Sun, Apr 08, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan’s identity is its greatest resource

By Bryan Harris

In a timely and insightful piece, Nat Bellocchi, a former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, alluded to the dangers of former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Wu Poh-hsiung’s (吳伯雄) concept of “one country, two areas (一國兩區)” (“A big step in the wrong direction,” April 1, page 8). Criticizing the latest “fuzzy term” in cross-strait terminology, Bellocchi argued convincingly against the concept as a linguistic smudging of the previously understood terms of engagement.

Bellocchi is right. Such linguistic trickery offers little of substance to Taiwan and it would be unwise for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) — or any politician — to view such deep appeasement of China as a solution to Taiwan’s existential challenges.

For Bellocchi, the key to Taiwan’s long-term stability lies in the development of a “Taiwan consensus” — that is to say, the development of a collective identity and ideal of how and what Taiwanese want their future to be. Bellocchi’s definition of a Taiwan consensus pushes the concept past the partisan political narrative employed by the likes of the Democratic Progressive Party and toward a broader, more comprehensive ideal.

However, Ma’s policies over the past four years have already gone a long way in nurturing a nascent Taiwanese consensus and identity. This might have been inadvertent on the KMT’s part or perhaps it has always been its subtle strategy, or perhaps it is an inevitable outcome in such a vibrant, democratic society — but a Taiwanese consensus is emerging quietly and unequivocally.

It is a multifaceted consensus; a consensus rooted in ever-deepening democratic norms; a consensus that transcends cross-strait issues to the wider regional and global context; a consensus that promotes education and fosters innovation; a consensus that is willing to match its economic clout with social development — it is the consensus of a global nation.

Such developments are already defining Taiwan in the eyes of the world. One only needs to take a quick look at the global media coverage of Taiwan’s recent election to realize this.

A confident and “Taiwanese” Taiwan is emerging, and this presents China with a significant problem.

There are many reasons to criticize Ma. He can be criticized for getting too cozy with China and he can be criticized for allowing such a political faux pas as “one country, two areas” to occur. However, the reality is that the longer Ma and his government can maintain the current detente, the longer Ma offers Taiwan’s identity the chance to develop, solidify and ensconce itself within the political and social framework.

In the long run, it is such developments that pose a mortal threat to Beijing’s goal of unification. China’s fragile stability is entirely reliant on maintaining relative harmony between its numerous juxtaposed identities.

Existential threats to the Chinese model usually have their origin in the underlying discontent and dissonance of minority groups. If the current trend of “turning Taiwanese” continues, China will have little or no chance of a harmonious unification with Taiwan.

However, the balancing act Ma faces is considerable. Squaring the desires and aspirations of an increasingly self-assured electorate with an emergent superpower neighbor and global strategic interests is no easy task and even Ma’s most vocal opponents must recognize the need for pragmatism.

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