It might be difficult for most Taiwanese, in particular those with a strong Taiwanese identity, to hear Chinese academics and officials preaching Beijing’s rhetoric and ideology. However, such moments could also be good opportunities for Taiwanese to ponder the fundamental issues of cross-strait relations.
One of those moments occurred at the recent Taipei Forum, organized by the pro-unification Chinese Integration Association, with more than 150 academics from the pan-blue and pan-green camps and China participating.
The two-day event was symbolic — it was the first time that Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) officials and academics from Chinese government-affiliated think tanks met for serious discussions about cross-strait relations after next year’s transfer of power to Beijing’s fifth generation of leaders.
Most of all, the engagement either highlighted core issues of Taiwan-China relations in an ironic way or reflected the hard reality of Beijing’s mentality, which, if Taiwanese thought it through carefully, would give them clearer ideas about future bilateral exchanges and the “ultimate political arrangement.”
You Ying-lung (游盈隆), the DPP think tank’s deputy executive, said Beijing could win more trust from Taiwanese if it freed jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波), reversed a miscarriage of justice relating to the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, removed the missiles aimed at Taiwan and renounced its threat of resolving the cross-strait issue by force.
The suggestion made sense because it would ensure peace across the Taiwan Strait, which is the No. 1 priority for Taiwanese, and affirm, even in the smallest sense, Beijing’s efforts to work toward a democracy — or democracy with Chinese characteristics, in its exact words — like it has pledged.
Chinese academics treated You’s suggestion with disdain, saying that the proposals would “destabilize” China and would “step over Beijing’s red line,” while stating that the Tiananmen Square Massacre was a legal issue, rather than a political one.
Perhaps surprised by the confrontational and “provocative” comments from pro-green academics at the forum, Sun Yafu (孫亞夫), deputy director of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said in his closing speech that “preconditions should not be set” in the discussions and anything could be discussed in political dialogues.
Sun’s comment was particularly intriguing, since it has always been Taiwan demanding that Beijing set no preconditions on bilateral engagement and dialogues, because China should not expect progress in cross-strait relations until it stops aiming missiles at Taiwan and stops trying to squeeze Taiwan out of the international community. Taiwan has always been given the cold shoulder.
Chinese academic Yu Xintian (俞新天) tried to stress that both sides of the Taiwan Strait share the common values of Zhonghua culture (中華文化) and that the “value gap” between the two sides, especially on education, family and lifestyle, has been closing.
Yu may be right, but he — intentionally or unintentionally — left out the core values that Taiwanese cherish and the Chinese yearn for: democracy, human rights and the freedom of speech, to name a few. Judging from real-life experiences, it appears to Taiwanese that the Chinese government and its people have a different value system.