Taipei Times: In your book you mention the concept of “contested modernity.” From that angle, Taiwan’s modernity was informed by both its colonial experience under Japanese rule — at a time when Meiji Japan itself was modernizing — and its ties with the West, especially the US. Do these experiences mean that Taiwanese modernity and Chinese modernity are different? How does this influence views on independence, the nation-state, and what impact will it have on cross-strait negotiations?
Martin Jacques: A people’s sense of identity is not a very contingent phenomenon. Peoples who think they should be independent from a nation that they regard as repressive, stranger or even alien — those kinds of feelings usually have a very long historical geniality. In the Balkans, for example, things that you thought had been put to bed suddenly get out of bed. But the period you’re talking about [Japanese colonization and Western influence] is quite short. We must draw a distinction between Taiwanese/Chinese identity and what you’re talking about. As an island, clearly Taiwan has distinctions from China. Islands do. Having said that, it’s clear that Taiwanese also have a great deal in common with Chinese culture. Taiwanese identity in this context is rather limited. What gives it its strength is not that it is predominant over Chinese identity, but that it is separate.
This also speaks to China, which over as long historical period has developed a very strong sense of identity, even though there are vast differences within it. So the Taiwanese condition also speaks to the Chinese condition. Many of the things you say about Taiwan you can say about provinces of China. The politicization of this issue by the Democratic Progressive Party and former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), who was quite influenced by Japan, maybe was quite heavily driven by the Western element and the Japanese element. It is also the product of geopolitics, but the geopolitical structures are being remade really quickly. Japan is in decline, and so is the West, especially in this region. As a result, the Taiwanese independence movement might [be in decline] as well.
Taiwan regards itself to be independent and China regards Taiwan to be part of China. Both are realities. In some way, Taiwan exists in a strange space and is being throttled by the situation. Coming back to Taiwan this time — airports are symbolic in the region. Every country has a new airport. Airports speak to internationalization. The airport here is really down the hill now, to the point where I felt slightly upset about it. It has barely changed in any feature since I was here in 1999. That suggests a certain isolation in Taiwan, of course it’s because it doesn’t have all those international relations and so on. It bothered me that there aren’t many airplanes. The last airport in the region I went to like this was Hanoi in 1999. [Taiwan Taoyuan] feels like a real old-style regional city airport. Because of its situation, Taiwan is always outside of agreement. I think this is hurting Taiwan. There is a sense this time — and I’ve never felt this before — that history’s just passed it by.
My instinct about Taiwan is that there will be some kind of rapprochement with China. I think eventually the Chinese will say, if you accept Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan, just get on with it. There eventually will be a solution which recognizes Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan, but it will be in return for a lot more latitude, flexibility and independence than Hong Kong has seen. It’s the only way it can take place. China would, for all sorts of reasons, be hugely satisfied with just Chinese sovereignty, because of the historical connotations. I think the Chinese will be very “civilizational state” about it.