In spite of recent local election setbacks, President Chen Shui-bian (
Chen is right when he emphasized the DPP's democratic struggle against the authoritarian Chinese National Party (KMT) regime.
Insisting that only the 23 million people of Taiwan have the right to decide the future of the nation, he singled out the greatest challenge facing the country today as the division over national identity and ethnic mistrust. He is on target on all the accounts,except his appraisal of what constitues Taiwan identity.
Taiwan is following the footsteps of Japan by languishing in a prolonged economic doldrums, suffering from deflation and a minimal increase in GDP. Average personal income has hovered at around US$15,000 for long time, while other developing Asia nations have leapfrogged in their economic progress. Considering the rapid economic growth of both China and India, Taiwan's progress is a disappointment at best.
About 2 million people from Taiwan have already invested and/or worked in China -- drawn by its vast market and cheap labor. The writing on the wall shows the inevitability that Taiwan's prosperity will have to be built on close cooperation with China.
Of course, the democratic movement in Taiwan in the past decade has been a beacon of pride in Asia. The DPP is running pretty relatively clean government, staying away from the corruption and abuse of power which are not uncommon in Western democratic countries. Chen and his fellow pan-green camp members should be proud of their achievements, and they have every right to claim that they started the Taiwan's democratization under tremendous pressure and difficulties.
But Chen and the DPP brain trust should be very careful in stating that their sacred goal is Taiwan identity and sovereignty. Taiwan identity should never be used to antagonize China by refusing to communicate or cooperate. Taiwan identity should be illuminated as a symbol of the nation's advancement in terms of democracy and a free society. Taiwan identity does not have to mean keeping China at arm's length in cultural and economic exchanges.
Most of all, the term "Taiwan identity" should be avoided at all cost in terms of stirring up hostility against the Chinese people. Taiwan's people have historically been peaceful and self-reliant. Throughout the occupations by the Dutch and Japan, the Taiwanese have displayed a wonderful resilience and ability to rally, survive and persevere. They have retained their dignity in difficult times through their ethic of hard work and ingenuity. A yearning for economic prosperity and security has always been their major concern.
And they are well aware that the rhetoric of Taiwan independence is detrimental to their livelihood and wellbeing. From the tribulations of the past six years, the people can see clearly that a hostile policy toward China is a sure ticket to disaster. Economic and cultural exchanges with China are an inevitability in this competitive world when the US and Japan are both looking to China as the source for their economic recoveries.
Given that the majority of Taiwanese manufacturing and industrial facilities have already moved to China, the absence of official representations from Taiwan's government is both incomprehensible and irresponsible. After all, the biggest problem Chen's administration has to face is how to resolve the nation's stagnant economy.
The US' foreign policy toward Asian-Pacific nations after Sept. 11, 2001 focused on a cooperative China. Deeply entrenched in fighting the world terrorist threat, the US in the foreseeable future will not endanger its stable relations with a rising China. Any inflammatory move and gesture in the region will not be received favorably by the Bush administration.
Former American Institute in Taiwan director Douglas Paal has called for Beijing and Taipei to hold direct talks to advance such matters as direct cross-strait flights and opening up Taiwan to Chinese tourists. And the No. 2 man in the US State Department, Robert Zoellick, has consistently advocated a global economic and security system based on shared responsibilities with China.
The US' need for stable and amicable relations between China and Taiwan is obvious. The Beijing factor is crucial to US interests in North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq.
As usual, the public's wishes are the deciding factor in determining national policy. For example, people both in Quebec and in Puerto Rico have persistently rejected independence movements for economic reasons. They know that a unified economy always offers people better financial security.
Based on the recent election results, any future independence referendum will surely be defeated by the Taiwanese voters who have already voiced their wish not to risk their livelihoods for ambitious political ideology.
"Taiwan identity" and pride should be built upon the Taiwanese people's perennial search for peace and prosperity. The average Taiwanese doesn't harbor any grudge against China. They only wish that some day they will have a friendly China across the Taiwan Strait with an open and democratic society.
Instead of threatening to abolish Taiwan's unification guidelines, the Chen government or its successor should drop the requirement that China must be democratic before unification can happen.
The disparity in economic strengths and living standards across the Strait is being reduced on a daily basis. People-to-people contacts are growing at a spectacular rate. The Beijing government is increasingly aware of the reality and is inclined to go for political democratization to eliminate its pervasive corruption problems.
Taiwan's successful story will become the blueprint, along with Hong Kong's democratic movement, for China to follow. That is the right way to interpret and promote Taiwan identity to the world.
A forward-looking government in Taiwan will become the engine that propels democratization in China. By insisting on freedom for people of all political and ethnic backgrounds; by demanding that Beijing adopt direct plebiscites at all levels of government before the unification talks can begin, Taiwan is holding the key for a permanent solution for all the problems in the region.
Henry Ting is a political commentator with extensive study and teaching experience at Villanova University.
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