As the first hundreds of Chinese tourists begin their tour of Taiwan and onlookers puzzle over the word qiezi (茄子) that precedes clicking cameras, academics and officials on the other side of the Strait are starting to get all kinds of dangerous ideas.
Never mind China’s deployment of more modern surface-to-air missiles that threaten Taiwan’s airspace, or the fact that cross-strait flights are skewed in favor of Chinese airlines and eat into Taiwanese airlines’ income, or that the promises of an economic miracle from Chinese tourism seem to be getting flimsier by the day. Such rapacious behavior on Beijing’s part was to be expected and the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), intoxicated with the promise of better relations with China, seems to have fallen for the hype hook, line and sinker.
Beyond all this, there is now a perception, as reported by Christopher Hughes of the London School of Economics, that Ma has finally adopted Beijing’s views and will do what it wants him to do — that he has become Beijing’s man in Taipei, who will open the gates of the castle and bring about the dream of annexation.
Such thinkers could be forgiven for entertaining this view, since their understanding of politics has evidently been shaped by the authoritarian system that has ruled their society since they were born. But to expect that a single individual in a democracy — even a president — can do what he wants at the expense of the millions of people who voted, and did not vote, for him is confabulatory. It explains why unification will never work — at least not while China remains an authoritarian state.
Despite the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) ill-concealed contempt for the legislature and other branches of government, Taiwan remains a country of laws, with a Constitution that prevents the executive from exercising undue power or its actions from threatening national security. In other words, the KMT for the moment is barred from operating as a party-state.
While the manner in which the KMT has conducted diplomacy with Beijing since May 20 has, by relying on unofficial channels, come close to breaking the law, Taiwanese would never allow Ma to utilize his power in a way that puts the survival of the state in danger. If he did, other officials within the KMT, such as Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), would be expected to intervene; if they did not, the credibility of the KMT as a Taiwanese political party would be dealt a fatal blow.
Despite the flexibility he has shown to date on matters of sovereignty, Ma is not Beijing’s man, some brainwashed Manchurian candidate that can be radio‑controlled to do its bidding. Even if he were, the checks and balances of a democratic system would stop him before he could do irreparable damage to Taiwan’s sovereignty. Nevertheless, the comments made by Chinese academics and officials run the risk of reinforcing the perception that he is a tool of China, which can only make it more difficult for him to exercise his presidential powers.
Even so, vigilance is in order. The president’s every move, along with those of his immediate circle, must be scrutinized, and any indication that he is about to act in China’s interests rather than Taiwan’s should be met with the strongest opposition.
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
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