Thursday, June 12, 2008

Another horrid article by Edward Wong in the New York Times on the talks in Beijing. Which is too bad because he did some very moving pieces on the Sichuan earthquake.

The agreement came on the first day of negotiations over how to strengthen the economic relationship between China and Taiwan, which the government in Beijing regards as a renegade province but which many Taiwanese assert is a de-facto nation.

This is not too bad. But notice how Beijing "regards" whereas Taiwan "asserts." China's views get a cool, rational verb that subsumes thought into the classical enlightenment metaphor of vision while Taiwan has to "'assert" itself. Beijing is a centered subject founded in its rationality while Taiwan asserts its unauthorized unrecognized subjecthood.

And it's just misleading to say that many Taiwanese view Taiwan as a "de-facto nation." The more common view is the one Chen Shui-bian used to put forward at every opportunity: Taiwan is an independent and sovereign country whose future must be decided by the 23 millin people of Taiwan. Those who subscribe to this view do not see Taiwan as a "de-facto" nation. They see it as an independent nation full stop.

Although Taiwan is the biggest investor in China and many Taiwanese businesspeople live on the mainland, there are no direct commercial flights between the two.

Is Taiwan really the biggest investor in China? Bigger than the US and Japan? Not in recent years if you look at recent FDI figures. And who really knows how much Taiwan has invested. The MAC under the DPP said US$150 billion since the late 1980s, but no one really knows. This bald assertion is not grounded in fact and lends an air of inevitability about the supposed goal of these talks--"strengthening the economic relationship." What a hoot! Why does the economic relationship need to be strengthened if Taiwan is already the biggest investor?

Everyone knows that this is not about the 'economic relationship'. It's about affirming the 1992 Hong Kong consensus on One China by the simple fact of holding the talks. Of course these talks are political. Has the Times suddenly lost the ability to explain the news?

I'm not going to bother to say anything about the craven adoption of the 'mainland' terminology.

Mr. Ma, from the Kuomintang party, was elected president on March 22 in a landslide victory on the platform of strengthening economic ties between China and Taiwan. Many Taiwanese believe their economy has stagnated in recent years while China’s has surged forward and that Mr. Ma’s predecessor, Chen Shui-bian, had failed to capitalize on the mainland’s economic growth.

Here's a heavy dose of conventional wisdom current ex-Taiwan. Yes, Ma was elected in a landslide. And yes, it had something to do with the economy. Ma was elected to improve Taiwan's economy just as South Korea's Lee Myung-bak was. Inside Taiwan, Ma presented his China policy as the means to the end of a better economy. But the real appeal of his economic platform lay in his promises to restore the glory days of Taiwan's boom economy in the 1970s and 1980s. Strengthening economic ties with China is certainly something Taiwan's business community wants. What ordinary people want are better jobs and hope for the future. If better economic relations with China help, then great. But a better economy, not "strengthening economic ties between China and Taiwan" was what Ma was elected to achieve.

Mr. Chen, the Democratic Progressive Party candidate who was elected president in 2000, favored steps toward independence, a position that has brought growing anxiety among the Taiwanese public, Chinese leaders and Americans officials in recent years.

Again, Chen did not "favor steps toward independence." Chen said over and over again that Taiwan was an independent and sovereign country and that there was no need for an already-independent nation to declare independence.

Chinese leaders and American officials may have suffered anxiety over Chen's position on Taiwanese independence and sovereignty, but outside deep blue reactionaries in Taipei, the Taiwanese public wasn't anxious at all for the reason that most Taiwanese share Chen's views and find the idea that Taiwan is anything but an independent country ludicrous at best. It is very telling that pro-Chinese nationalists in Taiwan failed to attract significant support for their repeated efforts to depose Chen outside the democratic process until after they hit on the idea of portraying Chen and the first family as corrupt. While Chen's supposed corruption caused widespread outrage connected to deep-seated anxieties over the partial globalization of Taiwan's economy, Chen's position on independence, even as misrepresented here, caused little anxiety in Taiwan.

At the moment, many Taiwanese want neither formal independence nor reunification, and they want warmer economic ties with the mainland. They are still aware, though, that the Chinese government maintains ballistic missiles pointed at Taiwan, occasionally lobbing some into the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait

Even pro-China media outlets know this to be untrue. Just a few days ago, TVBS, a Hong Kong owned station with close China connections, released polling data showing that

Q3. If you can choose, would your prefer Taiwan to become an independent country, or unify with mainland China, or become a state in the United States of America?
58%: Independent country
17%: Unified with mainland China
8%: Become a state in the United States of Amreica
17%: No opinion

Now Q2 in the same poll says that 58% of the Taiwanese public prefer the status quo. But this needs to be read in the context of the fact that most Taiwanese think that the status quo is Taiwanese independence. It also needs to be read in the context of Q3, which I have quoted above. Given a choice, most Taiwanese prefer independence, but when asked about the status quo, they read the question as meaning 'what would you settle for if you didn't have a choice?' But again that view needs to be recontextualized for Taiwan. Most Taiwanese think the status quo questions with the absence of any choice are silly because most Taiwanese believe that they do have a choice and expect to exercise it. Hear the echoes? The future of Taiwan must be decided by the 23 million people of Taiwan.

The two paras about the new amendment to allow exchange of the RMB are just plain wrong. The amendment treats the RMB as a foreign currency and authorizes the Central Bank and the Financial Supervisory Commission to regulate exchang of the Chinese currency even before a currency agreement or settlement mechanism has been set up between Taiwan and China. In other words, the Legislative Yuan has made RMB exchange subject to the discretion of the executive branch. All indications are that the Central Bank and SFC will soon allow Taiwanese to buy RMB in Taiwan as soon as Taiwan has an adequate supply of the currency and those agencies have amended their regulations.


Michael Turton said...


阿牛 said...

Well done

Tang Buxi said...

You said: Chen's position on independence, even as misrepresented here, caused little anxiety in Taiwan.

But isn't it equally accurate to say that Ma's position on unification, even though misrepresented and demonized by the green-side of the aisle, caused little anxiety in Taiwan?

You can assert again and again what the Taiwanese people really mean by status quo, but Ma Yingjiu has a much louder voice than you do. The statements that he's made in office make it clear that whatever Taiwan and mainland China is today, they're not two separate independent countries. And if the Taiwanese people are angry that he's misrepresenting his position, we haven't seen much anger yet.

Feiren said...

But isn't it equally accurate to say that Ma's position on unification, even though misrepresented and demonized by the green-side of the aisle, caused little anxiety in Taiwan?

That's an interesting question. I think there is some anxiety among the 5.4 million people who voted for the Hsieh-Su ticket. But not really that much. For one thing, these people, and even many who voted for Ma, may feel that they have an insurance policy in the form of a referendum if Ma ever tries to implement his views on unification.

I think you are basically right though in saying that there isn't a tremendous amount of anxiety about Ma's policies.

What you mean to say is that:

The statements that he's made in office make it clear that whatever Taiwan and mainland China is today, Ma thinks they're not two separate independent countries.

On the other hand, Ma also thinks that the Republic of China is the the legitimate government of China, that Taiwan owns the Diaoyutai, and (probably) that the Chinese People can encompass Tibetans and Uighers. He has a lot of delusional views even if his voice is louder than mine.