Following the presidential election in January, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has been busy discussing the reason for their defeat. Some say that “We must understand China,” as if the reason for the party’s defeat at the ballot box was that it didn’t adhere to the “understand China, avoid misunderstandings” slogan formerly used by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to promote pro-China policy. Today, this phrase has become the mantra of some people in the DPP, which leaves me at a loss for words.
The question is if the public, including the DPP, really doesn’t understand China or even misunderstands it.
Since contact between the West and China began hundreds of years ago, there have been tens of thousands of books written in many languages that explore various aspects of Chinese society and people — books about China’s history, society, politics, diplomacy, military, laws, economics, culture, education, art, sports, agriculture, labor, environment, nationalism, corruption — and, in particular, its designs on Taiwan.
Many universities around the world, including universities in Taiwan, have a Chinese studies center, and millions of Taiwanese travel to China every year for business, tourism, investigations, studies, to find a spouse, escape criminal prosecution or worship. Likewise, countless numbers of Chinese, in an official or private capacity, come to Taiwan every year for “exchanges” — tourism, visiting relatives, studying, prostitution and infiltration — and many Chinese universities also have Taiwanese studies centers.
Taiwanese and Chinese people have a better understanding of each other than they have of anyone else in the world. I simply cannot see how there could be any room at all for lack of understanding or misunderstandings between the two.
After World War II, disputes between Taiwanese and Chinese have not been based on a lack of understanding, but on the fact that the two differ too greatly in various ways, including history, identity, politics, geography, education, ideas, national character and value systems.
Someone once said that a man and a woman marry due to a misunderstanding, the mistake of believing that they belong together, and then divorce as a result of understanding when they finally see that they don’t. The same kind of reasoning can be applied to states. Once one party wants to force their will onto the other party and bring about union regardless of whether the other party is willing, there will be a problem. What should the party that is about to be raped do? This is where politics and diplomacy come in handy, and it is the reason for their existence. Unless all the sudden calls for “understanding China” have some other meaning, it’s all just a lot of nonsense.
Peng Ming-min is a former senior political adviser to the president.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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