Saturday, November 02, 2013

An uneasy peace between China and Taiwan

Yes, the world can learn a few things from Taiwan about how to engage China. But we should not ignore the idiosyncratic nature of the relationship

As Brian Lee Crowley recently argued in these pages, China’s rise has sent the international community scrambling for ways to deal with its implications, and no country has more at stake in getting the relationship right than Taiwan, the democratic nation of 23 million people that Beijing regards as part of its “indivisible” territory.

Yes, the world — and Canada — can and should learn a lot from Taiwan’s experience in dealing with the Asian giant, and Crowley, who recently visited the island, is absolutely right when he says that we should fully engage with China with our eyes wide open. That being said, there is a lot about Taiwan’s dealings with China that is idiosyncratic and which therefore makes its relationship an imperfect model for the rest of the world. And that, sadly, is airbrushed out in Crowley’s otherwise fine piece.

A lot of what is left unsaid stems from the common perception that relations between Taiwan and China have improved dramatically since President Ma Ying-jeou of the Chinese Nationalist Party, or KMT, came into office in 2008. Indeed, tourism, trade, cultural and educational exchanges have boomed in the past five years, and the two countries have signed no less than 19 agreements during that period. China is now Taiwan’s top source of tourists and, as Crowley points out, an increasingly important trade partner for the island.

But all of this has taken place literally under the gun. While academics, journalists, and heads of state have all hailed the rapprochement in the Taiwan Strait and never miss an occasion to argue that relations are the best they’ve been in the past 60 years, many experts have been baffled by the fact that détente hasn’t resulted in a drawdown of the immense military forces facing Taiwan.

My op-ed, published today in the Ottawa Citizen, continues here.

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