Taiwan-China Relations

Taiwan-China relations aver the past couple of weeks have been the subject of two different news stories. The first is ROC President Chen Shuibian’s announcement that the National Unification Council and National Unification Guidelines will be scrapped. This has caused some consternation because it is perceived as yet another step towards declaring formal independence.

The other story involves KMT Party Chairman and Taipei Mayor Ma Yingjiu’s clarification or refinement of their position on relations with the mainland. Basically he has said that he supports eventual reunification, but that he does not believe that now is the right time for either reunification or formal independence. Further, any change in the status quo should have the consent of the Taiwanese people. He and the KMT Party muddled the message a bit though by also saying that independence was an option, but not an option for the KMT Party. The latter part of the message has been the core of some controversy over the remarks.

The issue of the status of Taiwan is complicated. The stance of ‘maintaining the status quo’ is a particularly difficult concept to understand, when essentially status quo means ‘leave the issue unresolved’. From the viewpoint of western culture, it seems quite odd to leave something important like this in an unknown state for more than 50 years. Why can’t things be nicely defined like North and South Korea, or like East and West Germany used to be? Even the split of Greek and Turkish Cyprus is more clearly defined than Taiwan and China, and politicians seem to be willing to talk about Palestine as a country in public at least some of the time.

My opinion has changed over time, but currently is closest to the KMT’s position. Unification is a potential goal, but not until there are major reforms to the PRC government, and not when the supposed autonomy in places such as Hong Kong and Tibet gets short shrift whenever Beijing has other ideas. In the meantime there is no reason not to improve ties with the mainland where it is possible to do so without unreasonable compromises, a position the current government doesn’t support.

On the other hand, neither the status quo nor the One China policy fundamentally require that Taiwan be treated in demeaning ways by disallowing membership in international organizations or being forced to use names such as Chinese Taipei or Taiwan, Province of China. I think that such nastiness only serves to bolster independence seekers. Dignified treatment of both sides does not detract from the One China concept, and in fact would probably improve sentiment in Taiwan towards the mainland.

As for the issue of independence, read today’s Taipei Times editorial article Why fear the independence option?

4 thoughts on “Taiwan-China Relations”

  1. You know, leaving these questions to the new generation might be better if one considers that people are more likely then to recognize both shared heritage and also have forgotten literal ills.

    In looking at Korea/Japan – there is some progress on their relationship, particularly since they do need each other economically and strategically (against the renegade North Korea and the powerhouse China) — but the old guard still remembers (and rightfully so), the subjugation and near eradication of Korea — and can’t proceed with any open and completely non-partisan dialogue at this point.

    My other question to you is whether Taiwan is heading off to anelection year soon? It seems that in American politics we try to bring up divisive issues right before an election to polarize sides….


  2. The next presidential elections are not until March(?) 2008. Politics here have been very polarized since the last elections two years ago which led to massive street protests for months. Even before then things have been contentious.

    The major events that are influencing these events are:

    – The KMT and PFP Parties’ trip to meet with mainland officials last year.

    – Ma Yingjiu winning election as Chairman of the KMT.

    – Last December’s legislative elections which resulted in large gains for the opposition KMT and PFP parties to where they now have a decisive majority in the legislature.

    Ma is widely viewed as trying to consolidate power to make a run for the president in 2008. He is currently also Mayor of Taipei, a post he gained by defeating Chen Shuibian who is now President. In the 2000 elections James Soong (who later formed the PFP Party) had left the KMT to run for the president on his own ticket, essentially splitting the KMT vote. In the 2004 elections they combined the KMT/PFP candidacy with Lien Chan (KMT) running as president with James Soong (PFP) as his running mate. They lost by a very small margin.

    This ties into your comment about the next generation might be better to resolve things. The KMT has not adjusted well to democracy and has continued to run candidates based on seniority, not popularity. The same old men who have been in the party forever are put out as candidates and defeated. After the 2000 elections I told my wife if they run Ma Yingjiu as a candidate, he would win easily. But since he was not senior enough in the party, they passed him over and lost again. Their candidates had too much baggage and didn’t excite the voters.

    Now it looks like Ma will run in 2008. I still hold to my prediction that he would win. He is a younger candidate, and is perceived as moderate, fair, decent, and not involved in corruption. The KMT has previously been dominated by old men who have been around forever, who are thus tarred by the perceived abuses and corruption of the KMT past. By passing power down to a new generation, the party can make real progress at changing their image.

    The issue of Taiwan-China relations is a tricky one. The DPP is fiercely against any improvement in ties. The business community is pissed about this because the DPP is cracking down on businesses investing in Chinese plants, and there are no direct transportation links. This makes it more difficult to get to/from China and also makes it harder to import/export parts between the two for manufacturing (there are also high tariffs and restrictions on importing Mainland goods).

    The KMT wants to open things up and be more supportive of business needs. However, those attempts are derided as attempts at unquestioning reunification and a threat to national security by opponents. By some native Taiwanese, the KMT is still seen as an abusive and corrupt invading occupying force that took over Taiwan after Japanese colonization ended. That’s some powerful baggage to get over. It doesn’t help that Ma was born in Hong Kong and not ‘native’.

    Korea and Japan are interesting too, as just 12 years ago when I went to Korea, Japanese products were pretty much banned and anti-Japan sentiment was high. They’ve made a lot of progress since then, considering the historical baggage of being constantly caught up in battles between China and Japan over the last few hundred years.


  3. Wow, a Pan Blue American. You guys are rare. At least the ones who have been in country for a while. Don’t worry, you will see the light.

    Besides, now I have a reason not to eat at Subway 😉 You guys were too close to my house anyway, you were making me fat.

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