Those among us who gaze into the future could be forgiven for feeling that the prospects for a free and thriving Taiwan are getting dimmer by the week.
This is mostly because those who should be erecting the foundations for the future of this nation appear to have been shoved aside by giants with dangerously poor hearing. Greater forces — cosmic ones, if we factor in comments made recently by Buddhist Master Hsing Yun (星雲) — all seem to be pushing us toward some inevitable future that has no patience for those who seek to ensure that Taiwan remains a free country.
The administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has been selling the economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) — being negotiated between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) — in terms that are filled with a sense of inevitability. If Taiwan does not sign an ECFA with China, we are told, we will be marginalized and excluded from regional trade organizations.
Despite widespread fears about the implications of signing a pact with China, or disagreement on how we should proceed, Ma has nixed the idea of holding referendums and said that an ECFA would be signed, no matter what. It does not get more inevitable than this.
Compounding the sense of inevitability is the mystery that surrounds the ECFA talks. Rumor has it that contact between the KMT and the CCP has already begun. And yet, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) last week could not confirm to the Taiwan Foreign Correspondents Club whether this was happening. In fact, not only did Wang — whose duties as head of the legislature include monitoring the executive branch — claim not to know if contacts have indeed begun, but all he could offer was that once the details of an ECFA have been agreed upon, they would be shared with the legislature — not for revision or approval, but simply as a courtesy. In other words, by the time an ECFA reaches the legislature, it would be a fait accompli.
Another worrying development — again something that is well beyond the ability of Taiwanese to control — is Washington’s move toward the creation of a “G2” with China, an exclusive US-China relationship that would go well beyond cooperation on economic matters, and enter the strategic sphere. Should this come into being, the forces of history could very well engulf Taiwan.
Already, major allies of the US in the Asia-Pacific region, such as Japan and India, have voiced concern at the emergence of a “G2,” which they perceive as a plot by Beijing to undermine their influence in the region. Western observers, including Dennis Wilder, a visiting fellow at the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution, have been receptive to those fears and highlighted the downsides.
“We [the US] have far more in common with our allies and the region’s democracies than with China,” Wilder wrote in the Washington Post last week.
And yet, not once did Wilder, a former senior director for East Asian affairs at the National Security Council, mention Taiwan. This is a telling omission. If giants like Japan and India risk being undermined by a US-China “G2,” one can only wonder what the arrangement entails for the future of this country.
As the saying goes, when elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers. In a time when the giants of this world have their eyes fixed on the global economy and increasingly see China as an indispensable ally, small states are likely to be pushed around — and perhaps sacrificed. Unless Taiwan starts making noise now, it could very well become the first “inevitable” democratic casualty of the force of history that is the global financial crisis.
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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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