EDITORIAL: Abdicating sovereignty, little by little

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 - Page 8

Despite the touted economic benefits of flourishing Chinese tourism to Taiwan, it is becoming increasingly clear that the dividends are coming at a price — one that, sadly, some seem willing to pay.

With some People’s Republic of China nationals able to travel independently to Taiwan beginning later this month, the Yilan County Business and Tourism Department last week announced it wanted to open a Web site in China and, in doing so, would likely drop the “.tw” suffix to make itself more palatable to Chinese authorities.

A representative from the Yilan County Lodging Association also said that homestays and bed-and-breakfast operators in the county would probably encounter severe difficulty attracting Chinese tourists if they insist on using the “.tw” suffix, an indication that operators and officials may have little compunction in making such a sacrifice in the name of business.

Ostensibly seen as a small compromise on the part of Yilan officials, their willingness to abandon yet another symbol of Taiwan’s sovereignty nevertheless risks engaging the nation further down what could be a very slippery slope. Not only is this flexibility voluntary, it sends a signal to Beijing that a simple nudge or threat will likely suffice when it wants to exact further concessions from Taiwan in the future.

Just as Yilan officials were expressing their willingness to throw “.tw” to the wolves, beautiful Green Island (綠島), one of the nation’s top tourism destinations, was coming under threat after Chinese officials said last week they might remove the island from the “approved” list of package tour destinations after it emerged that some Chinese tourists had been ruffled at the sight of the decades-old anti-communist slogans that pepper the island.

While Taitung County tourism officials were quick to point to the historical value of the slogans, adding that similar etchings were found on other outlying islands much closer to China, it is evident that Beijing will make their removal a condition for the resumption of Chinese tourism there. Should Green Island refuse to comply by censoring propagandistic leftovers of a bygone era, it risks being marginalized while other parts of the country — those that agree to play by Beijing’s rules — reap the economic benefits. This is China’s age-old strategy of isolating the few while engaging the many.

The situation brings back memories from September 2009, when China “punished” parts of southern Taiwan with thousands of hotel cancelations following a decision by Kaohsiung authorities to allow World Uyghur Congress chairperson Rebiya Kadeer to attend a film festival.

The danger is that the more local governments comply with Beijing’s requests, the easier it will be for China to chip away at the foundations of Taiwan’s sovereignty. Some could argue that the willingness to make small concessions in return for economic benefits does not constitute the abdication of sovereignty, but even if this were the case, such actions still send signals of weakness to China.

Over time, this will make it increasingly difficult for tourists from other parts of the world not to think that they are in China whenever they visit Taiwan or reading about China whenever they peruse its increasingly censored literature. While gradual and relatively painless, we could wake up one day to the realization that in the eyes of the world, Taiwan as a sovereign entity has ceased to exist.

Internet suffixes and the removal of silly slogans from the former dictator Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) era are indeed small things, but they are no less part of a grand strategy by Beijing to whittle away at Taiwanese nationhood. If Taiwanese cannot oppose even the small things, it is hard to believe they will step up to the plate when Beijing sets its sights on more substantial prizes.