The dangerous politics of ethnicity
Little did I know when I sat down to write an article about the dangers of using the “ethnic” card in cross-strait relations that, days later, vice chairman of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Zhang Mingqing (張銘清), in Taiwan for a visit, would be “pushed” to the ground by demonstrators during a visit at a Confucian temple in Tainan. Reacting to the incident, Beijing officials said Zhang, who shortly afterwards announced he would cut short his visit to Taiwan and return to China today, was “violently attacked by some extremists, seriously violating his safety and dignity” and expressed “strong indignation and condemnation at this type of uncivilized behavior,” demanding “severe punishment of the culprits.”
Leaving aside the fact that the “uncivilized behavior” the Chinese spokesperson was deploring occurs on a state-sanctioned daily basis throughout China and involves acts of violence that go far beyond shoving, it remains that such incidents (and I do not condone, in any way, shape or form the use of violence to achieve political ends) could play into the hands of demagogues on either side of the Taiwan Strait who seek to turn the conflict into one of “ethnicity,” with China and “Chinese compatriots in Taiwan” — in other words Taiwanese who are in favor of “unification” — on one side, and Taiwanese who oppose it on the other.
As I argue in "Danger in playing ethnicity card," published today in the Taipei Times, this road can only lead to catastrophe and, somewhere down the road, could in the extreme invite a military attack against Taiwan, under the guise of the Chinese military seeking to help its “ethnic” kin and/or restore order, for which there are many historical precedents worldwide.
However minor the incident (it wasn’t the “violent attack” the Chinese spokesperson claimed it was) involving Zhang on Tuesday, the pan-green camp and Taiwanese across the political spectrum should quickly condemn the use of violence and thereby retain the moral high ground. Some could argue that the Chinese, what with their constant threat of invasion, military exercises simulating an assault on Taiwan, firing of missiles off the waters of Taiwan in 1996 and unflagging repression of Taiwanese, had it coming. But violence can only breed more violence and takes us down a dangerous path — one that encourages the reliance on, and feeds off, the “ethnic” card.