Neither Independence nor Unification

Engaging with Beijing Under Ma, Taiwan enjoys its coziest relations with China since the civil war

In his first four-year term, Ma, 61, forged a slew of reciprocal commercial agreements with the mainland. (China is now Taiwan’s biggest trading partner and investment destination.) Academic and cultural exchanges have become common, and thousands of Chinese tourists visit Taiwan daily. Relations today between Taipei and Beijing are the coziest since 1949, the year the KMT lost to the Chinese Communist Party in a civil war on the mainland and retreated, with hundreds of thousands of refugees in tow, to Taiwan. Ma, Beijing and Washington all want the current peace to keep. Ma believes that in a globalized world, no economy can be an island. Engagement with China “carries risk,” he told me, but “it’s in Taiwan’s interest.”

Tsai, 55, demurs. She says she is willing to do business with China — on Taiwan’s terms. She thinks Ma has given away too much to an authoritarian state. “We [should] treat China as a normal trading and economic partner,” Tsai told me. “A lot of people are concerned that we are moving so close and so quickly to China that we would at some point pass the point of no return, meaning the only option is to be with China in the future rather than being on our own.” That sounds perfectly reasonable. But because the DPP advocates de jure independence for Taiwan (an extreme red flag to China), many interested parties — most notably Beijing and Washington — worry about a Tsai victory. One scenario: a return to the cross-strait cold war witnessed during the DPP’s eight years in office before Ma’s election in 2008. It’s clear to all that China and the U.S., which seldom agree on much, both prefer Ma over Tsai — Beijing because it sees him as friendlier, Washington because it doesn’t want to be caught in the middle of any new quarrel between Taiwan and China if Tsai wins.(See the world’s most influential people of 2008.)

The planet’s two strongest nations don’t have a vote, however, and neither Ma nor Tsai can impose their will on Taiwan. The decider is the island’s electorate. Under Ma, Taiwan has been politically stable and its economy resilient amid the downturn in the West. Yet polls have Tsai right on Ma’s heels if margins of error are taken into account, meaning that her stances resonate with a substantial proportion of voters. Whoever they choose will determine the course of cross-strait relations for at least the next four years. Beijing has to understand and accept that it must deal not just with one or two political figures in Taiwan but also with the values and aspirations of 23 million people. That’s democracy. That’s the power of freedom.

Given that Taiwan is its own political, economic, military and cultural master, it’s surreal, and somewhat tragic, that such a discrete and open society cannot be a normal nation. While much of the blame lies, of course, with Beijing — which, through its clout, blocks any meaningful overseas role for Taipei — much is also Taiwan’s own doing. Two polar illusions, rooted in misguided hope, have governed the island: that Taiwan will win back the mainland and unify the two as a noncommunist state (the KMT’s raison d’être) and that Taiwan will be formally recognized as an independent country (the DPP’s cause). For too long, Taiwan has been defined by the struggle for one or the other. But now there’s a growing realization that both unification and independence are impossible dreams, so much so that you don’t hear those words mentioned in Taiwan anywhere as often as before.(Read “Taiwan: How to Reboot the Dragon.”)

What should Taiwan be? Neither Ma nor Tsai can resolve the island’s existential problem. In fact, they reinforce it. Still, they do Taiwan proud. Both are informed, confident, articulate (in English too), well educated (he has a doctorate from Harvard, she from the London School of Economics), well traveled, passionate about making a difference and genuinely concerned about the future of their land — traits any electorate would want in its leaders. Too bad one of them has to lose. But whatever happens, as the freest place in the Chinese world, Taiwan wins.

— with reporting by Natalie Tso / Taipei

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Neither Independence nor Unification




當我最近在台北與馬英九總統及他的主要競爭對手蔡英文女士討論1/14日即將到來的選舉,我順道拜訪了低調而優雅的台北市立美術館。當時,館內正展出全球知名的中國藝術家艾未未的作品。他享譽全球的代表作與裝置藝術都在這展出:The bronze Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, the Coca-Cola urn, the catholic portraiture, an upgraded (specially for Taipei) Forever Bicycles.




這組對照還有另一個相似之處。與艾未未一樣,台灣也如籠中之囚(Taiwan is caged)。中華人民共和國堅持「一個中國」,而多數政府與多邊組織也同意這個說法。結果就是,台灣不被視為一個主權實體,必須在限制重重的國際空間裡求存,經常被蔑視甚至根本不受注意。然而台灣即將到來的總統與立法委員選舉 —在2012年全球二十幾場重要選舉中的第一場 — 提醒了我們,這個小小的島嶼在國際社群中舉足輕重。





(*a potential flashpoint, 之前翻譯為潛在亮點為譯誤)


台灣還有一個更為關鍵,且具有普世價值的要素。台灣值得捍衛之處,不僅是其領土,還有一個概念:在華人世界,自由民主是可行之道。落實法治與對抗腐敗,台灣可以做得更好。在本質上,這很「不中國」:嚴謹的民主政治;高度競爭(且立場對立)的媒體;優質的中文與文化;多元創意共冶一爐(科技、電影、飲食等);高度環保意識(連荒僻山郊都有資源回收桶)。拜託(heck,),連人民都比較好 — 這是個貨真價實的文明社會。中國空有一身橫肌,但台灣才擁有靈魂。這裡才是真正的「人民共和國」(people’s republic)。


台灣的聲量,尤其在選舉期間,強到足以在中國迴響震盪。這個島上的人民嚴肅對待政治 — 政治似乎在生活中無所不在 – 因為人民知道他們的選票算數。這場總統選舉,金字塔底層的99%普羅大眾是決定性因素*:蔡英文與民進黨指控馬英九與國民黨偏好財團而忽視了所得不均的問題。但在民生議題之外,中國巨大的陰影則是最大爭點。這場選舉,事實上,是對中國的一場公民投票。


(*原文為:In the presidential contest, the 99% figure a great deal:..  謝謝網友杜韻飛指正,我將其建議內容貼於留言中)


六十一歲的馬英九,在首任四年中,與中國簽訂一連串的互惠貿易協定(中國現在是台灣最大貿易夥伴與投資目標)。學術與文化交流普及化,每日有數以千計中國觀光客訪台遊歷。此刻台北與北京的關係是自1949年—國民黨在內戰中敗給共產黨,帶著數十萬難民避走台灣 – 以來,最為緩和(coziest)的時刻。馬英九、北京與美國都希望現在的和平狀態可以延續。馬英九相信在全球化潮流中,沒有一個經濟體能置身事外(no economy can be an island),與中國的往來「雖有風險」,但「符合台灣利益」。










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  1. YMMD with that aswenr! TX

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