Touting his achievements while addressing the Central Advisory Committee of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) on Sunday, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) turned to rhetoric that sounded far more like wishful thinking than statements of fact, which raises questions about his vision for Taiwan’s future.
The first bump occurred when he said that thanks to his policy of rapprochement with China over the past three years, war in the Taiwan Strait “has already become history.”
Not only did this ignore the massive military buildup that is taking place across the Strait, it also purported to read into a future that remains rife with uncertainty. Whether there is war in the Strait will be contingent on a number of variables over which Ma has little control, including political developments in China and the choice of 23 million Taiwanese as to whether they would accept being ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Although Ma has vowed not to seek unification, Beijing has repeatedly made it clear that its patience on the matter is not infinite.
Furthermore, the current stability in the Strait — Ma’s only yardstick by which to claim there will be no war — will only hold as long as Taiwan remains hostage to the threat of war. In other words, the so-called peace is the result of intimidation and blackmail, hardly a solid foundation for lasting peace.
Pushing the rhetoric further, Ma told the committee it was “the great fortune of the Chinese race/nation [zhonghua minzu, 中華民族]” that “we can use peaceful methods to resolve conflicts.”
It is hard to tell which period from Chinese history Ma was drawing from, because the use of peaceful methods to resolve conflicts was rarely observed by rapacious emperors from antiquity up to Yuan Shih-kai (袁世凱), an autocratic general who declared himself emperor, the first abortive steps of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) KMT and the CCP that replaced it.
Rather than using peaceful means to resolve conflict, the Chinese nation has been cursed with predatory rulers whose preferred instruments were mass murder, cataclysmic social engineering and systematic repression of their own people. Although autogenocidal campaigns appear to be a thing of the past, it can hardly be said that today’s China is blessed with a leadership that has given up violence to resolve conflict. In fact, China today is embroiled in what is possibly the largest campaign of repression since the student protests in 1989.
The majority of people in Taiwan who are of Chinese descent are here because, over different periods of history, they chose to leave behind a land divided by war and oppression to seek a better life for themselves and their offspring. Even the 2 million or so Chinese who crossed the Taiwan Strait after the KMT’s defeat in the Chinese Civil War in 1949 were given a new start in Taiwan. Had they stayed behind, most would have been imprisoned, if not purged.
A flippant Ma then quoted from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, saying: “There must be division after long unity and there must be unity after long separation.”
What should be clear to Ma, were he not so locked into his own notions of Chinese nationalism, is that the “separation” is the product of far more than accidents of history or a family feud. It is a choice, one that should be made democratically, without the shadow of coercion that, despite his three years of rapprochement, continues to loom threateningly over Taiwan.
There is no doubt that Taiwanese of every persuasion want peace. However, few seek the “unity” envisioned by Ma, as it is one that narrows their ability to choose their own destiny.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has over the past few months continued to escalate its hegemonic rhetoric and increase its incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. The US, in turn, has finally realized how its “strategic ambiguity” is increasingly wearing thin. Similarly, any hopes the US had that the PRC would be a responsible stakeholder and economic player have diminished, if not been abandoned. Taiwan, of course, remains as the same de facto independent, democratic nation that the PRC covets. As a result, the US needs to reconsider not only the amount, but also the type of arms
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.
There is no ambiguity when it comes to war. Ambiguity begs for certainty and a lack thereof has historically led to war. History is full of examples: Europe’s and the US’ ambiguity as to how they would respond to Hitler’s growing territorial expansion in Europe was certainly a contributing factor to World War II. In the same vein, US ambiguity toward Japan’s expansionist militarism in the 1930s clearly led to the Pearl Harbor attacks that started the war in Asia in 1941. Ambiguity in a world with leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) will inevitably