Big Tent Theory: A De Facto rather than De Jure Solution?
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, China)
May 23, 2008
In his inaugural speech, President Ma Ying-jeou said "People on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are Chinese." Together with Beijing's "both the mainland and Taiwan are part of China," the two statements have caught peoples' attention.
At a meeting chaired by Vincent Siew during April's Boao Forum, Beijing's Minister of Commerce Chen Deming said more than once that "under the premise that we are all part of the same family, everything is negotiable." To everyones' surprise however, a press release issued by the Ministry of Commerce changed Chen's wording to "under the the premise of One China, everything is negotiable." But after bilateral discussion the press release was amended and the passage "under the premise of One China" was deleted. These developments suggest that Beijing's official position is that "under the premise that we are all part of the same family" is interchangeable with "under the premise of One China," and that the Ministry of Commerce press release was in error.
Hu Jintao and Vincent Siew seem to have validated this notion during their talks. Hu told Hsiao "Compatriots on both sides of the strait are all part of the same family. They are all kinfolk, all part of the same community." What Beijing did was to replace "One China" with "One Family." Perhaps they were using "under the premise that we are all part of the same family" or "under the premise that we are all Chinese" interchangeably with "under the premise of One China." Chen Deming used "under the premise that we are all part of the same family" as a synonym for "under the premise of One China." Yesterday, during Chen Yunlin's remarks to Taiwan, he omitted any mention of "One China." Instead he referred to "the renaissance of the Chinese people and a brighter future." He also spoke of "safeguarding the fundamental interests of the Chinese people" and of "allowing the spirit of the Chinese people to shine."
The two sides are distinct political entities. This is a political reality. Beijing initially maintained that "Taiwan is part of China" or that "Taiwan is a province of China." Such formulations have encountered resistance. Beijing now maintains that "both the mainland and Taiwan are part of China." This is a significant change from Beijing's original formulation. If "Taiwan is part of China," the "China" means "People's Republic of China." But if "both the mainland and Taiwan are part of China" then "China" refers something other than either the mainland or Taiwan.
This third definition is the underlying premise for the "Big Tent Theory." It means that although both Taiwan and the mainland sit beneath a "Big Tent" known as "China," this China is neither the People's Republic of China nor the Republic of China. It means that the mainland and Taiwan, as well as the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China, fall under the aegis of a third entity, a Big Tent. This Big Tent may actually have more structure than the 1992 Consensus and One China, Different Interpretations. One China, Different Interpretations amounts to each side establishing its own political edifice. The Big Tent on the other hand, puts both political entities under the same roof.
But what precisely is this Big Tent? Is it a third definition of "China?" If so, perhaps the two sides can become a confederation? If not, then how can one maintain such a Big Tent? If a third, de jure definition of China as a Big Tent is infeasible, perhaps a de facto definition of China as a Big Tent would be more acceptable? Perhaps "the Chinese people" or "we are all part of the same family" would be more acceptable? Perhaps if we move in this direction, we can find a way out.
Hu Jintao said "compatriots on both sides are all part of the same family," Ma Ying-jeou said "people on both sides are Chinese." Chen Yunlin spoke of the "spirit of the Chinese people" and "the Chinese peoples' fundamental interests." That all three used such formulations at such a critical juncture is no accident. The two sides may be attempting to find a mutually acceptable Big Tent when "reunification, independence, and war" are all unacceptable.
Eight years ago, Chen Shui-bian was elected president. He presented floral wreaths before Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek, acknowledging that he was heir to the Republic of China's legal system. He honored his ancestors from afar. He acknowledged his roots. He acknowledged that he had inherited the traditions of the Chinese people. Political solutions are one means of linking the two sides of the strait. But shared cultural traditions are also an important means. In fact, shared cultural traditions often kick in when political solutions are inadequate. The impact of shared cultural traditions may even be stronger than political solutions. The impact of the Sichuan earthquake on the two sides of the strait is a clear example.
Besides, according to Chinese tradition, political solutions involving the imposition of laws are predicated upon "Might makes Right." Social cohesion within a civil society, on the other hand, is predicated upon "The Way." Must the two sides be linked by political solutions involving the imposition of laws? Why not first promote a Big Tent based on mutual trust among the Chinese people. Why rush to impose a de jure political solution based on the imposition of laws?
Perhaps the substitution of a Big Tent for de jure political solutions amounts to a Big Tent Theory?
2008.05.23 02:51 am