This year has so far been confusing and surprising for many Chinese.
We’ve been faced with a number of challenges none of us expected: January snowstorms, Tibet riots, Olympic torch protests, and then the devastating Sichuan earthquake. But surprisingly, one potential flashpoint that many of us have been worried about for a decade seems to be settling down into an orbit that most of us appreciate and support.
I’m speaking, of course, of Taiwan. On May 20th, Ma Yingjiu (a member of the Chinese Nationalist Party) was inaugurated in Taipei as President of the Republic of China.
Taiwan is an issue that thoroughly divides China from much of the rest of the world, at least at first glance (much like Tibet).
Within the Chinese community at large, support for Taiwanese independence is basically non-existent; the most common point of debate isn’t whether we should oppose independence for Taiwan, but whether we should invade today or tomorrow. I know some observers may be skeptical whether this is really the case. I’ll just make a few quick observations, and then leave the rest to be explored in detail in future blog posts.
- First, the people of Hong Kong also have rather firm ideas on this issue, this despite the existence of an independent media and the legacy of a British-designed education system.
- Second, even within the Chinese dissident community, the number of people who openly call for independence can be counted on a single hand; even those who consider themselves die-hard enemies of the Communist Party spend most of their time hoping that Taiwan can eventually liberate the mainland.
In the West, attitudes towards the Taiwan issue tends to be pretty one-sided towards the other direction. Taiwan should be recognized as an independent country if that’s what the Taiwanese want to be, and the world should guarantee it’s security from the aggressive Communists on the other side of the strait.
But after more than a decade of provocation and conflict, the situation on both sides of the strait has finally evolved to a point that cross-strait relations seem ready to be set on a new trajectory. For the entire time the Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao administration has been in office, government policy in Beijing has been one of “preventing independence” rather than working actively for reunification. And after 8 lost years as the Taipei government was controlled by independence-diehard Chen Shui-bian, the new administration of Ma Yingjiu and Vincent Xiu is ready to shake hands and return the favor with a similar policy. (And this is not all metaphor: Hu Jintao and Vincent Xiu actually did shake hands a few months ago at the Bo’ao Economic Conference.)
Ma’s inauguration speech was watched with great anticipation by all those interested in this issue, and here’s my translation of the relevant portions of his speech, which is a modified version available here (courtesy of the China Post in Taiwan)
I sincerely hope that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait can seize this historic opportunity to achieve peace and co-prosperity. Under the principle of “no unification, no independence and no use of force,” as Taiwan’s mainstream public opinion holds it, and under the framework of the ROC Constitution, we will maintain the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. In 1992, the two sides reached a consensus on “one China, respective interpretations.” Many rounds of negotiation were then completed, spurring the development of cross-strait relations. I want to reiterate that, based on the “1992 Consensus,” negotiations should resume at the earliest time possible. As proposed in the Boao Forum on April 12 of this year, let’s “face reality, pioneer a new future, shelve controversies and pursue a win-win solution.” This will allow us to strike a balance as each pursues its own interests. The normalization of economic and cultural relations is the first step to a win-win solution. Accordingly, we are ready to resume consultations. It is our expectation that, with the start of direct charter flights on weekends and the arrival of mainland tourists in early July this year, we will launch a new era of cross-strait relations.
We will also enter consultations with mainland China over Taiwan’s international space and a possible cross-strait peace accord. Taiwan doesn’t just want security and prosperity. It wants dignity. Only when Taiwan is no longer being isolated in the international arena can cross-strait relations move continue to progress. We have taken note that Mr. Hu Jintao has recently spoken on cross-strait relations three times: first, in a conversation of March 26 with U.S. President George W. Bush on the “1992 Consensus;” second, in his proposed “four continuations” on April 12 at the Boao Forum; and third, on April 29 when he called for “building mutual trust, shelving controversies, finding commonalities despite differences, and creating together a win-win solution” across the Taiwan Strait. His views are very much in line with our own. Here I would like to call upon the two sides to pursue reconciliation and truce in both cross-strait and international arenas. We should help and respect each other in international organizations and activities. People on both sides . The people of both sides of the strait all belong to the Chinese race (zhonghua minzu), and we should do their utmost to jointly contribute to the international community without engaging in vicious competition and the waste of resources. I deeply believe that by combining the greatness of this world and the wisdom of the Chinese people, Taiwan and the mainland can absolutely find a path towards peace and glory.
In resolving cross-strait issues, what matters is not sovereignty but core values and way of life. We care about the welfare of our 1.3 billion compatriots on mainland China, and hope that mainland China will continue to move toward freedom, democracy and prosperity for all the people. This would pave the way for the long-term peaceful development of cross-strait relations, creating the historical opportunity for a shared victory.
The passages in bold above are areas where I modified the translation from the version issued by the Taiwanese press. Ma Yingjiu used key words and key phrases that reflects his good-will towards the Chinese people, and we should not over look them. He repeatedly emphasizes that the people on Taiwan and mainland China are compatriots and members of the Chinese race, very meaningful after the previous administration spent years attempting to redefine Taiwanese identity as being something else.
Ma Yingjiu will not rush into reunification; his emphasis is on ending the hostility that has effectively divided cross-strait society at the lowest levels for 60 years. What’s most significant is his repeated emphasis on the “1992 consensus”, in which both sides of the strait agreed that there existed “one China”, but little else. He is also implicitly demanding that mainland China modernize politically and socially before any such reunification occurs, a demand that many Chinese (including I believe those in government) hopes to see sooner rather than later.
He has recently said that he does not see reunification happening within his lifetime. That’s not a provocative statement; many Chinese have a similar long horizon when they consider reunification with Taiwan as well. But I do believe that for those of us younger than Ma by a few decades, we could very well see some form of reunification in our life time.