Thursday, July 3, 2008

From Direct Cross-Strait Flights to an Asia-Pacific Trans-shipment Center

From Direct Cross-Strait Flights to an Asia-Pacific Trans-shipment Center
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
July 3, 2008

Tomorrow, July 4, 2008, is a landmark day for cross-strait exchanges. 1. The first direct, cross-strait weekend charter flight will take place. 2. Mainland tourists will arrive on Taiwan. The first batch will consist of 750 people.

News reports focus on two points: "mainland tourism" and "the stimulation of domestic demand." But this is only the superficial level. This event is significant because people on Taiwan have finally freed themselves from years of self-imposed incarceration. Through direct cross-strait exchanges, they are seeking to restore Taiwan's status in the Asia-Pacific region.

To spin "mainland tourists arriving on Taiwan" as a panacea that will "stimulate domestic demand" is excessive. Mainland tourists arriving on Taiwan are not the same as mainland tourists arriving in Hong Kong -- not yet. Mainland tourists arriving in Hong Kong have freedom of movement. They are free to patronize local businesses, limited only by their pocketbooks. This spreads wealth to all corners of Hong Kong. Mainland tourists arriving on Taiwan are only permitted to spend money along their route of travel, at "designated retail spots." Therefore if we want mainland tourists arriving on Taiwan to "stimulate domestic demand," we had better give them greater latitude.

The significance of mainland tourists flying directly to Taiwan is twofold: 1. It shows that cross-strait hostility has diminished and cross-strait exchanges have increased. The ruling and opposition parties on Taiwan and the mainland share the same perspective. This is a valuable step forward. 2. As mentioned earlier, direct cross-strait transportation links may finally link Taiwan with the Chinese mainland. Supplemented by other measures, they may help transform Taiwan into an Asia-Pacific Trans-shipment Center. One day, in addition to cross-strait tourism, the passenger manifests for on direct cross-strait flights may include a whole range of international VIPs. That could be the sign that Taiwan's political and economic status has changed.

If Taiwan develops into an "Asia-Pacific Trans-shipment Center" that will be the best guarantee of a "win-win cross-strait" scenario. Each side of the Taiwan Strait has its own calculations regarding bilateral relations. On Taiwan, some fear becoming a "vassal of the mainland." They fear that reliance on the mainland is a path of no return. On the mainland, some hope to bind Taiwan hand and foot. But even if Taiwan were to become a vassal of the mainland, that would be realpolitik, not statesmanship. If future cross-strait relations entails Taiwan becoming a vassal of the mainland, political turmoil on Taiwan and increasing cross-strait hostility are inevitable. After all, Taiwan has a democratic system of government. If future cross-strait relations lead to a loss of dignity, so that the people on Taiwan feel cheated, or bound, or dominated, the backlash on Taiwan must not be underestimated. Conversely, If Taiwan can, through cross-strait exchanges, gradually realize its dream of becoming an "Asia-Pacific Trans-shipment Center," if the public discovers that cross-strait relations benefit Taiwan's dignity and interests, cross-strait relations may become ultra-stable. Moreover, if Taiwan becomes an "Asia-Pacific Trans-shipment Center," the Chinese mainland will also be an economic beneficiary.

Last Saturday the United Daily News published an editorial. It examined Hu Jintao's cross-strait approach, and noted that the line separating a politician and a statesman is very thin indeed. Regarding Taiwan as a vassal of the mainland reflects the mindset of a politician. Helping Taiwan become an Asia-Pacific Trans-shipment Center reflects the mindset of a statesman. If Taiwan can become an Asia-Pacific Trans-shipment Center, Taiwan's democratic system will be more stable, and cross-strait relations will be more stable. If Taiwan is treated as a vassal of the mainland, Taiwan's democratic system will become less stable, and cross-strait relations will become less stable. Look at the past to see the future. Look at the microcosm to see the macrocosm. Look at the trees to see the forest. This is what the Beijing authorities ought to be thinking about as the first cross-strait charter flights begin arriving over the weekend.

The world is watching as mainland tourists arrive on Taiwan via direct cross-strait flights. Most people only pay attention to tourist activities and consumption. We would like to remind the Taiwan authorities that direct flights are not just for the sake of tourists. Even more importantly, they are for the sake of the "Asia-Pacific Trans-shipment Center." We should be giving it our full support. We should be actively deploying our personnel to ensure its realization. We would also like to remind the Beijing authorities that tourism is merely the icing. The cake is ultra-stable cross-strait relations, made possible by Taiwan's democratic political and economic institutions. Respond to Taiwan's desire for dignity. Look after Taiwan's interests. Help Taiwan become a "Asia-Pacific Regional Trans-shipment Center." We hope that when Chen Yunlin comes to Taiwan in October, he can straighten out the kinks, and make . weekday charter flights, direct air and maritime transport, participation in international organizations, and the additional international space, a reality.

In welcoming the advent of direct cross-strait transportation links, one cannot help wringing one's hands and lamenting 20 years of wasted opportunities, particularly after 1997. Allowing direct flights to the "the mainland region of Hong Kong" but not allowing direct flights to the mainland region of Shanghai or Beijing, was akin to burying one's head in the sand. Today we are mired in global inflation, perhaps even the shadow of another Great Depression. We are attempting belatedly to open up direct shipping and establish an "Asia-Pacific Trans-shipment Center." Has the last train already left the station? Or is another one on the way?

2008.07.03 03:08 am









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