Friday, May 10, 2013

Let the conspiracy theories begin

Map of the incident on Thursday morning
The killing of a Taiwanese fisherman by the Philippine coast guard on Thursday is already fueling rumors of a joint Taiwan-China plot

Here we go again. Something happens, the Taiwanese government reacts like a normal country, and some people in the opposition camp — people who presumably hope that Taiwan would be recognized and treated as a normal, sovereign state — instead interpret Taipei’s reaction as a sign that there is a conspiracy afoot.

Just last month, some critics of the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration were arguing that there probably was more to the fisheries agreement that had been signed between Taiwan and Japan in April. Without providing a shred of evidence, they posited that somehow the Ma administration must have struck a secret deal with its “master” in Beijing, some quid pro quo, before it could ink a pact with Tokyo that had remained elusive for more than sixteen years.

Prior to that, those very same critics had claimed more than once that there were “evident signs,” such as sorties by fishing boats, that Taipei had allied itself with Beijing against Japan in the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) dispute. Taipei issued dozens of denials, and senior advisers to Ma’s Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) stated in no uncertain terms that they would never join forces with pro-unification “crazies” in the dispute, but those signals were never sufficient to convince Ma’s detractors that such cooperation did not, in fact, exist.

The Ma government had created some noise to ensure it was not ignored in the triangular island dispute, and had succeeded in reaching an agreement with Tokyo that upheld the rights of Taiwanese fishermen in waters near the islets, but the other camp couldn’t bring itself to admit that what it had accomplished was a success. It couldn’t be diplomacy. It couldn’t possibly be as simple as that, a government acting in the interest of its constituents. Heaven forbid that they could say or write anything that would make Ma “look good.” It was safer, therefore, to stick to “unprovables” and conspiracy theories.

Now an incident at sea on Thursday in waters between Taiwan and the Philippines, in which a Philippine coast guard vessel opened fire on the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 (廣大興28號) Taiwanese fishing boat, killing 65-year-old Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成), along with Taipei’s reaction to the matter, is again fueling speculation that the Ma administration is up to no good. And here again, the specter of a secret deal with Beijing is raising its sinister head.

As both governments investigate the incident, Taipei has done what any government would do in such a situation and has asked Manila to apologize and provide compensation to the family of the victim.

China, which is involved in various territorial disputes in the South China Sea, weighed in on Thursday; the Taiwan Affairs Office strongly condemned what it called a “barbaric” shooting and also called for an investigation. There is nothing new here. Every chance it has, Beijing will try to demonstrate that it sides with Taiwan in regional disputes, and will call for unity with the island to counter common external threats. It did that several times at the height of the Diaoyutai dispute, and this is what prompted senior officials in Taipei to deny, time and again, that such cooperation existed. This is Chinese propaganda, and somehow critics of the Ma administration seem to swallow it, well — hook, line and sinker.

If Beijing’s usual response wasn’t enough for Ma’s critics, KMT Legislator Alex Tsai’s (蔡正元) comments on his Facebook page on Thursday night certainly provided the ammunition they needed. No sooner had Tsai remarked that the killing was not an accident, but “war with the Philippines” than Ma’s detractors saw signs of foul play behind the scenes. It goes like this: Beijing claims the entire South China Sea and has overlapping claims with the Philippines; all it needs is an incident, such as the killing on Thursday, to justify intervention; by calling for “war,” Tsai — and probably other KMT officials — showed that he is part of a well orchestrated plan between Taipei and Beijing to take action.

Then again, wouldn’t every government in a normal country react with some indignation when one of its citizens is killed? Tsai’s comments are over the top — in fact, they’re downright ridiculous, as were similar calls for war with Japan a few years ago when fishermen got into trouble near the Diaoyutais. But proof that Ma is part of a conspiracy involving China to seize islands in the South China Sea? Come on. Occam’s razor, people.

No comments: