United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 21, 2016
Executive Summary: People to people cross-Strait relations have recently taken a serious nose dive. It was in this poisoned atmosphere, that the tour bus fire incident occurred. Twenty-four tourists from Liaoning Province were burned to death when a tour bus on Taiwan ran off the road. The incident was both shocking and tragic.
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People to people cross-Strait relations have recently taken a serious nose dive. It was in this poisoned atmosphere, that the tour bus fire incident occurred. Twenty-four tourists from Liaoning Province were burned to death when a tour bus on Taiwan ran off the road. The incident was both shocking and tragic.
Since President Tsai Ing-wen took office, cross-Strait relations have chilled. The discord began with verbal exchanges between officials from the two sides, and gradually spilled over into the private sector. Consider two recent examples. Taiwan actor Leon Dai was allegedly replaced by a movie director because he was an advocate of Taiwan independence. Dai issued a clarification, but that merely provoked more people from the two sides to lash out at each other. Soon afterwards a homemade video appeared, named "A Taiwan without Mainland tourists is much more serene”. Tsai Ing-wen's "Thinking Taiwan" website praised it. The undisguised bigotry of the video insulted members of the public on the Mainland. In response, Mainlanders lashed back.
Nor was this all. The “Mainland July 20 clamp down on Mainland tourists to Taiwan” turned out to be an unfounded rumor. Nevertheless Taiwan fell off the Mainland list of “Ten Hot Spots” for outbound summer tourism. Public anger on the Mainland has reached the boiling point. Following the tour bus fire, some Mainlanders went online and hinted at "premeditated murder". If the Tsai regime fails to deal with this matter, if it fails to demand that the public on Taiwan exercise restraint, cross-Strait relations may deteriorate or even spin completely out of control.
These developments reveal two qualitative changes. First, cross-Strait official alienation has spread to the private sector, and led to mutual recriminations and hostility. If the situation is allowed to spread, Taiwan's democracy, freedom, and cultural advantages over the Mainland, the very traits that won hearts and minds on the Mainland, will be lost overnight. Second, the green camp's blind hatred of “China”, i.e., the Mainland, is now provoking anti-Taiwan sentiment among ordinary people on the other side. This sentiment is bound to intensity because the DPP regime refuses to recognize the 1992 Consensus.
The worsening of cross-Strait relations has spread from officialdom to the general public. Anti-Mainland sentiment on this side, has provoked anti-Taiwan sentiment on the other side. The two governments must pay attention to this alarming phenomenon. Once nationalist sentiment erupts, damage control may be futile. In the past, the opposition DPP's anti-Mainland strategy had no apparent drawbacks. Back then it served merely to hobble the KMT and Taiwan's economic progress. It had no significant impact on the CCP. It os a blind spot in green camp thinking. Taiwan must differentiate between anti-Communist and anti-Mainland sentiment. Anti-Mainland policy must seek support from the Mainland public. Conflating the two is extremely unwise.
Anti-Mainland sentiment will inevitably provoke a reaction. This is to be expected. Therefore anti-Taiwan sentiments from the Mainland are perfectly natural. There is nothing odd about them. Consider the Leon Dai incident for example. From Taiwan's perspective, one can condemn the Chinese Communist regime's intolerance as the cause from behind the scenes. But closer examination shows the DPP treating Mainland students worse than it treats foreign students. Is this consistent with freedom and equality? Worse still, Mainland students who come to Taiwan are among those most sympathetic to Taiwan. Yet we have long ignored their rights and feelings. Any mistreatment Leon Dai might have endured on the Mainland, was a mirror image of Mainland student mistreatment endured on Taiwan. That much is undeniably true. When we point the finger at the CCP, we must ask ourselves, what ever happened to the DPP's claim that it is championing "universal values"?
Twenty-two years ago, the Qiandao Lake incident exploded. Twenty-four Taiwan tourists visiting the Mainland were robbed and murdered. The incident exerted a major impact on the Taiwan public, and diminished peoples' identification with the Mainland. The number of dead from the tour bus fire is exactly the same. This coincidence represents a major setback for cross-Strait relations. It must not to be taken lightly.
Here we would remind the Tsai regime of three points. First, in order to maintain the “divided but peaceful” status quo, we must win the hearts and mind of the public on the Mainland. Therefore, we cannot indulge in anti-Mainland rhetoric. Tsai Ing-wen in particular, must not to allow her "Thinking Taiwan” website to be an agent provocateur. Second, cross-Strait relations must be mended. President Tsai refuses to even mention the 1992 Consensus. But the least she can do is demonstrate goodwill on other issues. She can appeal to the public to control hate speech. She can relax the constraints on Mainland students. Third, the tour bus fire tragedy revealed our own poor oversight of the transportation and tourism industries, and turned it into an international incident. The problem must be addressed in order to show our respect for human life. If done properly, it may restore much of Taiwan's lost lustre.