President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has formally begun his second term in office amid seething public resentment. Where is Ma going to lead Taiwan?
Apart from livelihood issues, what concerns people most in Taiwan is the direction of cross-strait relations. Taiwan has gradually opened its doors to Chinese tourists and students over the past four years. As the government relaxes restrictions day by day, it is conceivable that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait will enter a new era of comprehensive exchanges, or even political negotiations, within the next four years.
Taiwan no longer has any option but to work with “dynamic China,” voluntarily or not. The question is, can Taiwan effectively safeguard its own values as it does so? Can it highlight its own existence as a nation as it promotes “peaceful development” with Beijing? To put it simply, how should Taiwan make friends with China?
Cross-strait relations are one of the strong points of Ma’s Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Ma was re-elected partly because many voters believe that he would be able to stabilize cross-strait relations. Undoubtedly, the cross-strait peace index has improved significantly over the past four years, while the chance of war has fallen to the lowest ever since the KMT government relocated to Taiwan in 1949.
Plus, while the benefits of signing the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement with China remain unclear, at least Taiwan need no longer worry about being left behind, now that it has climbed aboard the Chinese express train that is leading the world economy.
However, while more cross-strait exchanges take place, even some pro-blue supporters are asking themselves whether Taiwan is compromising its sovereignty. Increasingly, countries suffer similar anxieties when dealing with a rising China. Still, Taiwan is in a more difficult situation, because China does not claim sovereignty over other countries, but it does over Taiwan and it will expect some change in the national identity of Taiwanese.
Regrettably, Ma seems unaware of the anxiety that people here are feeling. This can be seen in his half-baked cross-strait discourse in his inaugural address this year. As in his first inaugural address, which he delivered four years ago, Ma once again upheld the title of the Republic of China (ROC). However, the nation’s official title rarely appears in cross-strait exchanges these days and has little international visibility.
Everyone knows that there is a major disparity between the status of the two sides on the world stage. Even if they set aside the thorny issue of national status, China’s position as a sovereign state remains unquestioned while the ROC gradually fades away under the principle of “shelving controversies.” If this goes on, Taiwan might lose all chance of making its voice heard in the international community.
So, how can Ma find the right formula to ease Taiwanese anxiety about losing sovereignty? The Ma administration should change its thinking on cross-strait relations by boldly adjusting the kind of friendship that it has sought to foster in its dealings with China over the past four years.
Generally, there are two ways to make friends. Ma’s choice up till now has been the Chinese way, under which a person avoids saying or doing anything that his friends might not like. That would explain why neither former KMT chairmen Lien Chan (連戰) or Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) mentioned the ROC when they met Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤).