[Viewpoint] A bit of advice from Taiwan

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[Viewpoint] A bit of advice from Taiwan

There is a country long forgotten by the Koreans. It is Taiwan, once known as Free China. After South Korea established diplomatic relations with mainland China in 1992, Taiwan was pushed aside.

The Kwanhun Club, a journalist association, hosted a seminar about this forgotten country. How heavy is the pressure on Taiwan as an isolated country in the international community when China and Japan are engaged in a territorial dispute only about 100 kilometers (62.1 miles) northeast of the country, and as China and the United States engage in a currency war?

Because Taiwan is a country smaller than any province of China, many assumed that Taiwan would have been feeling frustrated about its future. But my view on Taiwan, based on the stereotypical perception of inter-Korean relations, was wrong. They enjoy prosperity similar to that of South Korea and are optimistic about the future.

The relationship between Taiwan and China is far more advanced than inter-Korean ties. Taiwan’s civilian airliners have flown to major Chinese cities since last year. China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner and businessmen from Taiwan have invested $100 billion in mainland China. Last year alone, 4 million people from Taiwan traveled to China and there are more than 1 million people from Taiwan living on the mainland.

Of course, there are some ups and downs. During the Chen Shui-bian administration, Taiwan strongly promoted an anti-China policy and Taiwan’s independence. In 2008, Ma Ying-jeou was elected president and changed the country’s policy into an pragmatic approach, centered around the economy. Last month, the two countries signed a basic agreement on economic cooperation.

China-Taiwan ties have different approaches from that of inter-Korean relations. While we chose the political approach of resolving tensions through summits, China and Taiwan chose civilian exchanges and economic cooperation. Because of the summits, the two Koreas were once at the center of world attention but China-Taiwan relations have had a more constructive outcome.

The Taiwanese accepted the reality that China is a superpower. Because I was accustomed to the framework of inter-Korean ties, I asked: “China has grown so powerful. Does Taiwan ever worry that it may be absorbed into China for unification?”

Johnny C. Chiang, minister of the Taiwanese Government Information Office, answered: “We have been worrying about China’s expansion for 60 years. Right at this moment, 1,000 missiles deployed along China’s coast are targeting Taiwan. But worries do not solve any problems. We are worrying but we are improving our ties with China.”

Liou To-hai, professor of diplomacy at National Chengchi University, said Taiwan feels China’s pressure, and at the same time it maintains healthy relations with Western countries, including the United States.

“Taiwan is a small island country and if we fail to be sensitive about this situation, it will be difficult to survive, and eventually the country may collapse,” he said.

Inter-Korean issues were naturally discussed at the seminar, and Chiang was well aware of South Korea’s situation concerning the North. But he said Taiwan is envious of South Korea.

“Taiwan has no diplomatic relations with liberal democratic countries like South Korea, Japan and the U.S. We don’t have a security treaty with the U.S. We are lonely,” he said. “In contrast, South Korea is the world’s 15th largest economy and is at the center of global attention when it comes to culture and sports. South Korea is the bigger country, so it is natural that it assumes a heavier burden when it comes to inter-Korean relations.”

He said no matter what neighboring superpowers say, the key players in unification will be the two Koreas.

In discussing the Sunshine Policy, Taiwan said security is a separate issue. The Taiwanese said it maintains a good security relationship with the United States and buys advanced arms.

The mistake of the Sunshine Policy was treating security lightly. The Kim Dae-jung administration weakened our awareness on national security, as the naval clashes in the Yellow Sea showed. The Lee Myung-bak adminstration’s North Korea policy was a response to that.

China-Taiwan relations developed because of China. When the Chen Shui-bian administration promoted Taiwan’s independence, China did not hesitate to conduct missile training targeting Taiwan, but it was very generous toward small matters as long as the “One China” principle was respected.

It is time for South Korea to have a consistent North Korea policy. While strengthening national security, the driving force in inter-Korean ties should be economic. Rather than unconditionally helping North Korea, we must find a way of achieving mutual gains.

To this end, economic cooperation must focus on business ties between small and mid-size companies. In the case of Taiwan, investments of less than $1 million and labor-intensive manufacturing businesses were the key. And before discussing unification, we must do our best to improve North Korea’s human rights conditions. Most of all, we must never forget that the two Koreas were unified since Unified Silla about 1,400 years ago. When we agree on these principles and show flexibility in small matters with North Korea, the time for unification will come.

“The two Koreas are seeing a new opportunity because the North’s leadership is changing,” a Taiwanese friend said. “Eventually time will resolve it, and time is on your side.”

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Moon Chang-geuk
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