A Changing Tide for Taiwan

Although recent developments across the Taiwan Strait are merely a continuation of the strained relationship between the communist People's Republic and the Republic of China on Taiwan, they have alarmed the international community. Mainland communist leaders have employed intimidation tactics in a desperate and failed attempt to influence the presidential election on the democratic island.

The cause of the heightened risk of conflict was a hotly contested election in which the party of the winning candidate supports official separation of Taiwan from mainland China. The weeks prior to the election were marred by a string of thinly veiled warnings by the mainland regime to dissuade voters in Taiwan from considering this candidate. In light of the results of the polls, however, it would appear that these efforts were ineffectual at best and dangerously provocative at worst.

Though immediate action towards Taiwanese independence seems unlikely, the mere prospect of such an occurrence is anathema for the mainland government. Ostensibly, Chinese communists appeal to a sense of nationalism as justification for these threats, which are becoming more or less a challenge to their brethren on Taiwan to surrender or be destroyed. Among the warnings was a statement of conditions for which Taiwan can expect retaliation amounting to annihilation. This list includes proclamation of independence, foreign intervention and, more ominously, protracted delays in progress toward reunification with the mainland.

This form of nationalism is strange indeed. The significance of the integrity of Chinese soil seems to have overtaken the importance of the inhabitants of this patch of earth. If the communists proceed along a course perilously close to war, they might find themselves occupying wasteland, if circumstances compel them to make good their threats. Oddly enough, the mainland regime seems to believe that death threats would induce their compatriots to eagerly embrace the mainland and consider communist proposals for reunification.

Fundamental facts have been ignored in these coercive attempts. After decades of anti-communist rhetoric in Taiwan and obvious differences in general standards of living (not to mention modes of government), life under communist rule does not appeal to residents of the island. Although many of the democratic liberties currently enjoyed by Taiwanese have appeared only in the past decade, they will not willingly risk surrendering any of the privileges and rights they now possess.

Despite the efforts of the communist regime to allay these worries by presenting Hong Kong as a model of a thriving pseudo-democratic sanctuary within communist China, widespread distrust of the communist government exists in Taiwan. Thus the appeals made by communist leaders are in vain.

Rather than reliance on fear of fratricide and destruction, the ultimate means of attaining national unity is one that may chafe communist authorities even more than Taiwanese independence. If they truly wish to promote cultural integrity and welfare for their denizens (presumably including the residents of Taiwan), they ought to realize that reunification with the mainland would not likely even be considered by Taiwanese until the communist government makes definite progress towards democratization.

However, there are few encouraging signs that would indicate a trend in this direction. The regime seems to be fairly comfortable in its commanding position, and unwilling to relinquish the grip it has on Chinese society. Quite ironically, to achieve the goal it seeks the communist leadership must either abdicate or be ready to commit mass murder. Yet how are death threats consistent with appeals to an almost untenable notion of fraternity?

Patriotism that lacks concern for the prospective patriots is ludicrous. It is impossible to seek brotherhood with compatriots while wielding a sword over their heads. As currently used, it is blatantly apparent that appeals made on grounds on nationalism are insincere at best. These careless acts of intimidation have become a popular bandwagon among communist officials as a means of consolidating popularity at home.

Though the communist regime desires to foster loyalty through these exhortations, which seem to be as directed toward mainland Chinese as they are against Taiwanese, the leaders themselves will not carry the burden of the possible consequences. It will be the true patriots who will suffer on the battlefield for these misguided machinations.

If conflict is to be avoided, there must be dialogue between the two sides. But talks will not be between two one-party systems, as it had been decades before. The recent election has ended the dominance of the Nationalist Party in Taiwan, which now fosters political pluralism, in stark contrast to the chokehold of the Chinese Communist Party on the mainland. If there are any residual notions of unbreakable cultural and historical ties between the two nemeses, Taiwan can very well serve as an example of the possibilities beyond autocratic regimes for communist China.

Beyond cultural ties, the points of confluence in terms of nationalism between mainland Chinese and their Taiwanese counterparts are few and increasingly tenuous. One of the few notable exceptions is the memory of Sun Yat-sen, founder of modern China, who is still revered by many on both sides. Though his influence has greatly declined in recent times, the government on Taiwan had publicly idolized him for years. If reconciliation is to be ever possible between the adversaries, perhaps they should revisit the principles promoted by this idealist, returning to the original hopes and dreams that were never fully realized.

Tzu-Huan Lo is a first-year in Lionel Hall. He was born in Taiwan.