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Sunday, October 28, 2007

In the news ニュース

The Japanese English-language media, namely the Daily Yomiuri デーリー読売 and the Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ, frequently carry articles about Taiwan. In general, those stories are often more sympathetic about Taiwan's position in the world, and its relationship vis-a-vis China, than what you find coming from Western media outlets like the Associated Press. Today, however, the Daily Yomiuri ran a piece entitled "Hu looks for new Taiwan approach But China's soft stance may change if moves toward independence continue", that is more along the lines of what Western reporters have to say about the China-Taiwan relationship.

It begins by reporting on the approach taken toward Taiwan by Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao (Ko Kintō) 胡錦濤 at the recently-concluded 17th party congress:

"In a political report approved by the congress on Oct. 21, the party declared its support for development of areas such as the western coast of the Taiwan Strait where many Taiwanese investors inject their capital."

The story then refers Amoy 厦門 (aka Xiamen) as an example of a city that will prosper by the peaceful approach to Taiwan the Chinese government is allegedly undertaking, and quotes a Taiwanese businessman as evidence:

"Commenting on the political report, which sets China's policy direction for the coming years, Taiwan entrepreneur Tseng Chin-chao, said,"I feel it contains a message saying, 'Let's stop preparing for war with each other, and instead work together on economic development.'"

The 58-year-old, whose electronic hardware company employs about 6,200 Chinese, said: 'As Amoy is on Taiwan's front line, infrastructure development in the city was held back. But now, there are lots of ongoing development projects such as the construction of railways, roads, and ports.'

A construction project at a large hospital headed by 90-year-old Wang Yung-ching, the legendary founder of Taiwan's Formosa Plastic Group, is under way in an Amoy suburb. A source close to the project said Amoy was a 'testing ground for attracting investment from Taiwan's medical industry' that had been specifically chosen by the Chinese leadership."

The writer then contrasts the "softer" line taken by Hu compared to past bellicose statements by Chinese leaders:

"...Hu urged Taiwan 'on the basis of the one-China principle' to join talks on 'a formal end to the state of hostility' and 'reach a peace agreement.'

Nowhere is it explained what the "One China principle" entails - that Taiwan accept that it is part of the territory belonging to the People's Republic of China, and can never be an independent, sovereign nation.

The next paragraph states:

"However, Hu's call was not directed at Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, who flatly rejected China's one-China policy. Rather, Hu was eyeing Chen's successor, who will be elected in the coming presidential election in March 2008."

The Chinese have refused to negotiate with Chen the entire time he has been president, so there is no surprise here. This is followed by:

"Hu, who in 2005 orchestrated a historic reconciliation between his party and Taiwan's opposition Nationalist Party, aims to engage with the independence-leaning ruling Democratic Progressive Party, buoyed by strengthening economic ties between China and Taiwan.

But Chen, wary of Hu's move, is pushing a plan to hold a national referendum on the island's U.N. membership at the same time as the presidential election. Next year will be a eventful and important year for Taiwan. China will host the Beijing Olympics in August--after the inauguration of Taiwan's new leadership. The U.S. presidential election will follow shortly after. A member of the pro-independent camp close to Chen said, 'This is an opportunity to create a 'solid base for the country' by the time of the Beijing Olympics, as China won't be able to stick its oar into Taiwan's affairs.'"

The writer seems to be suggesting that Hu wants to pursue a line of "reconciliation" with the DPP as was done with the KMT 中国国民党, but that Chen is resisting these peace overtures and, worse, might be taking advantage of the Olympics to do something "drastic". For one thing, the CCP and KMT basically agreed to work together to bring Taiwan back into the fold (so to speak), and it's highly doubtful a DPP successor to Chen would ever go along with a similar agreement. And for another, the voters of Taiwan can say what they want on any referendum - the Chinese (as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council) hold a veto over any admissions into the United Nations, so Taiwan's chances are the proverbial snowball in hell. Chen's referendum is a meaningless gesture aimed at the party faithful (it's no coincidence the vote is going to be held on the same day as the presidential election) that shouldn't get anyone worked up, but one which the Chinese government is trying to use to force other countries into further isolating Taiwan.

More quotes from the Chinese side follow:

"Xu Bodong, director of the Institute of Taiwan Studies at Beijing Union University, said: 'Chen is the kind of politician who does and says unpredictable things. Nobody knows what he will do before his term expires. But what concerns China most is Taiwan's moves toward independence.'

As part of a personnel reshuffle made prior to the Congress, Hu installed top military officials with long experience of Taiwan-related issues, eying possible tension with Taiwan during presidential elections on the island. This contrasts with the soft stance taken by Hu during the Congress."

Chen has been very consistent and predictable during his seven years in office. The writer does point out the reshuffling in China's military leadership that took place prior to the party congress, but then lets the matter drop. No mention is made of Chinese missiles pointed at Taiwan (numbering around 900), the ongoing modernization of China's military (nearly two decades of annual double-digit growth in defense spending) or the notorious Anti-Secession Law (in which China granted itself the right to invade Taiwan).

After mentioning the Dalai Lama's recent meeting with George W. Bush, the article states:

"For Hu, it is essential to retain stability in Tibet and Taiwan and keep a free hand in governing China. He also is wary of foreign countries meddling in China's domestic affairs prior to the Beijing Olympics."

"Non-interference in internal affairs" is an expression used by Beijing to mean "don't criticize us for our numerous human rights abuses". Non-interference, however, is a one-way street in China's eyes, for its government routinely meddles in other countries domestic affairs when it comes to matters like issuing visas to Taiwanese baseball players for a tournament in Venezuela.

At last, the conclusion:

"If Taiwan suddenly accelerates its drive toward independence, China might shift its apparently soft stance to a tougher one. Then, Hu's 'harmonious world' diplomatic approach will collapse.

How will Hu control Taiwan? Next year's presidential election will be the first and greatest challenge of Hu's second term."

The "harmonious world" is one in which Tibetans, Taiwanese and foreign meddlers, among others, know their proper place in the Kingdom of Heaven. How will Hu control 23 million people who are not under the rule of his authoritarian regime? That's going to be a tough one for him to answer. There's just no telling what those crazy Taiwanese are going to do next year!

Fortunately, today's Taipei Times has an article that shows a more positive viewpoint towards Taiwan from the Japanese public: "Japanese survey indicates strong support for UN bid". A poll of 1000 adults conducted across Japan between Oct. 12 and 14 revealed:

1.) 74% think Taiwan should be offered UN membership (as opposed to 17.2 % saying no);
2.) 81.2% support Taiwan's entry into the UN under the name "Taiwan" if the campaign is supported by a referendum (12.6% said "no");
3.) 89.2% say Japan should respect a decision made by a majority of voters in a democratic way (the "no" share was 7.7%);
and 4.) 63.5% feel Japan should help Taiwan with its UN membership campaign despite China's opposition, with 29.5 preferring to kowtow to the Chinese.

The third point is a loaded question - except for some odd (and stress the "odd") Westerners here in Taiwan who think Ma Ying-jeou (Ba Eikyū) 馬英九 would make a great president and that Taiwan should be part of a Greater China, who would say "no"? And it's doubtful that many Japanese understand the significance of applying to join the UN as "Taiwan", instead of as the "Republic of China" (the KMT's proposal). Nonetheless, the survey does show how, in many respects, Japan is the best friend Taiwan has at the moment.

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