EDITORIAL: None so blind as he who can’t see

Sat, Feb 04, 2012 - Page 8

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Vice Chairman John Chiang (蔣孝嚴) told a Washington audience this week that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) would be “necessarily tough” with China to protect Taiwan’s sovereignty. Note the qualifier.

Many in Taiwan have felt that it has been necessary for some time now to stand tough with China, but Ma’s repeated admonitions that he will do everything to defend Taiwan’s sovereignty have not been backed by any action.

This is, after all, the man who allowed himself to be addressed by China’s top cross-strait envoy as “Mr” instead of “President” — not even the “Mr President” that American Chamber of Commerce members used in addressing questions to him, a term that had Hon Hai Precision Industry Co chairman Terry Gou (郭台銘) waxing indignant recently.

It has been under Ma that the national flag was ordered removed from venues that Chinese envoys would be using and from anywhere near those venues, even if it meant police confiscating flags from people protesting near the sites.

It has been under Ma that Taiwan gained observership at the WHO’s annual meeting, but at the cost of cementing Beijing’s role as the one who “allowed” Taiwan entry — while Taiwan’s presence at many lower-level medical and public health meetings has been reduced to almost none. It has been under Ma that Beijing’s interference in Taiwan’s presidential and legislative elections has grown.

Chiang also told the Heritage Foundation that “we” have not done any damage to the sovereignty issue, but since he was speaking in his capacity as a senior KMT official, it is hard to know if he was talking just about Ma and his administration or about the KMT’s love-fest with the Chinese Communist Party. KMT members high and low have jumped at the chance to attend several dubious, touchy-feely meetings in China, where the two long-time rivals have proclaimed their new-found affinity for one another and their desire to see China “unified.” Chiang continued to blur the line between party activities and those of this nation-state, saying the KMT policy on cross-strait relations would not change over the next four years.

This question of party affiliation would not even have to have been raised if Taiwan were able to send senior government officials or Cabinet members to Washington to talk directly with their US counterparts, instead of having to rely on former officials and party apparatchiks. They can’t and so Chiang was dispatched to “reassure” Washington in the wake of the Jan. 14 presidential election that cross-strait relations would remain stable for the next four years, despite Ma’s campaign trail musings of a potential peace agreement — at some date yet to be determined — with Beijing.

While his words may have quelled nervous nellies in Washington, they were hardly a balm to those back home. On the one hand, he told the Heritage group that Ma was in “no rush, no hurry” to enter political negotiations with Beijing, but then went on to make the remarkable statement that maintaining the cross-strait “status quo” has “nothing to do with the sovereignty issue.” That is clearly a case of not seeing the forest because of the tree standing in your way.

He also said the government was aware that many feared Taiwan might “fall into a trap [with China] and our sovereignty will be eroded ... We would never allow it to happen.”

That is the trouble with erosion: It usually happens so gradually that it is easy to overlook. Chiang and his cohorts can’t see the damage their love affair with China has already caused Taiwan. Given that he also thinks that relations between Taipei and Washington are closer than at any time since 1949, it is clear that Chiang — like so many others in the KMT and in the government — needs stronger eyeglass prescriptions so they can see what’s right in front of their face.