January 20, 2012

TAIWAN: 'At a time of swift growth, China isn't inclined to conflict'

Jan 20, 2012, 12.00AM IST

Since their stormy separation in 1949, Taiwan has resisted China's stated goal of taking over the small island state. Former member of Taiwan's National Assembly, professor Tang Shaocheng spoke with Rudroneel Ghosh about China's dramatic rise, Taiwan's recent presidential elections and why the new regime's policy of engagement seems to work:

How do Taiwanese view mainland China's rise?

Taiwanese view China with very mixed feelings. On the one hand, people fear China's rise could harm the status quo between the two sides, namely no unification, no indepen-dence and no use of force. Due to a lack of mutual trust, confidence-building measures are necessary to improve the situation. On the other hand, some Taiwanese judge the rise of China in a more positive way. They cite Beijing's insistence on unification through peaceful means. The 2008 global financial tsunami is still vivid in the memory of many Taiwanese. Taiwan's swift economic reco-very must be attributed to President Ma Ying-jeou's policy of reconciliation with mainland China while the US itself was the epicentre of the crisis - trade and financial injections from China, the influx of Chinese tourists and the procurement of Taiwanese commodities by Chinese provincial governments were vital to the recovery of Taiwan's economy.

Taiwan is an example of Chinese democracy - aren't there fears Beijing could stifle this through a tight economic embrace?

Taiwan's democracy is deep-rooted enough not to be rever-sed. Beijing can only win the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese people to reach its goal of unification. Even then, the Taiwanese would have the last say. We must also realise a chaotic Taiwan with constant unrest will not be an acceptable option for Beijing.

President Ma's re-election vindicated his pro-China economic policies. But is any form of unification between Taiwan and China realistically possible in the near future?

No. There is no such plan of unification - the time is not ripe. The two sides are now preparing for dialogue on a peace accord... without the precondition of a renunciation of violence, there will be no foundation for further negotiations. However, if severe external factors were to affect cross-strait relations, anything is possible. If another financial crisis affects both sides, why can't they work together to face the challenge? Germany was reunited in 1990 - but nobody expected that, even in 1989.

If President Ma had lost his re-election bid, how would cross-strait relations be affected?

This would have meant uncertainties because the opposition Democratic Progressive Party doesn't accept the 1992 Consensus, which is 'One China with different interpretations'. This is Beijing's prerequisite for bilateral negotiations, accepted by the ruling Kuomintang.

China insists its ambi-tions are peaceful - but its actions can be aggressive. How should countries res-pond to emerging disputes?

According to the famous Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, the best strategy to win a war is to adopt non-war measures - win the hearts and minds of the opponents or make clear to them the serious consequences of confrontation. Such tactics are commonly used by Chinese authorities. But at a time of swift domestic growth, China isn't inclined to conflict with others.

Also, its rise has enabled Beijing to be much more influential in the international arena. Therefore, next to the realist approach - the use of power and interests - the liberal and social constructivist approaches through the use of trade, cooperation and cul-ture are all relevant means to negotiate with China and settle disputes.

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