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.