“Taiwanese must learn from yesterday’s Tibet, today’s Hong Kong and think about their country’s future. They must keep a vigilant eye,” Hong Kong activist James Lung (龍緯汶) cautioned at a recent forum held in Taipei.
These words of warning — which were quickly dismissed by some as an exaggeration — certainly come as a timely wake-up call to Taiwan amid talk of “promoting cross-strait development” by the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
Indeed, promotion of cross-strait ties is certainly to be encouraged if the exchanges expand Chinese understanding and appreciation of Taiwan’s democracy and inspire more freedom, human rights and a pro-democracy movement in China.
However, it is a different story if within the government’s slogan of “moving the cross-strait relationship forward” is hidden a political agenda that could instead lead Taiwan further into China’s grasp, and many Taiwanese have concerns over proposals recently suggested by Ma.
In his National Day speech last week, Ma said his government would continue its efforts to expand interaction across the Taiwan Strait on the basis of the so-called “1992 consensus,” adding that it “will thoroughly review and revise the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (臺灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例) and also push for both sides to set up offices in one another’s territory to serve the needs of businesses, students and the general public.”
On Tuesday, Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Lin Join-sane (林中森) met with his Chinese counterpart, Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林), in Beijing, expressing the hope that the two sides could soon begin negotiations on the setting up of representative offices in each other’s territory.
All this begs the question: What is the rush?
If, as Ma suggested, the purpose is to serve the needs of businesses, students and the general public, then why the need for redundancy when various government agencies and private business organizations have already set up offices in China for just such a purpose?
Many cannot help but wonder whether the representative offices touted by Ma are to have a political significance — reminding many Taiwanese of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the representative body of Beijing in Hong Kong in 2000 to promote China’s implementation of its “one country, two systems” policy.
In the “Guidelines for National Unification” — which then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said had “ceased to apply” in 2006 — the move to set up representative offices was billed as a “mid-term goal.”
Ma’s seeming rush to set up representative offices, in addition to his failure to explain to the Taiwanese people the doubts surrounding the status, purpose and function of the proposed offices, have added to wariness of his true intent.
Ma in his National Day speech also spoke of how “Taiwan’s democratic achievements have proven that democracy can take root and bear fruit within the framework of Chinese culture,” and that he believes Taiwan and China can also have a dialogue on democracy and the rule of law.
While the intention sounds good, Taiwanese must keep a watchful eye on the Ma administration to see whether the policies mapped out by the government truly spread the seeds of democracy in China or whether they play into the hand of Beijing’s “united front” (統戰) propaganda and end up landing Taiwan in a “unification soup.”