The lesser of two evil neighbors

By Huang Juei-min 黃瑞明  / 

Wed, Apr 17, 2013 - Page 8

The local media have recently been paying close attention to the unpredictable situation on the Korean Peninsula. The reports generally focus on either North Korea’s military strength or the impact on Taiwan’s economic interests.

However, if we were to expand our view, we would see that the issue offers an opportunity to rethink cross-strait relations.

Having North Korea — which The Economist has called “the nastiest regime on the planet” — as a neighbor must be an endless nightmare for South Koreans. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un might get burned if he continues to play with fire, but it is not unimaginable that Seoul, just 40km from the demilitarized zone, would also get burned.

Even if the crisis is resolved this time, another one will surely follow somewhere down the road.

The threat that North Korea poses is not limited to its military ambition, but also a whole population of brainwashed people living in ignorance and poverty.

The Kim dynasty will collapse sooner or later, but when that happens, South Korea will have a difficult mess to deal with.

For example, western Germany has poured 2 trillion euros (US$2.62 trillion) into eastern Germany since their unification, yet the east continues to lag behind the west in development.

Perhaps that was why former South Korean president Lee Myung-bak restrained himself after two attacks from the north.

In comparison, Taiwanese are lucky in that the regime across the Taiwan Strait is not ruled by hoodlums such as those in North Korea.

Of course, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is not a democratic regime: It is a police state that exercises tight control over freedom of expression, and is merciless in cracking down on dissent.

Those at the top are corrupt, and they show no concern for those at the bottom. Even so, the Chinese regime is behaving relatively rationally in international and cross-strait relations.

Despite its little tricks from time to time, Beijing has in general played the game according to civilized rules.

As long as Taiwanese do not intentionally provoke China, they do not have to lose too much sleep over the 1,000 missiles deployed in China’s Fujian Province.

Nonetheless, it is not something that should be taken for granted.

The older generation still remember that prior to the 1960s, when China was ruled by Mao Zedong (毛澤東), the battle between Taiwan and China was a battle of life and death.

Mao was a dictator who did not care about the millions of Chinese who starved to death. For Taiwan at the time, the shadow of “bloody liberation” loomed large.

After the more pragmatic Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) introduced reforms and promoted an open policy, China turned its focus to economic development. Since then, Chinese authorities have toned down their policy of annexing Taiwan by force.

If then-president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) had not been willing to accept Beijing’s “olive branch” in a timely manner, the qualitative change in the Chinese Communist Party might not have been enough to escape the standoff between the two sides.

Over the past five years, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government has maintained peaceful cross-strait exchanges.

For some people, exchanges with China are like “drinking poison to relieve thirst,” because Beijing’s goal is still “reunification.”

Those who are opposed to cross-strait exchanges accuse Ma of “leaning toward China while selling out Taiwan.” However, the future is unpredictable. Who can guarantee that China will democratize?

No matter what, China is Taiwan’s neighbor. Compared to the possible military conflict that might break out anytime between North and South Korea, Taiwan is better off. South Koreans must be very envious.

Although the Chinese power transition was not democratic, this enlightened autocratic state is very unlikely to produce a little hooligan that strains the nerves of the whole world and even threatens to plunge millions of people into misery.

The Korean war, which ended 60 years ago, gave Taiwan a new lease on life. Luckily the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have now managed to end the risk of war.

In addition to treasuring what we have, we can only pray for the people of North and South Korea.

Huang Juei-min is a law professor at Providence University.