Diplomatic Truce: Taking the Long View
China News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
November 12, 2009
The most important policy change the Ma administration made since taking office, was to transform cross-Strait confrontation into reconciliation and communication. The resulting "diplomatic truce" has been the most palpable change in the eyes of the international community. The diplomatic truce merits heartfelt affirmation.
Taipei's past diplomatic plight was not the result of anything it did wrong. It was the result of pressure from Beijing. Today, the two sides are moving towards reconciliation. The two sides have reached a tacit understanding. They will not attempt to undermine others' relations with their diplomatic allies. Over the past year the number of diplomatic allies on each side has remained constant. Several of our diplomatic allies in Central America repeatedly threatened to defect to Beijing, only to discover that Beijing was giving them the cold shoulder, and that Taipei was no longer willing to tolerate political extortion. These allies were forced to re-examine their way of relating to Taipei.
This bilateral diplomatic truce has given Taipei a badly needed respite. Suppose there had been no diplomatic truce, and Beijing had maintained its strategy of obstruction. The financial tsunami has greatly increased Beijing's international influence. Taipei has only 20 or so diplomatic allies. One can only imagine how many it would have lost. Externally and internally, the pressure on Taipei would be even greater than it is today.
In this respect, Beijing has indeed manifested goodwill. It didn't merely pass up an opportunity to steal Taipei's pitifully few diplomatic allies. It even allowed Taipei to participate in the World Health Assembly as an observer. Former ROC Vice President Lien Chan also represented President Ma Ying-jeou when he attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting (APEC) leaders summit. Meanwhile, Taipei is choosing its battles. It is no longer seeking direct readmission to the United Nations. Instead it is seeking participation in the International Climate Change Convention, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and other organizations affiliated with the United Nations.
Of course, some people will criticize these gains as charity, and attribut to Beijing ulterior motives. If Taipei lowers its guard, and Beijing experiences a change of heart, then Taipei's situation could be even more perilous. These concerns have some basis. They also reflect doubts and fears at the grass roots level. The two sides' fundamental interests are still sharply at odds. Under threat from thousands of ballistic missiles, the public on Taiwan cannot be expected to lower its guard on such short order. But the two sides have created a new window of opportunity, and must boldly seize the initiative.
A diplomatic truce is superficially akin to the cease-fire during the bombardment of Kinmen. The two sides no longer undermine each others' diplomatic allies by making out larger and larger checks. But at an even deeper level, it has liberated the two sides from an endless and meaningless cycle of diplomatic battles. It has provided the two sides with an opportunity to create a different world, to gradually establish a new and mutually beneficial means of interaction.
Disputes are never resolved by arguing or fighting. Only through mutual consideration, understanding, tolerance, and the seeking of common ground can one establish long-term friendships. Only then can one truly eliminate over half a century of confrontation. Military force can only result in lasting enmity. Military intimidation can only make the public on Taiwan suspect Beijing's expressions of goodwill. Diplomatic obstructionism can only humiliate the public on Taiwan and generate lasting resentment. In every one of these areas, Beijing might appear to be the winner. But it would merely sacrifice a better future. Would it really behoove Beijing to act in such a manner? Beijing has a choice. All it needs is greater courage and imagination. All it needs is greater concern for the future of our children, the progress of our nation, and a greater sense of mission.
Beijing has definitely implemented a diplomatic truce." Unfortunately, some measures may not yet be fully in place. During international film festivals or book fairs Taipei has still been forced to change its signs. For example, at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair, the Taiwan exhibit must be renamed "Publishers from Taiwan."
This is truly incomprehensible. The ROC Director of Health is allowed to attend WHA and make politically sensitive speeches. But at a purely private sector book fair, the ROC remains subject to suppression. Beijing must understand that suppressing the ROC in civil sector, non-political international activities such as sports and culture will merely humiliate the public on Taiwan, and make them feel Beijing has gone too far.
The ROC has a democratic society. No one can force a democratic society to take orders. Because the concept of sovereignty is deeply rooted in people's minds. The direction of the nation must be decided by the people. A head of state does not have the final say. Nor can a nation be sold out by a single individual. Because without a public mandate, leaders have no power whatsoever. Here is where they differ from authoritarian systems.
Therefore if Beijing wishes to continue promoting cross-Strait reconciliation, and gradually transforming bilateral hostility into friendship, it must demonstrate its goodwill through more concrete actions. Taipei must also take advantage of this rare opportunity to promote cultural exchanges, laying a solid foundation for its return to the international community. The respite will allow us to continue our advance. The truce will allow us to use our energy to perform other, more important work.