A road to unrest and subservience

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has been in office for a year, and if he continues with his current policy direction he will be recorded in history books as the president who ensured that Taiwan became a part of China.

By Michael Danielsen, Chairman of Taiwan Corner.
Published in Taipei Times on Thursday, Jun 18, 2009.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has been in office for a year, and if he continues with his current policy direction he will be recorded in history books as the president who ensured that Taiwan became a part of China.
The EU is relieved after actively working to help bring this about. The enthusiasm among Taiwanese is limited, however, as President Ma was elected on positive Taiwanese identity policies and pledges on the economy, all of which have been broken, and he has lost credibility in opinion polls, which have hit record lows.
Taiwan was previously hailed as the miracle economy of Asia after changing from a dictatorship to a democracy. This transformation came about because of pressure from ordinary Taiwanese.
But after the first change of government in 2000, when Taiwanese showed that they wanted greater autonomy and displayed a willingness to hold dialogue, the doors to the world community were locked and Taiwan was labeled a troublemaker in its relationship with China. China’s thousands of missiles and its legislation authorizing a military attack against Taiwan were never held to account.
We live in an era of key developments in the Taiwan Strait and there are two main issues to consider: Taiwan’s president wants to make Taiwan Chinese and reverse the development of an independent Taiwanese identity while establishing a form of free trade agreement.
The policy of creating an image of Taiwan belonging to China is evident on several fronts.
After his election, Ma took a dogmatic stance on the Constitution and advocated that Taiwan and China belong to the same China. Reflecting his legal background, Ma interprets the world through the text of that document and not as it really exists.
In his view, Ma is president of both China and Taiwan, which he has said several times, and he refers to relations between China and Taiwan as those between “two areas.” This is a significant shift from the two-state solution held by preceding Taiwanese presidents.
Historically, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has sought to reclaim China, and seen in this light his policies make sense only if you naively believe that political ties across the Taiwan Strait can change China from the inside and turn it into a part of the Republic of China.
To emphasize that Taiwan belongs to China, Taiwanese are now being presented with a different version of the nation’s history. The official history of Taiwan now starts with the birth of the Republic of China — in China. This is despite the fact that in 1912 Taiwan was not part of China but a Japanese colony. The previous government had started this narrative by making reference to the population that existed in Taiwan before 1912.
Further, “China” must be put into the public’s mind every day. When Taiwanese send letters and packages they have to visit the postal service that is once again called Chunghwa Post (China Post) and not Taiwan Post. Dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) is celebrated again with military guards before his huge statue in Taipei.
The government also wants to interfere with the Taiwan Human Rights Memorial near Jingmei (景美) that documents the political history of Taiwan — from the KMT’s takeover to democratization during the 1980s. The memorial is a former court and prison for political prisoners; historical displays of Taiwanese dissatisfaction with the regime are set to be diluted.
One could argue that Taiwan is becoming more Chinese in this sense: The government has come under increasing criticism from international organizations for violations of political rights during demonstrations and for a reduction in press freedom.
Taiwan has dropped from No. 32 to No. 43 on the Freedom House list of free countries. Meanwhile, demonstrators had national flags confiscated during a visit to Taipei by China’s chief negotiator, while protesters in the south were accosted by unidentified individuals as police stood by.
In addition, the government may allow Chinese police to operate in Taiwan.
All this is taking place despite evidence that Taiwanese oppose becoming a part of China. A survey conducted by Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council revealed recently that more than 80 percent of Taiwanese do not want this to happen.
The second main development is the move to establish a form of free trade agreement between Taiwan and China. Europeans may liken this to the European economic agreement that formed the basis for peaceful coexistence in that continent. There is a crucial difference, however: the EU is premised on cooperation between independent states.
Trade is one way to establish peaceful coexistence, and this is also one of the reasons why Taiwan and China have witnessed large-scale economic integration over the last decade.
Since May last year Taiwan has reached major agreements with China on tourism and direct flights and has concluded agreements on communications. In April the two sides signed agreements on banking and finance, crime and the expansion of air services. The two sides also talked about Chinese investment in Taiwan.
Almost all politicians in Taiwan want to conclude an economic agreement with China — but they differ on the fundamental issue of Taiwan’s sovereignty.
The current heated debate about a free trade agreement is a result of China’s requirement that any agreement include Taiwan’s acceptance of the “one China” policy.
Indeed, President Ma accepts this policy. His support for this has expressed itself lately in terms of the so-called “1992 consensus,” in which China and Taiwan purportedly accepted the existence of one China, but with different interpretations of what “China” refers to.
It all amounts to an escape from reality. Ma’s interpretation never received China’s blessing and the “consensus” was never documented.
Instead of holding a referendum on these issues, as many European countries would do, the government prefers to use its solid majority in the legislature and strengthen cooperation between the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party. A referendum would threaten to unmask the mystery surrounding cross-strait deals.
Consensus with the opposition is crucial if the president’s hopes for a common market and a peace deal with China are to succeed. Taiwanese will never accept a common market because it amounts to a Hong Kong-style solution, while a “peace deal” would suffer greatly from a lack of public scrutiny. If these problems are not handled with care, Taiwan’s international status will be reduced to a region of China.
Taiwan’s future will not be fundamentally addressed without a common and coherent strategy. Capable members of the two main political parties must break the vicious cycle of cross-party hostility and ignoring public opinion. Without dialogue, current developments will not lead to peace but to an explosion of unrest and demonstrations.
The road that President Ma is taking threatens an independent people. Because the EU no longer dares antagonize China and only dares support democracy when its economic interests are not threatened, help cannot be expected to come from that quarter.