WaPo: Don’t give in to Wen Jiabao’s pleas on Taiwan

In an editorial today, the WaPo describes how much the “new” China is trying as hard as it can do divorce itself from the “old” China’s image as a prickly, paranoid, irrational and ideologically crazed nation.

And, the editorial says, it’s been doing a good job. Except when it comes to Taiwan, an issue that brings to life the old blustery, bellicose China we all know and love:

Beijing fears that constitutional changes could make Taiwan’s de facto separation from the mainland explicit, or that a referendum could be called on independence. Its apparent strategy is to frighten Mr. Chen into backing down — or more likely, push the United States into using its leverage on the Taiwanese president.

Such tactics demonstrate that China’s new leaders are not as pragmatic or enlightened as they seem. What Mr. Wen and Mr. Hu fail to perceive is that Mr. Chen is a typical democratic politician engaged in a tough reelection campaign. Though his party is pro-independence, he is unlikely to aggressively press that agenda even if he wins, if only because Taiwan’s economy is now deeply dependent on trade with the mainland and most Taiwanese people favor preserving the status quo.

Pointedly, the editorial cautions Bush not to give in to Wen’s demands that the US speak out against the referendum:

Mr. Bush should do no such thing. Instead, he should explain to Mr. Wen that his government’s approach to Taiwan needs some modernizing. Now that Taiwan is a democracy, threats of invasion will only strengthen its independence movement — just as the recent rhetoric only spurred the parliament into acting on the referendum law. The only way Beijing could achieve its goal of unification would be by winning over the Taiwanese public. That would take time and greater economic integration. It would also require China’s new leaders to deliver on Mr. Wen’s fluent rhetoric about democracy and rule of law.

Interesting. I read in a blog comment yesterday (don’t remember where) that Americans don’t realize that most Taiwanese want to reunify with the Mainland, but only after the Mainland has fixed up its act in regard to free elections, free trade, human rights, etc.

Would it be rude of me to suggest that this may prove a very, very long wait?

The Discussion: 8 Comments

You should watch you copy of Gates of Heavenly Peace (the definitive documentary on the Tiananmen Square massacre) again and check out one scene. You’ll see that on the night of May 19th, Hu Yaobang (the member of the five person Standing Committee that was most in favor of dialogues with the students) made a visit to the Square. By this time, he had been effectively ousted within the Party by Li Peng, but nobody outside of the Standing Committee knew this. Hu Yaobang was warmly received by the students, but he broke down in tears because he saw the writing on the wall by this point and knew that the only way that the situation would end was through violent repression.

Guess which current premeir of China was with Hu Yaobang to show his support for the students?

I talked with several of my professors when I was in China during the 16th Congress, and while they didn’t know too much about Hu Juntao since he had spent his previous tenure in Tibet, they all were aware of Wen’s support of the students back in 1989.

That’s not to say that I agree with Wen’ stance on Taiwan’s reunification. But it’s just to point that within the mainland, even the most democratically minded reformers (and I’m not sure if Wen cares much about democratic reform now in 2003) are rabidly pro-unifcation with Taiwan.

Now I suspect because I didn’t call Wen Jiabao evil, you are going to call me ‘Mao Mao’ and then delete this comment.

November 28, 2003 @ 7:52 pm | Comment

Wayne, I won’t do that, and if you didn’t notice, I actually added you to my blogroll as a sign of respect. I thought you’d gotten better. Now I’ll have to reconsider.

I have never said I thought Wen was evil; as a matter of fact, I’ve never said anything negative about him at all.

November 28, 2003 @ 9:44 pm | Comment

I really can’t decide whether China’s policy on Taiwan is well-thought out – it’s pretty clear that their aggressive stance makes the Taiwanese less keen on reunification. However, making it very clear that any declaration of independence means war makes it pretty unlikely Taiwan will do anything quite *that* foolish.

So here’s a thought – perhaps China don’t really care about reunification; they just care about stopping Taiwan from becoming independent. After all, a reunified Taiwan means another bit of China with free elections, free press, and a population likely vocally critical of Beijing – how does that help stability in China (from a communist leadership point of view)? On the other hand, having the leadership in Taiwan as a convenient enemy (of course, helped by the Western evil scum) preventing the Chinese people from their true destiny is a useful distraction when needed (war is always a vote-winner).

As long as they don’t lose face with Taiwan declaring independence – perhaps China is really as happy with the status quo as Taiwan?

November 28, 2003 @ 9:55 pm | Comment

David, that’s very interesting thinking! I can’t hypothesize because I just don’t know enough about the history of Taiwan’s relationship with China over the centuries. I do know that it’s kind of amusing watching Chen push all of the CCP’s buttons, making them squirm and turning them apoplectic, all for what is so obviously — as the editorial says — an act of political grandstanding above all else. In terms of public relations, it is an amazing coup for Chen, at least in terms of worldwide image management.

November 28, 2003 @ 10:24 pm | Comment

With regards to the first comment in this thread, I’d just like to add that it is a common falacy to believe that democracies are somehow more peace-loving than other systems, which is patent nonsense. The 100 names (common people of China) more often than not deride their government for being too weak in the face of foreigners, and want a “strong leader” to emerge to stand up to them … whether it be Taiwan, USA, Japan etc.

Secondly, I don’t think there is any possibility that the Chinese leadership and people don’t want Taiwan back. It is part of the historic mission to recover all that was lost in the 19th Century … and Taiwan has become the last great symbol of the reemergence of China as a great nation. To allow it to go would be to prove China isn’t a great power. To regain it shows that China has truly made it. The current position just means that China still has a way to go …

November 28, 2003 @ 10:46 pm | Comment

Li En, it sounds like you know what you’re talking about. How unfortunate that they (the Chinese) have to look at Taiwan as some sort of Symbol — “if we don’t get it back, it will symbolize that we are still weak.” What this episode really symbolizes, at least to most onlookers, is that China is still insecure, over-reactive and stuck in old historical notions that most modern nations freed themselves of many decades ago.

November 29, 2003 @ 5:18 pm | Comment

sports betting

I think this is a serious issue, have you considered. Sports betting for some fun.

May 13, 2005 @ 3:17 am | Comment

I am quite certain that not ‘most’ Taiwanese wish to unite with PRC. Most prefer the status quo while the pro-independent and pro-unification supporters are equal in amount. Mind you, the majority of the media in Taiwan are traditionally KMT supporters, perhaps that’s why many are mistakening Taiwan’s opinions on the issue.

Another thing, the PRC never controlled Taiwan not even for a day, don’t really know where that ‘reunite’ come from.

September 12, 2006 @ 8:18 pm | Comment

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