, when it was “allowed” to be an observer at the World Health Assembly (WHA), the annual get-together of the WHO was revealed to be an empty position when an internal WHO memo showed explicit instructions that Taiwan be referred to as a “province of China.”
The memo, dated Sept. 14, 2010, also indicated that procedures used by the WHO to facilitate relations with Taiwan were subject to Chinese approval. The memo further stated that Taiwan, “as a province of China, cannot be party to the IHR [International Health Regulations].”
This memo showed a total disregard for Taiwan’s sovereignty and status as a free and democratic nation, providing instead an example of international kowtowing to the authoritarian regime in Beijing.
The WHO added insult to injury when it refused access to the WHA’s Geneva meeting to the WHO Membership for Taiwan Alliance, a coalition of Taiwanese civic groups that support Taiwan’s membership in the international organization.
Alliance members were previously always allowed to observe WHA proceedings. Suddenly, new “rules” were produced this year banning entry to anyone with a passport from Taiwan.
The Ma administration made a feeble attempt to respond to the leaked memo. On May 14, Department of Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta (邱文達) attended the WHA meeting and lodged a “strong protest” in a letter to the WHO.
Ironically, this “protest” letter itself became quite controversial when it was discovered that phrases concerning Taiwan’s sovereignty, which appeared in the Chinese----language version and which were clearly for domestic consumption, disappeared in the English version. Terms referring to “the nation” or “our country” in the Chinese text were mysteriously translated into English as “my,” “I” and “our.”
Both in Taiwan and internationally, we need to work harder to ensure the white swans gain the upper hand.
Jean Wu is a graduate in diplomacy and international relations from Seton Hall University in New Jersey. She works at the Formosan Association for Public Affairs in Washington.