A little morning calm
The media should pay more attention to China and Taiwan's attempts to stabilize relations, writes Tom Plate
Friday, July 11, 2008
Beverly Hills --- Sometimes news stories that in the end turn out to be historically pivotal get mentioned in but tiny little headlines at first look. The news media prefer to gin up ugly and messy conflicts over smart and perhaps even final compromises. They banner "clashes of civilizations" with relish, but can ignore historically pivotal "compromises within civilizations." Thusly do our media miss some the biggest stories of their era.
And have I got a great example of this syndrome for you!
On the surface -- and only on the surface -- the recent news story seemed to be nothing more than a travel story about the first stage in a resumption between Taiwan and China of regular direct flights.
The little news twist was that for six decades there were none at all. A Taiwan businessman aiming to visit his candy factory in China would have to fly to Tokyo or Hong Kong or Seoul and connect with another plane to make it to the mainland. But now, under the new Beijing-Taipei accord, dozens of round trips are to take place each week. For the business entrepreneur as well as the tourist, the new arrangement can save up to six hours of traveling time.
So what, you say? Except for the money-grubbing capitalist or the Taiwanese or Chinese spy posing as a tourist, who cares?
Wrong -- the whole world must take note. The strait-hopping development may prove but the seminal first chapter in a new book about a permanent state of peace and stability in Chinese East Asia. For the true, deeper and still-evolving story concerns the complex relationship between China's Chinese Communist Party and Taiwan's Kuomintang Party.
China, of course, is a one-party state wherein the CCP is politically in charge. By contrast, Taiwan is now an electoral democracy with a number of parties competing for power.
Up until the late eighties, the KMT ran the whole show, as a one-party dictatorship (sort of like the CCP in the mainland). For the next 12 years, an elected KMT president was in charge. But for the first eight years of this decade, the presidency came under the control of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party. The DPP's political platform called for independence from the mainland, and so its relationship with the CCP was little short of toxic.
But earlier this year, the people of Taiwan elected Ma Ying-jeou to the presidency of Taiwan. He is KMT. The diplomatic warming across the strait was instantly palpable. The reason: the KMT and the CCP are like two proverbial peas in the proverbial pod. They know, understand and in some basic sense respect each other, despite the obvious ideological differences. And, ideology aside, the two political parties agree on one very big and defining point, at least theoretically: that there is only one China.
The DPP stood in the way of Beijing's goal of someday knitting Taiwan into the fabric of the mainland as it did Hong Kong in 1997. The basic idea behind the Hong Kong arrangement is called "one country, two systems." The father of that political concept was none other than Deng Xiaoping, the successor to Mao. He was a cagey, chain-smoking pragmatist who convinced many colleagues and countrymen that China was never going to get rich by following the stultifying Communist economic playbook.
The result today is a China that is more capitalistic economically than any Communist society ever. If anything, rather than destroy Taiwan, it would like to be as economically advanced as Taiwan, not to mention Hong Kong.
To bring Taiwan into the motherland embrace, China would almost let the KMT write a "one country, two systems" accord all by itself if it were simply to include the official acceptance of unitary sovereignty. Now, this will certainly not happen overnight; it may not happen for many years; and indeed it still may not happen at all.
But for the moment at least, the greatest destabilizing forces over the Taiwan Strait are churning not from within but are coming from the outside -- from those who might profit from a cross-strait conflict. Within the larger, cross-strait Chinese family, there is suddenly a little morning calm, as it were. One has the sense that in the course of time the Chinese family will sort this matter out for good, as they have been tackling such tough questions for thousands of years. For the time being at least, try to forget about all that blather regarding the "Clash of Civilizations." The big story now appears to be the growing compromise within complex and mammoth Chinese civilization itself.
The views expressed above are those of the author and are not necessarily those of AsiaMedia or the UCLA Asia Institute.
Date Posted: 7/14/2008