[Viewpoint] Consider Taiwan’s dilemma

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[Viewpoint] Consider Taiwan’s dilemma

It had been four years since my last visit to Taiwan, and this time, the national flag was the controversial topic. The London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games decided to remove the Blue Sky, White Sun and a Wholly Red Earth, the Flag of the Republic of China, from the streets of London at the request of China. When Taiwan participated in the 1984 Olympic Games for the first time, it had accepted conditions not to compete under its formal name and not to display the national flag.

While the removal of the national flag was inevitable, Taiwanese people still felt hurt as Beijing’s pressure extends to every single detail. Taiwan’s opposition Democratic Progressive Party does not recognize the Blue Sky, White Sun and a Wholly Red Earth as the national flag, but ironically, it criticized the Kuomintang government for failing to defend the dignity of the nation.

On May 20, President Ma Ying-jeou’s second term began, and his agony is not unrelated to this challenge. In the inauguration address, he proposed “no independence, no unification and no use of force” as the basic principles of the cross-strait relations. He opposes reunification by absorption, but at the same time, he would not allow an independent nation. He made it clear that he wishes to maintain a peaceful status quo. He concluded that there was no alternative to maintain the existence, prosperity and current international status of Taiwan.

In fact, President Ma has been seeking progressive cross-strait relations from his first term in 2008. The “three exchanges policy” of mail, trade, and air and shipping services promoted exchanges and cooperation in economic and social sectors, and the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed in June of 2010 brought drastic improvements in economic relations.

And the outcome has been shockingly positive. Taiwan’s economic growth rate has risen from minus 2.0 percent in 2009 to 10.8 percent in 2010. Exports of Taiwanese products to China increased by 41.8 percent in a year, and the trade balance turned positive. Moreover, 4.66 million tourists from mainland China visited Taiwan in the last four years, bringing $6.6 billion in tourism income. In the early stages of the aviation exchange, 20 direct flights were scheduled between Taiwan and China. Now, more than 550 direct flights are in operation, and nearly one million Taiwanese people are seeking new economic opportunities in mainland China at the moment.

The inter-Korean relations began with exchanges and cooperation, but they have nearly failed, and we envy the improvement in cross-strait relations. President Ma deserves credit, and this accomplishment led to his reelection. However, there is criticism. Some urge the government to resolve other pending issues such as liberalization of the service sector and a guarantee of investment and to be more active in improving cross-strait relations. But others are concerned that the benefits of the EFCA are concentrated in certain sectors, such as the tourism industry, and increasing dependence on trade with China could put the Taiwanese economy under the control of China. President Ma has been attacked by both the supporters and the opponents of his policies, despite his glorious accomplishments.

Moreover, economic cooperation may be the most elementary step. In order to prevent a war and attain peace, Taiwan needs to build visible trust with China in the political and military arenas. However, the cross-strait arms race reveals that there has been little progress, mainly due to two major structural obstacles.

The first is the United States. Washington is responding very sensitively toward the establishment of military trust or information exchange between Taiwan and China. As Taiwan has used the United States as security leverage to ensure its existence, Taiwan cannot be overly enthusiastic about building a military relationship with China.

The other obstacle is the concern over reunification by absorption. It is not that Beijing wants immediate reunification with Taiwan. But China clearly wishes to sign a peace treaty with Taiwan based on the “one China” policy. However, the Democratic Progressive Party and the majority of Taiwanese people worry that such an agreement would be an overture of the one-state, two-system reunification initiated by China. President Ma is in a Catch-22.

“No one can predict 10 years into the future, and we have all become captives of uncertainty. However, no efforts have been made to reach a social consensus and to resolve the present crisis with the leader. We are observing a grand sinking,” said National Taiwan University professor Chu Yun-han, a renowned political scientist, on Taiwan’s present. When he said the deeply rooted political and social division makes it harder to bring a breakthrough for the future, I was reminded of the reality in Korea. That’s why we need to consider Taiwan’s dilemma.

* The author is a political science professor at Yonsei University.

by Moon Chung-in
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