Most motorists take caution when they drive along windy mountainous roads. To avoid plunging into a ravine, careful drivers slow down as they go around corners and heed traffic signs, such as “Slippery when wet” and “Caution: falling rocks.” Drivers that fail to heed such signs run the risk of killing themselves, their passengers and other motorists.
Cross-strait relations are like the old highway from Taipei to Yilan County — Beiyi Road — full of twists and turns, blind corners and dangerous obstructions. A careful statesman would take heed of Taiwan’s relative strengths and weaknesses, as well as the dangers and benefits of doing business with China, before seeking to make any major changes to the status quo. Such an approach is akin to driving slowly on a dangerous road. It gives Taiwan time to change course if hidden threats suddenly appear.
Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) was just such a driver. He embarked on negotiations with China from a standpoint of strength, not showing fear when clarifying his special “state to state” model of relations with China. Former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) did the same, often describing Taiwan as a sovereign, independent country — without, of course, formally declaring independence or changing the Constitution. Despite holding their ground on issues of sovereignty and democracy, neither man tried to obstruct business with China. In fact, cross-strait business boomed during their administrations.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), on the other hand, is not a cautious driver. His administration is racing down the mountain, heedless of any warning signs. Ma is practically driving blindfolded at night with no headlights in the rain at 200kph with a cliff on one side and a wall on the other against oncoming traffic. If Ma is lucky he might get away without scratching the car. If not, he could get Taiwan into the worst state it has ever been in.
Ma wants detente with China. He has trumpeted that policy since the very beginning of his administration. He insists on no preconditions with China, asks for no concessions and does whatever China wants, in the mere hope that Beijing will allow Taiwan more international space.
However, China has not come close to reciprocating. The recent diplomatic spat with the Philippines is a case in point. Chinese pressure and the Philippines’ “one China” policy meant it was in the best interest of Manila to side with Beijing by extraditing Republic of China (ROC) citizens to China instead of Taiwan. China trumped Taiwan, despite the so-called diplomatic truce. That is a pretty obvious warning sign.
Another sign that China is still keen to take control of Taiwan is the recent espionage case involving General Lo Hsien-che (羅賢哲). Military experts can only speculate as to the degree of damage done by Lo’s alleged betrayal, but it could be huge. The case could erode Taiwan’s ability to protect itself, damage US confidence in the ROC military and ultimately assist a Chinese takeover of Taiwan.
Although Lo allegedly started spying for China before Ma became president, he allegedly continued to divulge secrets throughout Ma’s time in power, despite so-called warming ties with China.
To top this off, China is developing what looks to be one of the most advanced militaries in the world. It has cruise missiles to combat US aircraft carriers, a submarine fleet, fighter jets with an edge on Taiwan’s aging fleet, an array of ballistic missiles that could hit Taiwan at any time and a huge military.
A cautious driver would heed these signs, rather than blazing down the road. Despite numerous indicators that his policy of detente is not paying off, and is actually damaging Taiwan’s interests, Ma’s economic reunification plans proceed apace.
When Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) arrives in Taiwan next week, he should be happy to see Ma’s administration kowtowing as usual.