Sunday, July 6, 2008

Where are the protests?

The Key to Cross-Strait Détente

by Jonathan Adams
Far Eastern Economic Review, Posted July 6, 2007

Given the dramatic extent of the KMT’s current opening to China under Taiwan’s new President Ma Ying-jeou, you might expect Taiwan’s scrappy pro-independence party to take to the streets in protest.

After all, the Ma government’s measures look like a unificationist’s to-do list. These include: cross-Strait weekend charter flights, which began on July 4; an expansion of Chinese tourists allowed in to 3,000 per day (that’s one million per year); renminbi-Taiwan dollar exchange in Taiwan; a relaxation of restrictions on China-bound investment by Taiwan firms; a relaxation on restrictions on Chinese investment in Taiwanese banks, funds and real estate; a welcome to Xinhua and People’s Daily reporters banned from Taiwan by the previous DPP government; and a welcome mat for mainland pop stars and performers, previously tightly restricted.

All this amounts to a dramatic step toward normalization of economic and cultural relations.

Many believe, of course, that’s also the first step toward Beijing’s long-term goal: political unification.

But rather than strongly oppose all of this, the DPP is laying low. It’s raising quibbles (Mr. Ma’s giving up too much too soon at the negotiating table) while agreeing in principle with the normalization process.

In fact, in some cases the DPP is actually complaining the new links don’t go far enough. The DPP mayor of Kaohsiung has griped that too few cross-Strait charter flights will be coming to her city. And party headquarters is peeved that the flights deal doesn’t yet include cross-Strait cargo flights, something high on Taiwan businesses’ wish list.

The DPP’s stance suggests two points worth raising:

First, it’s evidence of the broad consensus in Taiwan supporting closer economic links—but not political unification—with the mainland. Despite the supposed polarization between the independence-leaning DPP and unification-leaning KMT, moderates in both parties are in fundamental agreement on this direction.

That consensus isn’t recent. In fact, it has been apparent since the DPP’s Chen Shui-bian took power in 2000. Far from being a protectionist hardliner determined to throttle business opportunities, Mr. Chen actually began a process of economic normalization with the mainland that Mr. Ma is only continuing.

Cross-Strait trade and investment boomed dramatically under Mr. Chen, and his government in 2001 launched the “three mini-links” between Taiwan’s Kinmen and Matsu islands and the mainland as a first step toward broader transport links. And the Chen government spent years negotiating a deal on cross-Strait charter flights and tourists—the deal Beijing only inked when Mr. Ma came into office.

In his heart of hearts, Mr. Chen may indeed cherish the long-term goal of independence and Mr. Ma of unification—only they know for sure. But as a matter of official government policy, their stands are identical: No independence, no unification, preserve the political status quo, but expand cross-Strait economic ties.

The only difference between the two governments is on the pace and scope of normalization—Mr. Ma is willing to move more quickly (the DPP says too quickly) on a raft of issues. But a more significant difference is Beijing’s attitude.

That brings us to the second point. Despite the similarity in Messrs. Chen and Ma’s official policy positions, from Beijing’s standpoint there are large symbolic differences. Exhibit A is Ma’s embrace of the “1992 Consensus”—a flimsy formula, never written down or formalized, to agree on “one China” while fudging its meaning. Mr. Chen’s DPP rejects that formula as a downgrade of Taiwan’s sovereignty.

Exhibit B is Mr. Ma’s stress on Taiwan’s essential “Chinese-ness”—such as his description of Taiwan and China as parts of the “zhonghua minzu” (the Chinese peoples or nation). Mr. Chen never rejected that cultural link outright, but instead stressed Taiwan’s distinct culture and history in order to bolster a budding sense of Taiwan identity and pride.

To China, Mr. Ma’s shift in emphasis is critical. It suggests cross-Strait solidarity rather than separation. Here, Beijing and the KMT are allied in a culture war against the DPP—one waged through language and symbols—about what it means to be Taiwanese.

That, and not any dramatic policy shift by Mr. Ma’s government, is why cross-Strait economic relations are advancing so quickly under a KMT government.

But this, of course, could put China in a very difficult position in the future. What happens when the DPP inevitably retakes power in four, eight or 12 years? Presumably, it will continue to back economic normalization, while rejecting the “1992 consensus” and downplaying cultural and historical cross-Strait ties.

Will Beijing call back its tourists, withdraw its investment, and cancel the cross-Strait flights?

China is responding to the symbols and language used by specific politicians and parties in Taiwan, rather than engaging the official policy produced by Taiwan’s democratic government. For now, that’s producing results acceptable to all parties.

But as the basis for long-term cross-Strait stability, it’s a shaky foundation indeed.

Mr. Adams is a freelance journalist in Taiwan.

Original site

DPP supporter actively protests former KMT chairman Lien Chan's 2005 trip to China

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