There are a lot of annoying things about Taiwanese politicians, one of which is their habit of claiming to be novices and feigning naivety.
Last weekend, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) went to China to take part in the Shanghai-Taipei City Forum. Of course this was a highly political event, but Ko kept pretending otherwise by claiming that the forum would not touch upon high-level political questions. In fact the forum was a thoroughly political drama.
China’s top leaders wrote a complete script for Ko’s visit to China long before he got there and rumors that it was a “’one China’ script” turned out to be completely accurate. Ko’s claim that his visit was only about commercial and civic exchanges does not stand up to scrutiny. His deception and self-deception fall apart if we trace one by one the steps that China took to further its United Front strategy.
First of all, the scout that Shanghai sent to Taipei to discuss arrangements for the Shanghai-Taipei City Forum was not the mayor or deputy mayor, but a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee and the minister in charge of the United Front policy. This shows that the leaders in Beijing decided long ago what kind of a forum it was going to be.
Second, when Taiwanese go to China, they have to carry what is commonly known as a “Taiwan compatriot permit.” What is a “Taiwan compatriot permit”? It is officially called a “Mainland travel permit for Taiwan residents” and is an embodiment of the “one China” principle.
China is now preparing to issue a new version of the travel permit, replacing the original eight-digit serial number with an 18-digit number, just like Chinese identity cards, thus completely “mainlandizing” so-called “Taiwan residents.”
Step three is China’s “strict vetting” of the list of Taiwanese attending the forum. Taipei City Councilor Chen Chien-ming (陳建銘) of the Taiwan Solidarity Union was very worried that he would not get a travel permit and he complained that Ko was not strong enough to make sure that everyone could go. Eventually China’s “strict vetting” resulted in at least one councilor being denied entry to China. Access to the forum turned out to be a one-way road and it was entirely up to the leaders in Beijing to decide who could and could not attend.
Fourth, the Chinese Public Security Bureau was in charge. Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong (應勇) spoke to the media for just 26 seconds, after which security officers, in an unashamed display of their “Chinese characteristics,” told reporters to leave, shouting “Everyone out.”
Fifth, both sides chanted the same mantra about “one family.”
While Ko said that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have a common destiny and both sides belong to one family, Ying took it a step further by talking about an “inseparable common destiny.”
Such talk subverts “Taiwanese subjectivity” and replaces it with “a common destiny across the Taiwan Strait.” If this not the “one-China principle,” what is it?
The sixth and final step that China took, and its most political and crafty move, was the way in which China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍), who was already in Shanghai, was dangled in front of Ko like a reward. Whether and when they would meet was made a question of China’s grace and favor.
In 2015, when Ko attended the forum in Shanghai for the first time as mayor of Taipei, he only met the mayor of Shanghai, not the secretary of the Shanghai Communist Party Committee or the Taiwan Affairs Office minister.
Ni Yongjie (倪永杰), deputy director of the Shanghai Institute of Taiwan Studies, was forthright in his comments about what happened this time.
He said that the Chinese side’s decision that Zhang should meet Ko the day before Ko went back to Taiwan was intended to create an “unexpected, but positive development” and show China’s approval of Ko’s statements.
The desired result was to avoid going back to the unstable cross-strait relations that existed in the days of former presidents Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), Ni said.
What Ni avoided saying is that China’s chess game involves a Leninist strategy of getting the secondary enemy, Ko, on board so as to attack the main enemy — President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文).
Every step, from one to six, was part of the Chinese leaders’ plan and Ko followed the steps one by one all the way into the trap that China had set for him. Ko smugly boasted that he had broken the ice in Shanghai, without worrying about China’s delight in getting him to break it.
Let us leave aside the detention of Taiwanese human rights advocate Lee Ming-che (李明哲), the possibly prison-induced cancer suffered by Chinese democracy activist and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波), Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) threats against Hong Kong’s democracy and Hong Kong democrats’ warning to Taiwan not be fooled by China. As China goes all-out to oppress and isolate Taiwan, how could the sight of Ko laughing and smiling in Shanghai not make Taiwanese angry?
As Aristotle said: “Those who are not angry from causes for which it is proper to be angry, appear to be stupid.”
Taiwanese are not stupid. They are angry about things that they should be angry about. They are not just angry with China, but also with Ko.
Chin Heng-wei is a political commentator.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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