Perhaps this is not so surprising. Taiwan has long behaved as a normal country in almost everything except its dealings with its large neighbour. As those become easier, the status quo seems even more desirable. And increased contact highlights points of difference as much as a shared ethnic and cultural heritage. Knowing China better makes Taiwanese even more aware of how lucky they are to be prosperous and free.I didn't like Banyan's analysis when I first read it, as it appears pretty conventional, but I changed my mind:
China hopes economic interdependence will win hearts and minds. This will keep the more congenial KMT in power. And it will bring closer the day when Taiwan’s people fall willingly back, as China sees it, into the warm embrace of the motherland and “reunify”.Kudos to Banyan for putting reunify in quotes. The problem is that the economic carrots have nothing to do with winning hearts and minds -- Beijing is well aware that economic carrots will have zero effect on Taiwanese sentiment. Beijing knows perfectly well what goes on in Taiwan -- they watch TV, read the papers, have people on the ground here, and collect intelligence from businessmen in China. They know that the Taiwanese want to make money off China but at the same time do not want to be annexed to the PRC. Rather, the goal of integration is threefold:
-- to build constituencies in Taiwan that are dependent on PRC monies
-- to keep the KMT in power (as Banyan notes) by directing money flows to areas where the KMT can cultivate its local networks and build new ones
-- to entangle the Chinese and Taiwanese economies together so deeply that Taiwan cannot maintain its independent existence.
Banyan surely knows this; I just wish the foreign press was more concrete about what is actually going on.
The KMT likes to portray the DPP as dangerous hotheads who might force China to carry out its threat of invasion if Taiwan declares independence. The DPP paints the KMT as a party of Chinese stooges leading Taiwan blindfold towards absorption by the mainland. In fact, the two parties are having a more sophisticated argument: not about independence or unification, but about how best to preserve a status quo most people in Taiwan cherish. The danger is how China might react as it becomes clear that present policies are bringing unification no closer. The hope is that, with so much else to preoccupy it, its leaders will enjoy the smoother relations and not ask where they are leading.It sounds like wisdom but it is actually only conventional. KMT elites don't want to preserve the status quo -- for some Taiwan is a bargaining chip into the great game in the PRC where the real money is; others, such as the President, have a powerful ideological commitment to annexation. The party itself is ideologically committed to annexation, of course, and conventional commentary like this, in my experience, vastly underestimates the extent to which old-line KMTers identify with China emotionally and ideologically, and see Taiwan as an alien place of exile.
The unpopularity of annexation, as Banyan notes, is why the President keeps trying to accomplish it by stealth, chipping away at the island's independence -- maintaining Taiwan is already a part of China, curtailing Taiwan's independent diplomacy, attempting to get the public to start calling China the mainland instead of China, and so forth, even as China continues to suppress Taiwan in the international sphere.
The local public is well aware that the struggle is not over how to best preserve Taiwan's status quo -- that is merely a conventional wisdom/pro-KMT talking point that circulates in Taipei masquerading as a deep insight in the way that such cynicism always does -- but whether Taiwan will be annexed to China. The widespread perception that Ma is too close to China is an important driver of the recent shifts away from the KMT in 6 of the last 8 elections. The public knows where Ma wants to go.
For those of us who live in Taiwan and have watched this struggle for the last two decades, the sad failure of the media to report it properly is quite illuminating. Just imagine how differently this would be reported if the topic was Russia and Estonia and not China and Taiwan. Can you see: "In fact, the pro-Estonian and pro-Russian parties are having a more sophisticated argument: not about independence or unification, but about how best to preserve a status most people in Estonia cherish."
Taiwan's democracy is an important factor in slowing the rush towards China. Banyan raises the issue of what China will do when it discovers its policies don't work -- but surely Beijing already knows they are not working. A better way to see it is to ask what will happen when Beijing resolves its internal debate over what to do since its annexation policies can't succeed and they know that.
Indeed, one way to see Beijing's "economic carrot" policies is to view them as a way to put off the thorny problem Beijing created for itself when it decided to be completely intractable on the subject of annexing Taiwan. And further -- to build resentment towards Taiwan among its own citizens -- "we're so nice to them, and they are richer than us." I've heard Chinese complain about the "privileges" of Tibetans....
And that decision about Taiwan will certainly come in the context of the heightening of tensions all across Asia by China.
ADDED: One longtime professional analyst and observer of Taiwan affairs told me this was easily the best piece he's seen on Taiwan in the international media for many years.
- Millions of tons of rice in China contaminated with metals. I wonder what the score is for Taiwan.
- Chen Yun-lin protests in southern Taiwan on video.
- In other news Chen Shui-bian Veep Annette Lu is still an idiot. Annette, please retire from public life. Tomorrow.
- Some interesting commentary from the US on the AIG-Nanshan sale from a former UN spokesman.
- New RAND study on China's air force.
- Gerrit van der Wees letter in WaPo in response to the Ma interview.
- Taiwan Today: Flora Expo boosts Taiwan's profile
- All Coral reefs to be gone within the lifetime of most of the people now reading this. What will it take to make our governments move on fossil fuels?
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