Cross-Strait Progress Requires Innovative Thinking
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
November 14, 2012
Summary: The two sides must relate to each other on the basis of peace. They can expand economic exchanges. They can increase cultural understanding. But democracy is essential. The two sides must interact. They must implement democratic reforms. Only then can they talk about how to solve the "one China" problem. Only then can they put people at ease. Only then will the people have confidence in cross-strait policy.
Full Text below:
Let us take a long term historical perspective. We have the best opportunity in over a century to promote cross-Strait interaction. Yet we have reached a bottleneck. What we need now from authorities on both sides is boldness of vision, generosity of spirit, and decisiveness of action. They must plan their moves, break the current impasse, and create new opportunities.
Since President Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008, the two sides have broken through many barriers. Direct flights, financial cooperation, opening up the island to Mainland tourism, signing ECFA, exchange visits between increasingly higher ranking officials, even talk of military cooperation. These show that cross-Strait interaction is moving in the right direction, that they are more and more far-reaching, and that non-governmental economic exchanges are thriving. But despite the optimism, dark clouds linger. The public on Taiwan remains uncertain of the Mainland, and this uncertainty is growing. The public is increasingly dubious about the government's Mainland policy.
There are several facets to these concerns. First, compare conditions on the two sides of the Strait. The Mainland economy has risen. It has become the second largest economy in the world. Its strength has increased. Mainland China's influence in the world has increased accordingly. Conversely, this has reduced Taiwan's breathing space. Taiwan businesses must rely on Mainland factories and markets. But economic reliance does not imply political confidence. The public on Taiwan has deep misgivings about the Mainland's lack of democracy and human rights. The greater the economic reliance, the greater the fear that we may lose our political sovereignty, and that our fate will be sealed. "Do not let Taiwan become the next Hong Kong" has become a political slogan. This ambivalence is often exploited by politicians. It has become a pretext to smear others as "Communists."
Secondly, consider Taiwan's predicament. The Mainland has risen. Over the past several years Taiwan has been undergoing painful economic transformation. Electronics is becoming a sunset industry. The new leading industry has yet to emerge. The government lacks direction. The people lack confidence. Unemployment is increasing. Salaries are falling instead of rising. The public watches as the Mainland rises. Under the circumstances, people cannot help but feel frightened. Add to this the opening of Taiwan to Mainland tourism. The enormous purchasing power of Mainland tourists has enabled Taiwan's tourism industry to boom. But it has also undercut the Taiwan public's self-esteem. The contrast in their economic status humiliates them. This adds to their distrust of the government.
Thirdly, the government lacks direction. Its current framework is purely negative. This includes its "no [immediate] reunification, no independence, and no use of force" policy, its "mutual non-recognition" stance, and its "mutual non-repudiation" stance. None of these can break the deadlock. None of these can advance cross-Strait relations or create a new way to relate. The government lacks clear policy principles. It lacks a sense of direction. No one knows where the government's current policy is headed.
Our side is in decline. The other side is in ascendancy. The public cannot help but worry that one day the Mainland will have unlimited economic power. Taiwan will then be unable to extricate itself. Such concerns are inevitable. Therefore the government's task is to be bold and resolute. It must formulate a thoughtful and principled Mainland policy. This will enable it to resist the Mainland's increasingly urgent calls for political negotiations. This will also increase cohesion among the public on Taiwan. It will persuade the people to find a way out of this dilemma together.
Consider the current cross-Strait situation. Economic exchanges began once ECFA was signed. Many provisions have been implemented. Cultural exchanges have been frequent and close. Beijing has proposed an ECFA style cultural agreement. But given the current cross-Strait situation, the cultural industry needs intellectual property rights protection for its cultural products. The issue of access can be addressed for the moment by ECFA. Therefore it is not a matter of urgency.
Hu Jintao proposed a "cross-strait peace agreement" at the 18th National Congress. He responded to issues advanced by the Ma administration during the recent presidential election. The government can give it priority. It can ease the pressure, enabling the two sides to establish a long-lasting framework for peace.
The Mainland economy has a powerful attraction. The highest priority of Cross-Strait policy must be to increase Taiwan's breathing space. We must reclaim the initiative. We must lay down certain principles for cross-Strait negotiations. Democracy is one of Taiwan's most important cornerstones. Therefore, we should posit a "democratic China" as a common goal for both sides of the Strait. Only after the Mainland adopts democracy can the two sides begin negotiations on cross-Strait reunification. This would provide Taiwan with much needed time and space. We could then wait for the Mainland to undergo democratic reforms and for its society to mature. One day the Mainland will adopt democracy and the rule of law. The people will have adequate protection for their human rights, including freedom of speech. They will enjoy economic development, humane care, and balanced development. They can then talk about cross-Strait reunification or independence. It will no longer be a problem.
The two sides must relate to each other on the basis of peace. They can expand economic exchanges. They can increase cultural understanding. But democracy is essential. The two sides must interact. They must implement democratic reforms. Only then can they talk about how to solve the "one China" problem. Only then can they put people at ease. Only then will the people have confidence in cross-strait policy.