Taiwan: Warm Embrace with China
The recent visit of a leading stalwart of Taiwan’s pro-independence movement to China has driven Taiwan closer to China.
Below is an article published by NBC:
It was hardly conceivable that the sports of rock n’ roll dancing and Frisbee could help drive Taiwan closer to China, but that’s exactly what happened with the recent visit to China of a leading stalwart of Taiwan’s pro-independence movement.
Chen Chu, mayor of Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second largest city, took a big political gamble by flying to Beijing to seek help in selling her hometown’s World Games, an alternative to the Olympics, that has seen disappointing sales. That a prominent figure of the pro-independence and anti-China opposition party had no choice but to seek Beijing’s help illustrates a startling reversal of the political wind across the once-turbulent Taiwan Strait.
And, in turn, the dramatic shift from the threat of war to the outbreak of peace, due in large part to the growing economic dependence of Taiwan on China, is fueling speculation that the two former rivals are headed towards greater integration and reunification.
From threat to savior
Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s leading port city with the world’s eighth busiest port, has been hit hard by the slump in Taiwan’s export-dependent economy. The city is pinning hopes of tourism growth and economic revival on the success of the World Games scheduled for July.
The World Games features some 31 unusual sports not included in the Olympics, such as dance sport, korfball, orienteering and fistball, among others. The city of 1.5 million has already invested $180 million on games facilities, where about 5,000 athletes from 90 countries are expected to compete. It will be Taiwan’s biggest international sporting event ever.
The problem is that only about 10 percent of the 300,000 tickets have been sold. For Mayor Chen Chu, Mainland China, just 100 miles away, is the potential savior. Since late last year, Beijing has officially encouraged its citizens to visit Taiwan en masse.
Notwithstanding her party credentials as an advocate of Taiwan independence, she decided to visit Beijing and Shanghai to drum up support for the Games, even inviting Beijing’s mayor to attend the Games' opening ceremony. “ I brought new voices from Taiwan to the mainland,” she told the media, acknowledging the ice-breaking significance of her trip.
'Fruitful year' in relations
The dramatic rapprochement between Taiwan and China began in May last year after Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou was elected on a program of repudiating the pro-independence policies of his predecessor and seeking greater economic cooperation with Beijing.
Since then, the two sides have signed at least nine agreements, greatly boosting trade, investments, travel and tourism. Of the two-way trade of $129 billion last year, the mainland only exported some $25 billion in goods, handing Taiwan a $77 billion trade surplus, a significant cushion against the world economic crisis.
Since the travel ban was lifted, some 100,000 mainland Chinese have visited Taiwan, and according to Taiwan’s Transportation Minister, the flow could increase to 3-4 million a year.
For the first time ever, Taiwan has assumed a seat as member of the World Health Organization with the support of China, whereas even at the height of the SARS crisis in 2003, China strenuously opposed Taiwan’s membership.
Taiwan’s stock market is up 50 percent this year, boosted significantly by the new policy permitting mainland companies to invest in Taiwan. And China has just announced a series of “buying missions” to Taiwan that could spend up to $10 billion on purchases of Taiwanese products.
“In one year, we have transformed the strait from a dangerous flashpoint to a conduit of peace and prosperity,” declared President Ma.
“Danger” of integration?
However, according to Gordon G. Chang, a long-time observer of China, the deals President Ma is pursuing “will give Beijing economic leverage that will inevitably weaken resistance to Chinese rule.” In an opinion piece for Forbes.com, he argued that “we have a lot to lose if Beijing swallows Taiwan whole,’’ expressing concern that “Washington…is saying not a word about the worrisome developments”
“Taiwan is the key to keeping the U.S. in the game,” he added, explaining that it would be difficult to defend Japan, and by extension South Korea, if Taiwan defects to China.
For Profesor Yan Xuetong, expert on international security at China’s Tsinghua University, the fear of Taiwan defecting to China as a result of economic integration is “just imagination.” “There is no historical evidence or logic to support the claim that economic integration leads to political reunification,” he said.
“There is more economic integration between Canada and the U.S., or between Germany and Austria, and yet there is no national reunification,” he argued.
Andrew Yang, secretary-general of the China Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taipei, the improved ties are “a win-win for both sides and politics is not an issue.”
“China has a window of opportunity to improve its influence in Taiwan, and it has been successful,” he said.
“The end-game is to realize long-term peace and security that benefit both sides, and to leave to the future generation the decision on the final outcome of the process,” he added.