The Fall of the Berlin Wall vs. the Opening of the Taiwan Strait
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
November 9, 2009
Today is the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Germany presented the Republic of China a section of the Berlin Wall. President Ma Ying-jeou was invited to address a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy on Xinyi Road, in Taipei.
On November 9, 1989, the people of the two Germanies tore down the Berlin Wall. According to Western historians, this event marked the collapse of the Communist political and economic system, and the end of the Cold War global stand-off.
But in fact, from a larger historical perspective, the collapse of Communism and the end of Cold War confrontation did not begin in Berlin, but rather in the Taiwan Strait. Many people believe disillusionment with the Communist leadership began in 1986, with Mikhail Gorbachev's "New Thinking" in the Soviet Union. But in fact it began in 1978, with Deng Xiaoping's "Reform and Liberalization" on Mainland China. Many people consider the demolition of the Berlin Wall by citizens of the two Germanies in November 1989, a classic case of protests against the Communist political and economic system. But in fact such protests began between April 15 and June 4 of the same year, in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. The Tiananmen Incident inspired citizens of the two Germanies. Many people believe the resolution of the Cold War began with the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. But in fact it began with the lifting of martial law and the opening of cross-Strait exchanges by Chiang Ching-kuo in 1987.
In fact, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall was a random event. At the time, East German authorities merely meant to loosen travel restrictions for citizens of East Germany. This decision was mistakenly interpreted as an order to open up the Berlin Wall. But this mistaken decree was warmly welcomed by the people. As a result citizens of the two Germanies took to the streets to celebrate, and in their enthusiasm demolished the wall. By contrast, when Chiang Ching-kuo announced the lifting of martial law and the opening of links across the Taiwan Strait, it was the result of at least a decade of soul-searching and preparations. Only after taking full advantage of the time he had to prepare, did he announce the opening of links across the Taiwan Strait. For decades, Beijing has been much stronger than Taipei. The disparity in military might and overall strength between Beijing and Taipei has long been greater than the disparity between rival regimes in other divided countries, such as North and South Vietnam, East and West Germany, North and South Korea. Taipei therefore, has lived under a greater threat from the Communist political and economic system. But Chiang Ching-kuo took into account this dangerous disparity in size when making his preparations. He made today's situation, in which Taipei has full democracy, and Beijing is undergoing reform and liberalization, possible. For Chiang Ching-kuo and Taipei, the opening of links across the Taiwan Strait was not a random event. It was the result of careful planning and preparation.
By the same token, Beijing began "smashing the Gang of Four" as early as 1976. Talk of "Reform and Liberalization" emerged in 1978. These were more cataclysmic than the events of the pro-democracy movement of 1989 in Tiananmen Square. These important historical events were not random, like the collapse of the Berlin Wall. They were the result of "Thirty Years of Disaster." The preceding three decades of Chinese Communist rule imposed upon its citizens the most brutally obtuse political and economic system in recorded history. Therefore party insiders underwent the deepest soul-searching, leading to the "Smash the Gang of Four" coup, and to "Reform and Liberalization." Public protests were intense. Public expectations were high. Hence the 6/4 Tiananmen Incident. Mainland China is what it is today, as a result of internal soul-searching by the Communist Party inspired by Deng Xiaoping's reforms, and public expectations symbolized by the 6/4 Incident. These turning points were hardly accidental. They were the result of decades of blood, sweat, and tears.
It is no exaggeration to say that the disintegration of the Communist political and economic system, and the extinguishing of the flames of Cold War military confrontation during the last century, did not begin with Mikhail Gorbachev's "New Thinking." It began with Deng Xiaoping's "Reform and Liberalization." Nor did it begin with the collapse of the Berlin Wall. It began with Chiang Ching-kuo's opening of links across the Taiwan Strait. Beijing's "Reform and Liberalization" will continue to be the model for the reformation of Communist dictatorships. Cross-Strait interactions are likely to author a new page in the "peaceful development" of human civilization.
It is not necessary to sing about the collapse of the Berlin Wall. People on both sides of the Taiwan Strait should be aware that, historically speaking, the opening of links across the Taiwan Strait was a far more significant event. The German people dismantled the artificially made Berlin Wall. People on both sides of the Taiwan Strait opened links across a naturally made body of water. When the Berlin Wall fell, the two Germanies were forced to react immediately. But the Taiwan Strait both links and separates, allowing the two sides to calmly engage in "peaceful development." Sixty years ago, the two sides spoke of "Liberating Taiwan" and "Retaking the Mainland." Today we speak of feform and liberalization, of opening links, of win-win scenarios, and of seeking commonalities and resolving differences. We have gone from "peaceful reunification" to "peaceful development." In fact, the two sides have long been in the forefront of history, well ahead of Gorbachev and the Berlin Wall. We have even more opportunities to establish historical precedents worthy of emulation in the future.
The fall of the Berlin Wall was not the final answer to the transformation of Communist dictatorships and the elimination of the shadow of war. The final answer came from leaders on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. After two decades of interaction they are now undergoing "peaceful development." Relations are increasingly rational and tranquil. People the world over are seeking models to emulate. Such models will soon become evident.
2009.11.09 03:21 am