Taipei and Beijing Must Walk a Mile in Each Other’s Shoes
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
November 18, 2014
Executive Summary: Both sides face a new situation. Both sides need to learn empathy and eschew self-centered political calculation. Neither side should indulge in wishful thinking or judge the other according to the rules of its own system. Both sides need to make use of existing mechanisms to provide advance notice and ensure clear communications. Only then can decision-makers and opinion leaders grasp each others’ meaning and point us in the right direction.
Full Text Below:
The 3/18 Sunflower Student Movement was followed by the Chang Hsien-yao incident, which was in turn followed by the abortive Ma Xi meeting. Xi Jinping’s reference to “one country, two systems” led to Ma Ying-jeou’s National Day speech, in which he hoped that the Mainland authorities would “allow some people to enjoy democracy first." Storm clouds have darkened the skies over the Taiwan Strait for some time now. Fortunately Siew and Xi and Wang and Zhang were able to meet during the APEC conference. Deep-rooted cross-Strait structural problems remain. Fortunately authorities on both sides are willing to see the Big Picture, and rebuild political trust on the basis of the 1992 consensus. We believe the course of cross-Strait relations remains unchanged. The momentum remains unchanged, the goodwill remains unchanged, and the determination remains unchanged. We must continue to broaden and deepen interaction between the two.
The authorities on both sides have been reasonable, pragmatic, and level-headed. They should be applauded for doing everything in a timely and clear-cut manner.
Their handling of the situation will help avoid misunderstandings and miscalculations. Misunderstandings and miscalculations are the most important cause of international and cross-Strait conflicts. The two sides must maintain this attitude from this day on. They must continue to see the Big Picture. They must convey accurate messages in a timely manner through existing mechanisms and appropriate communication channels. Cross-Strait relations will remain subject to fluctuations. But these fluctuations can be confined within a certain range. This is good for the two sides, and good for regional security. It should be welcomed by everyone.
The two sides share the same cultural origin. But they have been separated by decades of divided rule. Different political and economic systems have led to differences in thinking and behavior. These have led to differences over the 1992 consensus, over one China, shared interpretation or one China, different interpretations, over Chinese Taipei or China Taipei. These have led to differences over terms such as domestic, international, or cross-strait, to the 2005 "Anti-Secession Law," and to pro-war or pro-peace. Cross-Strait relations are a dilemma. Do not pass the buck onto future generations. Statements may be interpreted as pressuring Taiwan or simply expressing a hope. But political one-upsmanship is transparently obvious. Do not claim that foreigners or the two sides’ authorities do not understand.
Xi Jinping’s 9/26 statement about one country, two systems triggered criticisms. But Beijing was not issuing a political manifesto. It was merely proposing a new Taiwan policy of "peaceful development, opposition to Taiwan independence, and a meeting of the minds." We believe specific programs will soon be introduced. Beijing was surprised by Taipei’s anger. By the same token, Ma Ying-jeou double ten speech expressed hope that the Mainland would implement democratic constitutionalism. It expressed understanding and support for the Occupy Central demonstrations in Hong Kong. This provoked the Beijing authorities’ ire. They thought the Taipei authorities were mobilizing to support pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. But that is not how the authorities in Taipei operate. Absent specific instructions, President Ma's words were merely an expression of opinion. No concrete action was intended.
Another example of misunderstandings was the Ma-Xi meeting at APEC. Mainland authorities felt they had made their position clear long ago. One. They would follow precedents. Two. An international venue was inappropriate. They even said that holding the meeting in a third country was not an international alternative. The Beijing authorities tried to consider feelings in Taipei. They were reluctant to come straight out and say that Xi Jinping refused to meet, so they left matters fuzzy. As a result, the Taipei authorities misunderstood. They assumed that unless the highest authorities in Beijing directly and explicitly refused, a meeting was still possible. So they launched a last-ditch campaign. We can review the reasons behind national security agency miscalculations. But insiders know the misunderstanding was the result of President Ma's subjective expectations, rather than professional miscalculations.
Cross-Strait relations today are different. The power differential is obvious. Time is not on Taipei’s side. But the CCP also knows that reunification cannot be based entirely upon culture, ethnic origin, or national sentiment. The Mainland hopes to establish new conditions for reunification. It hopes to create a new theoretical framework, encourage mutual understanding and mutual respect, in order to ensure that the two sides are moving in the same direction. For people on Taiwan, Mainland China’s rise is simultaneously an opportunity, a challenge, and a threat. People on Taiwan should of course not put all their faith in the uncertain goodwill of the Mainland. But Beijing is doing its utmost to understand our plight on Taiwan. It is attempting to meet our needs. It is attempting to avoid angering the public on the many issues that still cannot be resolved.
Both sides face a new situation. Both sides need to learn empathy and eschew self-centered political calculation. Neither side should indulge in wishful thinking or judge the other according to the rules of its own system. Both sides need to make use of existing mechanisms to provide advance notice and ensure clear communications. Only then can decision-makers and opinion leaders grasp each others’ meaning and point us in the right direction.