Tokyo Film Festival Confrontation:
Opening Fire is Easy, Making Peace is Hard
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
October 26, 2010
A minor incident can sometimes lead to a major disaster. One individual's rash conduct can sometimes lead to a policy impasse. Against enormous odds, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have finally managed to moderate cross-Strait hostility, and promote reconciliation and cooperation. Who knew the Tokyo Film Festival would become the occasion for a confrontation over name change, and undermine the improved political atmosphere? This shows us just how difficult the road to reconciliation is, and how fragile the fruits of reconciliation are. If Beijing is sincere about improving cross-Strait relations, it must demonstrate its sincerity by taking concrete action.
The Tokyo Film Festival incident was apparently the handiwork of Mainland delegation leader Jiang Ping as an individual. The Tokyo Film Festival is a non-governmental activity. Movie industry exchanges have nothing to do with politics. In the past, Taipei has always used the name "Taiwan" when participating in the Tokyo Film Festival. This usage never elicited any controversy. This time however, Jiang Ping suddenly demanded that the Taipei delegation's name be changed to "China, Taiwan," or "Chinese Taipei," in accordance with Olympic Committee rules. Frank Chen, leader of the Taipei delegation, flatly refused. To everyone's surprise, Jiang Ping began shouting and pointing at him in the crowded lobby of a five-star hotel. He even threatened him, saying "Do you still want to sell your films to [Mainland] China?" His rude speech and behavior disgusted not just the public on Taiwan, but the entire world.
Frank Chen was baffled. The two sides had just signed ECFA. Exchanges had become more and more frequent. What prompted the Mainland delegate to behave that way? The two sides have expended immense time and energy, and overcome countless obstacles, creating an environment conducive to reconciliation. They are now awaiting the opportunity to follow-up and actively promote cooperation. But suddenly, this atmosphere has been spoiled by a single individual, posturing as a hero. Jiang Ping's imperious manner and crude language were broadcast on television for all to see. Against all odds, by means of a "diplomatic truce," the two sides reached a reconciliation longed for by the international community. Suddenly that reconciliation has been shattered, casting doubt on the Mainland's sincerity. This situation is hardly what the Beijing authorities want to see.
Specifically, the dispute over names prevented Taiwan stars such as Vivian Hsu, Ethan Juan, and Chang Chun-ning from appearing on the green carpet. Vivian Hsu was reduced to tears. The treatment these stars were subjected to will have an impact, particularly on younger generation people on Taiwan. Young people seldom care when government officials engage in one-upsmanship across the Strait. But when their idols are bullied, young people may lash back at Mainland China.
The two sides have been in conflict for such a long time. Everyone looks to the fading away of historical grievances. That would allow the younger generation to inhabit a peaceful and friendly environment, to understand each other, and to develop feelings for each other. Now however, a single act of self-righteous behavior has sown seeds of enmity in the hearts of countless young people. It has canceled out the goodwill cultivated over many years by others. The cost is inestimable, both in intellectual perception and in hurt feelings. For cross-Strait relations, this was absolutely unnecessary. It was a lose/lose proposition.
From Jiang Ping's perspective, he may feel justified. He may even believe he did nothing wrong. The expression, "There is only one China in the world. Taiwan is an inalienable part of China." is the most politically correct mantra one can recite anywhere on the Mainland. Even now, no government agency has dared to say Jiang did anything wrong. This clearly underscores the gap in Beijing's Taiwan policy. This gap is a problem the Mainland must confront and deal with.
Those who understand Mainland politics know that Beijing's basic policy toward Taipei has not changed that much. It is merely Beijing's tactics and methods that have changed. For example, Beijing no longer attempts to lure away our diplomatic allies. It allows Taipei to enjoy observer status in the WHO. It does not object to Taipei signing free trade agreements with other governments. But at the moment these practices are applied differently within and without, and also differently between different agencies. Taipei-related agencies are more flexible. . Their attitude is relatively friendly. Other agencies still adhere to their previous rigid stance.
There are two aspects to the problem. First, complex and delicate cross-strait issues. A single word can often convey very different meanings and attitudes. Taipei-related agencies have a better understanding of the nuances. They know how to speak in language Taipei understands. But other departments may not understand these niceties. Naturally they fall back on long held dogma.
This, in turn, involves a second gap. Many leaders in Beijing have expressed goodwill towards Taipei. They have made substantial adjustments in their strategy towards Taipei. But just what changes in policy do these adjustments imply? Decision makers at the central government level have yet to communicate these changes to their subordinates. Furthermore, information is controlled on the Mainland. Even though its Taipei strategy has changed, it will not be the focus of news reports. The result will be that other agencies have no understanding of these changes. Nor does the rest of Mainland society.
This gap will make the public on Taiwan wonder whether Beijing's goodwill is genuine or false. Taipei-related departments are friendly toward Taipei. But the rest of the Beijing government has yet to be updated on its policy toward Taipei. The failure of Beijing leaders to deal with this gap implies that the policy has not really changed.
The development of cross-Strait relations should be considered from the perspective of the public. What kind of future is beneficial or detrimental to the public on both sides, as well as mankind? What kind of responsibilities do those in power bear? These issues all deserve careful consideration.