Taiwan Must Not Hesitate in the Face of a Rising Mainland
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
April 21, 2009
The Boao Forum recently adjourned. The third Chiang/Chen cross-Strait summit is about to convene. For the two sides, last year's change in ruling parties was an important turning point in cross-Strait relations. This year is crucial to closer cross-Strait cooperation. Last year's Boao Forum was Beijng's world-class economic conference. This year, Beijing was not at all shy about incorporating the issue of cross-Strait economic and financial cooperation into the official agenda. Its intent was to announce to the world that the two sides are working together to combat the global economic crisis. It was also a direct response to President Ma Ying-jeou's previous recommendation that bilateral relations be integrated into multilateral relations.
Beijing's "goodwill" toward Taipei is overwhelming. Beijing allowed Mainland tourists to visit Taiwan. When Taipei complained that the number of tourists was inadequate, Beijing issued a directive ordering Mainland provinces and cities to immediately increase the number of tourists to Taiwan this year. Wave upon wave arrived, with ten thousand tourists in each wave. Just before Taipei's delegation to the Boao Forum departed for the Mainland, President Ma Ying-jeou asked delegation leader Fredrick Chien to convey a message to Beijing: "Help each other, support each other, deepen cooperation create a common future." Mainland China Premier Wen Jiabao responded with: "Face the future, put the past behind us, cooperate closely, advance hand in hand." Not only that, Fredrick Chien's meeting with Wen Jiabao was extended from 20 minutes to 50 minutes. Premier Wen Jiabao had much more he wanted to say. Matters that Fredrick Chien hesitated to breach, Premier Wen Jiabao brought up on his own. He said "ECFA is also open to discussion." Fredrick Chien was so surprised he demurred, saying he was there merely as an NGO representative, in an unofficial capacity, and not at liberty to say too much.
The mainland has reason to be in a hurry. Since Chiang Ching-kuo first opened up cross-Strait exchanges, the process has undergone numerous ups and downs. Premier Wen Jiabao's response to Ma Ying-jeou, "put the past behind us" had important implications. When Lee Teng-hui first assumed power, the other side had high expectations. But toward the latter part of Lee's rule, they encountered hidden reefs, and eventually Lee's "no haste, be patient" policy. Cross-Strait civilian exchanges never ceased. But political dialogue was frequently filled with disagreement. When Chen Shui-bian first assumed power, the Mainland also had expectations. It even attempted to establish underground channels. But the Chen administration's cross-Strait policy was soon held hostage by pro-independence advocates, and "effective management" was replaced by "aggressive management." Now that President Ma Ying-jeou has taken office, leaders in Beijing are sending him a message of goodwill. Will it work with Ma Ying-jeou? Will it change the cross-Strait political atmosphere? Doubts remain.
The tense cross-Strait situation has lasted 12 to 13 years. Non-governmental exchanges never ceased. They became even closer. Private entrepreneurs who hoped to profit from exchanges no longer looked to government policy. Many business owners ignored official policy and acted on their own, even at the cost of lawsuits. But politically the cross-Strait political atmosphere changed. Chiang Ching-kuo once declared that "I am Chinese, I am also Taiwanese." Today a declaration that "I am Chinese" is almost taboo on Taiwan. Buddhist Master Hsing Yun was born on the Mainland. During a cross-Strait forum on Buddhism, he was subjected to a firestorm of criticism for uttering these words. The cross-Strait political atmosphere was subjected to 12 to 13 years of political reshaping following the change in ruling parties. As one can imagine, undoing these changes so soon after returning to power is no easy matter. Cross-Strait exchanges and cooperation has been restored at great difficulty. No one wants to see this undone and the opportunity to write history lost, yet again.
Closer cross-Strait co-operation accords with Taiwan's interests. But whether such cooperation will affect the sovereignty of the Republic of China, or incite pro-independence or pro-reunification sentiment on Taiwan, remains a nameless anxiety. Such anxiety is understandable, but must not impede the island's progress.
When the two sides first opened up, Beijing viewed Taipei as its teacher. Its hunger and thirst for knowledge exceeded our imagination. It was interested in improving everything from the stock market to the financial regulatory system, from agricultural products to factory management. Even now, Taiwan's experience in policy-making remains one of considerable importance to mainland officials. Heads of State Owned Enterprises with Communist Party affiliations and financial officials say Beijing's land policy is not open enough, lacks respect for the market, and always meddle in the market process. They are able to recite the history of Taiwan's economic miracle, chapter and verse. They can even discuss in detail the roster of former ROC Ambassadors to the United States with Fredrick Chien. We can see how determined Beijing is to understand Taiwan. By contrast, how well do we on Taiwan understand the mainland? How thorough is our own research?
As Taipei simultaneously welcomes and resists cooperation and exchanges with Beijing, Beijing is already accelerating its cooperation and exchanges with the international community. When Beijing and six nations sign a currency exchange agreement, can Taipei turn a blind eye? Mainland China has become an indispensable link in the international economic and financial system. Other nations have their eyes wide open. They look to Beijing and Asia for leadership in overcoming the global economic crisis. Taipei must not remain outside the Asian regional economy. It cannot ignore international economic trends and refuse to associate with Beijing. Cross-Strait exchanges are irreversible. No matter how the political situation evolves, no matter how long the cross-Strait process is prolonged, one thing is certain, fear and anxiety can never create a second economic miracle. Faced with a rising Mainland, Taiwan needs determination and courage.