Thursday, November 18, 2010

War Clouds Over Taiwan

Beijing's expectations that Taiwanese will relinquish their separate identity will be disappointed

Two years into his term, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou seems to have transformed the dynamics of his country's troublesome relationship with China. But this détente is only a temporary phenomenon. The risk of war in the Taiwan Strait is actually growing as Beijing's expectations for a political end to the unfinished civil war rise, and Taiwan's ability to defend itself against attack withers.

After years of cross-Strait tension under Presidents Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian, it's hardly surprising that everyone is breathing a sigh of relief now that the two sides are at least on civil terms. The international business community is taking a fresh look at Taiwan both as an investment destination and, given the linguistic and cultural similarities with China, as a bridge to the world's second-largest economy.

Underneath this façade, however, lies a dangerous reality: Beijing's recent "goodwill" toward Taiwan, which culminated in the signing in late June of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, is fully in line with its stated strategy to complete the consolidation of China after a "century of humiliation." While the Ma administration maintains that the ECFA and other such deals are purely economic in nature and have no political implications, Chinese officials and leading academics are convinced that Taiwan is unwittingly preparing the way for eventual unification.

My op-ed, published today in the Wall Street Journal, continues here.


As I stepped into my office this afternoon, I received, on my landline at work, a most extraordinary phone call from a very, very angry vice chairman of a Shanghai-based global Chinese business organization (didn’t get his name, unfortunately). In good, if uncertain, English, the man started politely, telling me his office had been receiving “lots of angry phone calls” from Chinese all over the world — in China, Hong Kong, the US, Canada — who were complaining about “biased” articles in the Taipei Times. Recently, his office had received many more, he claimed. Why are we so biased, he asked. Why do we do this? He then turned to the article I published today in the Wall Street Journal, which he said made “a lot” of Chinese “very angry.” Again, why did I do that, when “the entire world” knows and agrees that Taiwan is part of China? I tried to say that people were entitled to their own views on the subject, but he always cut me off. Even the Canadian government agrees that Taiwan is part of China, he said — and you’re Canadian, right? Why do you do that? I then told him the 23 million people in Taiwan don’t agree with this view, whereupon he went ballistic and started screaming at me, so much so that I had to take the earpiece away. I tried to ask if he’d ever set foot in Taiwan so he could perhaps understand why his views didn’t dovetail with those of many Taiwanese, but by that point there was no conversation to be had. He said I “hated” China. I said I didn’t, and that instead I loved Taiwan and the fact that it’s people had a right to choose who rules them. Why do you attack China? He screamed. I don’t attack China; I replied, adding that it was “you guys who are pointing 1,500 missiles at us.” “F**k you!” he screamed, and hung up. I’d obviously touched a raw nerve. This is what we’re dealing with, folks, blind, ebullient nationalism that brooks no difference of opinion and shuts the door on any dialogue. Those who think the Ma administration can negotiate with those people — the same kind of nationalist people, plus the military they control — in a way that ensures Taiwan’s independent future should perhaps reconsider.

Dec. 1 update: CNA has Chinese-language coverage of responses to my Nov. 18 op-ed and related editorial in the Wall Street Journal. See also original letters in the WSJ.


Anonymous said...

' “F**k you!” he screamed, and hung up... '

If the call was business nature, that was just unprofessional.

I somewhat doubt the guy is VP of some Shanghai-based "Global" business org. IF the org did exist & he is indeed the VP, then he probably is one of those guys in China who got the job because of nepotism.

Anonymous said...

can you post the full text of your op-ed? i don't have a subscription to the WSJ

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...

As far as I know, you don't need a subsription to WSJ to be able to read the article.

Try this link:


I just tried them (like you I have no subscription) and both work. If, for some reason, both don't work, just search "War Clouds Over Taiwan" on Google and you'll get plenty of links to the article. Thank you for your interest!


Tim Maddog said...

Thanks for telling it like it is, Michael.

Key question about the caller's claims: Why on Earth would anybody phone "a Shanghai-based global Chinese business organization" to voice their complaints about the Taipei Times? I think the guy is making shit up!

Tim Maddog

East Maverick said...

Michael -

... shuts the door on diplomacy.

Couldn't agree more. But I never hear any coherent discussion about how Taiwan is regrettably giving up on diplomacy and moving on to other, more bold tactics, to rise up and resist the China that won't set them free. The economic bond that Taiwan has decided to leverage and enhance in recent years with China makes that type of resistance ever more elusive.

... 23 Million people in TW don't agree with his view.

We have to realistically assess what China is. It's a country that does not respect individual people's wishes, especially in areas such as the integrity of The Motherland. Sadly, it's completely irrelevant what 23 million people in Taiwan want in China's eyes.

As you say, "diplomacy is dead". So what, then, are we suggesting that Taiwan should do beyond screaming in voices that fall on deaf ears?

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...

East Maverick,

You write: "As you say, 'diplomacy is dead.' So what, then, are we suggesting that Taiwan should do beyond screaming in voices that fall on deaf ears?"

This is something I've been thinking about a lot of late and which requires far more space than the comments section allows for. I will eventually put my thoughts together and write an article on the matter. Obviously, there are no easy answers, as this is a stunningly complex affair.

East Maverick said...

Michael - Thanks very much for that intelligent, candid, realistic response and viewpoint.

I've been following this issue closely from a Taiwan perspective for a few months now, and I have been astonished at how many times the Taiwan nation supporters simply block out any facts or viewpoints that they don't like (as they do on the Mainland), including calls to think through and present a workable solution to the problem.

I appreciate your openness and willingness to engage in constructive discussion.

MKL said...

Not sure, if really all 23 million Taiwanese agree with you, but I'd say a solid majority does. It's a very complex issue. China's carrot and stick approach makes it hard to really know what they want and expect and plan to do with Taiwan. And then you have the divide within Taiwan, the USA, that are stuck between a rock and a hard place and the international community, that will be all talk but no action in case something happens. Taiwan is a gem and I hate to see all that destroyed and rebuilt in a new way. I wonder, though, how long can the status quo remain like this. We can all hope and pray that there won't be war. That's all I hope.

truthseeker said...

read your article in Taipei Times on 'report'. unfortunately, you gave no info on who wrote this report. while i don't doubt the truth of most of the conclusions, for all i know you made the 'report' up yourself