Beijing, Taipei: Big Project, Weak Foundations

Old Specters from the Stone of Orthanc

Old Specters from the Stone of Orthanc?

Last Saturday’s edition of the Economist sees a lot of good in Taiwan’s improving relations with China (The Economist, May 9, page 57):

Of the two sides, Taiwan stands to gain hugely more from all this. Its strengths are in fields such as electronics, information technology and biotechnology. Even with Chinese involvement, these industries will stay in Taiwan, for they depend on decent regulation and copyright protection, both lacking on the mainland. Meanwhile, top Taiwanese brands will get readier access to China’s huge domestic market, so shielding Taiwan’s exports somewhat from the vagaries of the global economy. More mainland Chinese visitors, already running at 3,000 a day, will be a boost to flagging tourism. (Hoteliers report that groups first lock themselves in their rooms, to gawp gobsmacked at politicians being insulted on television chat shows). Recently a pariah among foreign investors because of poor cross-strait relations, Taiwan has suddenly become the only bull-market story in town. […..]The chairman of his Mainland Affairs Council, Lai Shin-yuan, says that economic integration will increase security by making Taiwan so valuable for China that it will think twice about jeopardising stability. Others argue that an unprovocative island more firmly enmeshed in the global economy will bring about greater American commitment.

In short: “a watched frog never boils”.1)

Michael Cole, in an article published by the Taipei Times on May 8, is less sanguine. The former Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s analyst argues that a 12 per cent minority stake in Far Eastone, Taiwan’s third-largest telecoms service provider – also referred to by the Economist – could widen the door for PRC spying, especially on the company’s subscribers.

Adding to the unease of people critical of the rapprochement with China is “work into the direction” of allowing Chinese law enforcement personnel to be stationed in Taiwan, as reported by the Taipei Times on May 10.

However, comments from Taiwan’s Crime Investigation Bureau (CIB) are conflicting. A spokesperson said that there was no such plan – at present, that is. Thinking of Chinese police stationed in a democratic country is a disturbing thought indeed. It’s pretty debatable if they would play along with constitutional rules. Which country’s courts would be in charge when Chinese police overstep?

Michael Cole’s argument on the other hand seems to hold little water without more elaboration. Obviously, there is reason to suspect that any future Chinese member of Far Eastone’s board would be happy to collect intelligence concerning splittist elements in Taiwan. But Mr Cole does little to enlighten his readers as to how Chinese stakeholders could gain access to data that goes beyond reports relevant to investors whose interests are merely commercial.

Still, no matter how much Taiwan may have to gain from the improved cross-strait relations, there is one factor that will keep the project unstable: the lack of public trust in Taiwan’s government’s policies. Many Taiwanese citizens will feel let down by the DPP after revelations and accusations against former president Chen Shui-bian and his family. They have good reasons to watch the KMT with suspicion, too. President Ma Ying-jeou is reviving the old spirit of Chiang Kai-shek on every occasion these days – the spirit of a man who used Taiwan as a platform for his plans “to recover the mainland”, and who had the Taiwanese pay the price with decades of often brutal KMT dictatorship.

Politicians from either the KMT or the DPP, when in power, are faced with a historical and a more recent heritage which make the business of government no easier. And under the pressure of China’s demand for “reunification”, a “sellout” label on KMT officials may stick only too easily. Justifiably or not.

The DPP is as much (or little) a loyal opposition as the KMT used to be during the eight DPP-lead years. Civic resistance against president Ma’s policies is supported by a DPP rally on May 17.

A major prerequisite for a successful cross-straits project would be public trust. It is weak now, and it was weak three years ago. Remember that one?

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1) refers to Yeh Chu-lan, “like frogs gradually cooking alive…”

2 Responses to “Beijing, Taipei: Big Project, Weak Foundations”

  1. Yes certainly there is alot of trash talk from every side of political spectrum. Pro tip: when in Taiwan, turn off your TV and don’t watch the news. News in Taiwan makes you more stupid. You simply ignore all those noises and tune into the big picture: the stock market. Keeping my sanity and bagging profit sounds like a win to me.

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