From Hainan to Beijing via Lhasa
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 2, 2008
Hu Jintao and Vincent Siew became the focus of international attention at the Boao Forum. It's a long way from Hainan Island, the southernmost point of mainland China, to the capital city of Beijing. As we visualize the pomp and circumstance of the Olympic opening ceremonies in August, we can't help marveling at the mainland's surprising economic strength, and its determination to put on a show befitting the rise of a great nation. The road from Hainan to Beijing was supposed to be a straight line, a limited access superhighway.
But this road towards greatness is not unimpeded. It is impeded, among other things, by the Tibet issue.
The most significant obstacle on the road to the Beijing Olympics is the Tibet issue. The Tibet issue has taken the mainland authorities by surprise. The Tibet issue has been around for a long time. Three feet of ice is never the result of an overnight freeze. The current riots reflect long term tensions between Han and Tibetan Chinese. With the benefit of intense international media coverage, the protesters, by dogging the Olympic flame, have started a wildfire. As the Torch relay reached Paris, London, San Francisco and other cities around the world, the protesters managed to extinguish the flame, force the runners to board buses, hide in warehouses, take detours, and even cancel torch hand-offs. The contrast with traditional Olympic torch runs, with thousands lining the streets, is mind-boggling. And this is probably only the prelude to the protest activities. Boycott threats from the European Parliament and the US Congress are getting louder. The mainland authorities and International Olympic Committee are deeply concerned about all sorts of embarrassing incidents.
The Olympic torch relay protests have provoked a nationalist backlash. The mainland public is calling for a "counter-boycott" against foreign retailers such as France's Carrefours, America's KFC and McDonald's. Such nationalistic boycotts come across as less high-minded than the Dalai Lama's calls for the people of the world not to boycott the Olympics, and his statement that Tibet wants autonomy not independence. Recently, mainland officials announced that they would continue consulting with the Dalai Lama. This may be because they perceive the Dalai Lama to be more moderate than the protesters.
The mainland authorities' "Road to Greatness" will not be smooth, because it is still missing a necessary step. It has not "internationalized" its thinking. This is similar to Taiwan's onetime self-pitying "Orphan of Asia" mindset. The result was self-indulgent pathos and a Closed Door policy. The more eager mainland authorities are to demonstrate to the world that they are a great nation, the more unbearable other nations' refusal to treat them as a great nation will be. The more arrogant their response, the more they will reveal that they are not sufficiently "civilized." Mainland China now has significant "hard power." But its domestic handling of demands for democracy remain crude. It always blames "a handful of militant troublemakers." Obviously it does not understand the international appeal of demands for human rights, democracy, freedom of religion, and autonomy for minorities. According to universal standards, if one is unable to cross this threshold, then one is still a great nation.
If one wishes to become a great nation, "democracy" is a necessary stepping stone. The Taiwan region is a beneficiary of this experience with democracy. For the past eight years, the public on Taiwan has bemoaned the results of past election results. But if we think longer term, this was a necessary experience, a baptism of fire, an inevitable part of the democratic process. The Taiwan region's system of democracy is envied by Hong Kongers who would like "Hong Kongers to rule Hong Kong." It is also a key force in the peaceful evolution of mainland China.
The Boao Forum is a regional economic forum. But the outcome and follow-up developments of the Hu Hsiao Summit became the focus of international attention. This shows that regardless of the mainland region's ' economic strength, or the Taiwan region's concerns about sovereignty, cross-strait relations are not a family matter that can be settled behind closed doors. In this era of globalization, if one wishes to play a role on the international stage, one must abide by universal values and international rules. The Taiwan region's experiences with democracy in 2000 and 2004 have finally been rewarded in 2008. The mainland authorities' road to greatness won't necessarily be a limited access freeway directly linking Hainan to Beijing. It may be a toll road that detours through Lhasa. The toll that mainland authorities will have to pay is the study of democracy.
2008.05.02 01:31 am