It’s been almost four months since Ma Ying-jeou has been sworn into office in Taiwan. After the first few weeks of euphoria, there hasn’t been that much published about Taiwan in English sources – partly because of the Olympics, and partly because not much concrete has happened.
Recently, I was glad to find a short article in Reuters on the Taiwan front. I have quoted parts of it below:
Taiwan’s new president has made a series of headline-catching goodwill gestures toward long-time political rival China but received no formal response as Beijing ponders its pivotal next move.
Beijing’s acceptance of President Ma Ying-jeou’s flurry of peace overtures after more than 50 years of hostilities would go a step further toward averting war in the western Pacific. A refusal to engage Taiwan could raise tensions.
China has already charted a long-term Taiwan strategy, with President Hu Jintao calling the shots, but it does not feel the time is right to announce its intentions, some analysts say.
“I don’t think the Chinese distrust Ma, but are still struggling over how to deal with a friendly, or at least not openly confrontational, government in Taipei,” said Ralph Cossa, president of Pacific Forum CSIS, a U.S. think tank.
Ma took office in May pledging to improve relations with Beijing. He quickly scrapped plans to develop a cruise missile that could hit China, scaled back defence spending and cut Taiwan’s confidential foreign affairs budget by 33 percent, officials and local media say.
In July, hundreds of Chinese tourists began visiting the once-forbidden island daily. Ma’s government also has accepted a pair of Chinese pandas offered years ago as a goodwill gift.
Taiwan-China ties are a “special” relationship rather than a “special state-to-state” one, Ma said publicly this month. The latter label enraged Beijing when then-president Lee used it in the 1990s, implying Taiwan was a separate country.
Detente should help Taiwan access a bigger slice of China’s giant economy, easing inflation and job market pressures at home.
Ma is also returning three years of goodwill gestures by China toward the island’s investors, farmers and tourism sector.
Beijing, content for decades to put off insisting that Taiwan unify with China, feels little urgency to put pressure on Ma.
Although some analysts say Hu does not let Chinese leaders debate Taiwan policy, senior Taiwan officials say conservative Chinese leaders distrustful of the island are still discussing strategy with more liberal colleagues who favour detente.
“Conflicts of opinion are normal in China, due to differing perspectives, but things are being decided step by step,” said Li Peng, assistant director of the Xiamen University Taiwan Research Institute in China.
But Hu wants to be remembered for signing a peace agreement with Taiwan, said Alexander Huang, a strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taipei. For Hu, the deal would be a historic step toward unification between the two sides under Beijing’s “one country two systems” formula.
“They need to give Ma something that he can use as a deliverable in his re-election campaign,” Huang said.
I was curious to gauge what Chinese – on the Mainland, abroad, and in Taiwan – feel about the situation.
My basic political stance is not a secret. All Taiwanese are Chinese people – we share a common history and heritage that extends back thousands of years. Chen Shui-bian is an idiotic buffoon – not only does he refute our common heritage, but his recklessness on the geopolitical stage also endangers the future of the Chinese people on both sides of the straight.
But having said that, I also recognize on behalf of Taiwanese people that Taiwan’s experience and the Mainland’s experience over the last 100 years has not been the same.
So given the fact that we are for now separate, what is the best way for Taiwan and Beijing to move forward?
Should Beijing accept nothing less than full efforts at reunification? Should Beijing prod Taiwan to at least take some steps toward reunification? Should Beijing accept Ma’s characterization of a “special” relationship at face value and work on practical things such as facilitating the exchange of people and ideas across the straight for now?