Touting his achievements while addressing the Central Advisory Committee of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) on Sunday, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) turned to rhetoric that sounded far more like wishful thinking than statements of fact, which raises questions about his vision for Taiwan’s future.
The first bump occurred when he said that thanks to his policy of rapprochement with China over the past three years, war in the Taiwan Strait “has already become history.”
Not only did this ignore the massive military buildup that is taking place across the Strait, it also purported to read into a future that remains rife with uncertainty. Whether there is war in the Strait will be contingent on a number of variables over which Ma has little control, including political developments in China and the choice of 23 million Taiwanese as to whether they would accept being ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Although Ma has vowed not to seek unification, Beijing has repeatedly made it clear that its patience on the matter is not infinite.
Furthermore, the current stability in the Strait — Ma’s only yardstick by which to claim there will be no war — will only hold as long as Taiwan remains hostage to the threat of war. In other words, the so-called peace is the result of intimidation and blackmail, hardly a solid foundation for lasting peace.
Pushing the rhetoric further, Ma told the committee it was “the great fortune of the Chinese race/nation [zhonghua minzu, 中華民族]” that “we can use peaceful methods to resolve conflicts.”
It is hard to tell which period from Chinese history Ma was drawing from, because the use of peaceful methods to resolve conflicts was rarely observed by rapacious emperors from antiquity up to Yuan Shih-kai (袁世凱), an autocratic general who declared himself emperor, the first abortive steps of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) KMT and the CCP that replaced it.
Rather than using peaceful means to resolve conflict, the Chinese nation has been cursed with predatory rulers whose preferred instruments were mass murder, cataclysmic social engineering and systematic repression of their own people. Although autogenocidal campaigns appear to be a thing of the past, it can hardly be said that today’s China is blessed with a leadership that has given up violence to resolve conflict. In fact, China today is embroiled in what is possibly the largest campaign of repression since the student protests in 1989.
The majority of people in Taiwan who are of Chinese descent are here because, over different periods of history, they chose to leave behind a land divided by war and oppression to seek a better life for themselves and their offspring. Even the 2 million or so Chinese who crossed the Taiwan Strait after the KMT’s defeat in the Chinese Civil War in 1949 were given a new start in Taiwan. Had they stayed behind, most would have been imprisoned, if not purged.
A flippant Ma then quoted from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, saying: “There must be division after long unity and there must be unity after long separation.”
What should be clear to Ma, were he not so locked into his own notions of Chinese nationalism, is that the “separation” is the product of far more than accidents of history or a family feud. It is a choice, one that should be made democratically, without the shadow of coercion that, despite his three years of rapprochement, continues to loom threateningly over Taiwan.