Vice president-elect Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) had not even returned from his meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) over the weekend in Hainan before it was hailed as a watershed event and a clear sign of rapprochement between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. Playing the limelight game to perfection, Hu said he had been moved to think “deep” thoughts about Taiwan and in the same stroke managed, yet again, to portray President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) as the one responsible for the diplomatic freeze of the past eight years.
But as the camera flashes dim down, emotions must settle and cooler heads must now weigh the meaning of the Hu-Siew meeting. First, we must remember that Siew participated at the Boao Forum as a representative of a non-governmental organization (NGO) rather than an official-elect of a democratic and autonomous system. In other words, the media’s characterization of the meeting as involving the highest-ranking officials since this whole sad affair began 59 years ago needs qualification, as Hu’s meeting with People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) and then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Lien Chan (連戰) in 2005 could also be painted in the same light.
Symbolically, as Chen rightly pointed out, Siew was seated next to the chief executives of Macau and Hong Kong, which certainly wasn’t the result of accidental name-plate assignment.
What will truly reveal Hu’s intent or the depth of his “deep” thought will be how he treats Siew and other elected Taiwanese officials, including president-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), once they assume office and can no longer pretend to meet officials from other countries as heads of NGOs. Only then will we be able to see if the KMT win in the presidential election truly brought about a departure in Sino-Taiwanese relations and in Hu’s stance on Taiwan.
Before then — and the table arrangement seems to indicate that this was the case — it was just too easy for Hu to pretend that he was simply meeting a business official, one of the many beggars who kowtow before the emperor’s throne.
In fact, the significance of the brief meeting was so slight that Chen’s contention that Hu orchestrated the talks to divert attention from events in Tibet was unhelpful cynicism. Ironically, with his comment Chen may have echoed the media and given the meeting more weight than it deserved.
As an official who has yet to begin office, Siew still has more freedom of action than he will have a little more than a month from now. After he and Ma replace the Democratic Progressive Party administration on May 20, they will know again that in a democracy, power comes with responsibilities and that the public will hold them to account — and significantly more than heads of NGOs and non-elected officials.
As a result, their actions and rhetoric will increasingly reflect the aspirations of the public, and what they are bound to say is unlikely to resonate with Beijing.
Conversely, if they fail to do that and fail to fine-tune their behavior to reflect the expectations of those who elected them, their stay in office could be a short one indeed.
Let’s wait and see, then, how welcoming Hu will be if Ma and Siew become the leaders of and for Taiwanese that they promised. Will Hu still have “deep” thoughts then, or will it be “deep” anger?
Taking advantage of my Taipei Times editors’ forbearance, I thought I would go with a change of pace by offering a few observations on an interesting nature topic, the many varieties of snakes in Taiwan. I will be drawing on my experiences living in Taiwan five times, from my teenage years in Kaohsiung back in the early sixties, to my last assignment as American Institute in Taiwan Director in 2006-9. Taiwan, with its semitropical climate, is a perfect setting for serpents. Indeed, one might say serpents are an integral part of the island’s ecosystem. Taiwan is warm, humid, with lots of
China constantly seeks out ways to complain about perceived slights and provocations as pretexts for its own aggressive behavior. It is both victimization paranoia and a form of information warfare that keeps the West on the defensive. True to form, China objected even to the innocuous reference to Taiwan at April 16’s summit meeting between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Neither leader’s prepared remarks even mentioned Taiwan, out of deference to the Japanese side. Biden’s opening statement was modest: “Prime Minister Suga and I affirmed our ironclad support for US-Japanese alliance and for our shared security.
Determined to keep a permanent grip on power, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has abandoned former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) dogma of “hiding our capacities and biding our time” along with the “peaceful development” line that prevailed under former Chinese presidents Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). Instead, he is treading a “wolf warrior” path of diplomacy that resorts to coercion, debt entrapment and hostage-taking. Externally, Xi’s China has claimed that it would never seek hegemony, yet it challenges the free, rules-based international order wherever it can. While insisting that it will not export its ideology, it has
As the US’ mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign continues at a record pace, one question under debate is what the administration of US President Joe Biden should do with its extra doses — and especially where to send them. One country that should be at the top of a donation list is Taiwan, in recognition of the help that it provided to the US at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. After weeks of pressure, the Biden administration announced that it is now “looking at options to share American-made AstraZeneca vaccine doses.” By summer, it is clear that anyone in the