In extremis China cooperates
Something remarkable happened the other week. I’m not talking about Taiwanese students’ historic occupation of the Legislative Yuan, but rather the temporary suspension of tension in the South and East China seas as China, together with military vessels and aircraft from tens of other regional nations, joined as one in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.
Just one month ago, the very idea of the navies and airforces of 30-plus nations working in close proximity to each other around the waters of the disputed South China Seas would have had analysts predicting the advent of a great ocean battle and a devastating wider regional conflict. They would have had good reason to think so.
For the past three years, East Asia has simmered with tension as previously dormant questions of who claims what and where, born from the legacy of centuries of colonialism and military adventurism, have been purposely resurrected. Via a series of specifically planned policy and military moves, China has created tension in the region with Malaysia, Vietnam, India, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and others. It has done this in the name of a map of dotted lines with little basis in reality. The “map” represents its regional hegemonic aspirations.
It is obvious that this tension has been manufactured, often just to test the military capacity or response time of nations such as Japan and the US. However China has insisted on framing opposition to its specious claims as anachronistic, sino-phobic, enabling Japanese imperialism, and hurting the feelings of the Chinese people. China has employed nationalist rhetoric to justify the definition of a “red line” of “core interests” that it cannot retreat from.
Yet, despite the seemingly intransigent nature of China’s position, it was able to put aside its political maneuvering to address the peril of more than one hundred and fifty of its citizens. Suddenly, working collectively in the South China Seas with its neighbors has not been an impossible or unacceptable breach of China’s core interests. Although this lull in tension will not last for much longer it is interesting in so far as, by its very existence, it disproves the lie of China’s absolutist position.
The actions of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺), and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is analagous to recent moves by Beijing. In their attempts to bludgeon the cross-strait service trade agreement through the legislature, Ma, Jiang and KMT Legislator Chang Ching-chung (張慶忠), convener of the March 17 meeting, claim they can’t turn back or amend the contents of the agreement but as we have seen from the international response to Flight MH370. In reality there are few things that are set in stone, and few self-fulfilling prophesies that cannot be rethought or avoided when governments put aside their pride and geopolitical strategising and engage in a little humility and wisdom. Although we now know that the missing flight and the souls on board have been lost forever, the same may not be true for Taiwan’s democratic praxis, or even for Ma and the KMT’s shattered reputation and legacy.
Protests wake-up call for Ma
Some commentators have said that the demonstrating students have “gone too far,” (Editorial, March 25, page 8). Greater Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) even said “the students have stepped on the red line.” These criticisms do not understand the good intentions of the protesters. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has had an approval rating of 9 percent for quite some time. But Ma and his administration still insist on pursuing policies unsupported by the public. If a student has an academic record below 60 percent, he or she has to study harder or faces expulsion. The students want to give Ma and his administration a wake-up call.