Beijing and Taipei this week announced the beginning of their first ever government-to-government talks. It is to some extent a mutual recognition of each other’s standing, and as well as a sure-footed step in the process of reunification – so important for the People’s Republic of China – it sets an important precedent for any future government in Taiwan.
Even if the opposition Democratic Party of Taiwan were to come to power at the next presidential election, the new president could hardly dismiss the continuation of these talks even as the party wants to proclaim a unilateral independence of island, which is de facto already independent but de jure part of one China. In fact, although the talks are a step in the process of re-unification, they are also the biggest diplomatic achievement ever wrested by a Taiwanese force from Beijing. This will be the historic legacy of the current nationalist president, Ma Ying-jiu, both for the goal of a united China and for the purpose of securing Taiwanese interests.
In my series A Fistful of Yuan, I noted that “…there was always the matter of Taiwan, which sticks in the Chinese government’s craw just about worse than anything else…” That’s been true ever since Mao and the Communists came to power in 1949 and Chiang Kai-Shek and the Nationalists made Taiwan their redoubt. It’s one of the world’s more explosive relationships; had it been the Middle East instead of East Asia, we would have had several bloody conflicts already. Reunifying China has been the goal of both the mainland’s Communist Party and the island’s Nationalist one; the question is, as always, who’s going to run the show?
Evidently the winds of change are blowing harder in Taibei (the Pinyin spelling of Taipei, which will be official if unification ever takes place) than before. Part of that is the example of Hong Kong. Everyone in East Asia was sure that the Communists would screw up the place after it went back to China, and certainly not everything is all peaches and cream in the “Fragrant Port” (the translation of Hong Kong’s name) but it’s not bad either. So, with seventeen years of history in the rear view mirror, perhaps Taipei is more inclined to made accommodation with the world’s emerging superpower.
That’s more than can be said for the United States, or at least that’s the worry with this new “pivot” towards Asia:
All in all, it is a very subtle game and it can be won or lost on details. In theory, this should help China, whose strategy, newly acquired wealth and huge manpower are better equipped to act on local policies and details. However, political know-how, old ties and local nuances are also at play for Japan or America. While many Chinese officials have badly tarnished the Chinese image in the region by being rough and heavy-handed, both sides have enough clout perhaps to stall each other, and to avoid stalemate, or worse, some change in direction is necessary from both sides.
It’s not a mistake to say that this country is in a state of retreat in the world today. That’s pretty much what the American Left has wanted for a long time. Now that retreat has been facilitated by mismanagement both domestic (excessive debt, adverse changes in the structure of society) and foreign (expensive adventures like this). Unfortunately Americans of all political persuasions, unprepared to play by other people’s rules, cannot bear the consequences of becoming less. So, rather than retreating gracefully, we run the risk of repeating our boffo performances in the Middle East in places like Taiwan, Korea and elsewhere in East Asia. We do so at our own peril and at the peril of others.
Time to pray again…