Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Cast Aside Political Calculations, Mend Cross-Straits Ties

Cast Aside Political Calculations, Mend Cross-Straits Ties
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
September 2, 2009

When a ship passes, it can't help leaving a wake. Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu invited the Dalai Lama to Taiwan, "to pray for victims of the 8/8 Floods." The Green Camp hoped to toss President Ma a political hot potato. The Ma administration had already gotten its lumps from fumbled efforts at disaster relief. A visit from the Dalai Lama would rub salt in Ma's wounds. But the Green Camp overplayed its hand. The event turned into Chen Chu's star vehicle. It relegated other elected officials to the status of bit players. Yet no one in the Green Camp dared complain. The Blue Camp, on the other hand, imagined that by approving the Dalai Lama's visit, Ma Ying-jeou would get himself off the hook for turning him down last year. They imagined the invitation would relieve the pressure on Premier Liu, whose ratings had reached new lows. There were totally oblivious to the fact that hard-won cross-Straits ties were stretched to the limit. High level mutual trust so painstakingly rebuilt over time was now on the line. The Ma administration must give serious consideration to repercussions of the Dalai's visit.

Tibet has long been Beijing's number one concern. It is Beijing's most sensitive issue, the one Beijing is least willing to compromise with the international community over. Whenever other countries host the Dalai Lama, and he meets their leaders, they are invariably subject to severe retaliation. Beijing's position can only be described as hard-line. Taiwan is another issue on which Beijing is utterly immovable. Cross-strait relations may be special. Beijing's approach and style may have changed in recent years. But the Taiwan issue plus the Tibet issue equals trouble, far beyond what most people on Taiwan can imagine. Therefore, the Ma administration must not assume that Beijing will make concessions to the Ma administration regarding the Dalai's visit merely to ensure its political survival. The problem is not something the Ma administration can sweep under the rug merely by dispatching a special envoy.

According to media reports, a number of Taiwan affairs officials known to be moderates expressed disappointment and frustration over Ma Ying-jeou approval of the Dalai Lama's visit. "You are subject to internal political pressures. But we are subject to political pressures as well." Cross-Strait exchanges and liberalization have taken place over the past twenty years. Mainland policy toward Taiwan has long been a matter of contention between hawks and doves. During the Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian administrations, the doves were at a tremendous disadvantage. They had to bite their tongues. The second change in ruling parties allowed Beijing to change its practices. With the doves in power, everything was handled with kid gloves. For the past year and a half, Beijing has behaved like a rapid expeditionary force, demonstrating unprecedented goodwill toward Taipei. It has heaped unprecedented benefits upon Taipei. Why? Some on Taiwan call it "tong chan" or "reunification tactics." They see it as a campaign to change how the public on Taiwan perceives the CCP, and to change the public mood on Taiwan from "No reunification!" to "No independence!" Beijing even avoids mentioning timetables. Its policy is proactive. Its attitude is gentle. Taiwan wants to revive its economy? Beijing hands down an order, and Taiwan receives the highest priority in everything from tourism to procurements. Taiwan has profitted handsomely. It was impacted far less than other economies during the global financial crisis, and is gradually recovering.

Who knew the Dalai Lama's visit would upset the tempo of cross-strait exchanges? Was the Ma administration really blind to the potential repercussions? In fact high-ranking officials in the Presidential Office held five hours of secret talks on the eve of the Dalai Lama's visit. Opinions were sharply divided along occupational lines. Elective officials felt the Dalai's visit should be approved. Non-elective officials, on the other hand, considered the timing inappropriate. Elective officials didn't need to think twice about whether the Dalai should be allowed to visit. For them it was all a question of electoral calculations and political advantage.

The public understands that the Mainland market was an important contributor to Taiwan's economic recovery over the past year and a half. Politicians have electoral concerns. Ordinary people, on the other hand, have the most practical of economic concerns. Most people find the Green Camp's attempt to make political hay out of the Dalai Lama's visit intolerable. Nor will they tolerate the Blue Camp using the Dalai Lama's visit to alleviate the political pressure on itself. The Dalai Lama was personally heckled wherever he went. Even basic necessities such as food, clothing, housing, and transportation became grist for the dissident's mill. The treatment was rather different from what he was accorded in other countries. What is one to make this? Taiwan allowed an internationally respected religious leader to suffer embarrassment. But the Dalai Lama was not the only one who was embarrassed.

The Dalai Lama's visit to Taiwan was characterized as a humanitarian gesture, as concern for the victims. He would not talk politics. He would not provoke controversy. He would not meet with political leaders. He canceled his press conferences. He even reiterated that he did not advocate Tibetan independence. He praised the close relationship between Taiwan and the Mainland, in areas such as the economy and defense. He called on the ruling and opposition parties to join hands in Taiwan's interest. If Blue and Green political leaders have consciences, they will take this religious leader's call to heart. At the very least they should agree that increased cross-Strait tensions are not in Taiwan's interest.

The day after tomorrow, the Dalai Lama will end his third visit to Taiwan. The Taiwan issue is not the focus of his attention. He is not in a position to deal with the complexities of cross-Strait relations, Just as Taiwan is not in a position to resolve or intervene in the affairs of Tibet. When the curtain rings down on this act of "disaster politics," ruling and opposition party leaders should return to the problem at hand. They should refrain from provoking endless cross-Straits incidents for electoral motives. The Ma administration in particular must must lead the country in the right direction. The national interest and the public interest, must take priority over partisan and personal electoral considerations.

中時電子報 新聞
中國時報  2009.09.02








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