Monday, September 2, 2002

Latest Olive Branch to Taiwan

Beijing’s Tang Shubei came to San Francisco area to deliver the keynote speech at the second annual banquet of Chinese for Peaceful Unification over the Labor Day weekend. Not surprisingly, his views contrasted sharply from the recent rhetoric from Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian and his administration.

About a decade ago Tang was the second most senior person to represent Beijing in the cross strait negotiations. Since Chen’s predecessor, Taiwan president Lee Tenghui halted the discussion in early 1990’s, Tang became head of the Cross Strait Relations Research Institute in Beijing.

Lately, Chen has been testing how far he can go promoting Taiwan independence and not arouse precipitous reaction from Beijing. Instead of lobbing test missiles over Taiwan, Beijing’s response was to send Tang.

While Tang’s remarks delivered before a crowd of 400 was clearly for Chen’s benefit, he presented a perspective unfamiliar to most Americans and policy makers in Washington.

First of all he pointed out that people on both sides of the strait consider people of Taiwan as ethnic Chinese and Taiwan as part of China. Taiwan’s current constitution still recognizes that Taiwan and the mainland are part of one China. “This remains so,” Tang said, “Despite the constitution having undergone six revisions under Lee Tenghui’s administration.”

Even today, less than 20% of the people on Taiwan are in favor of independence. “We can accept the 60 to 70% of the people in favor of status quo,” he said. “We are not interested in forced integration. Let us work to earn the trust and prove that reunification is better than being separate.”

Some of the benefits are already quite evident. Mainland needs Taiwan’s capital and expertise. Taiwan needs the mainland’s low cost base, huge labor supply and market. Approximately 70% of China’s electronic exports come from Taiwan investments, he said.

Every year, more than 3 million people visit across the strait. Without direct linkage, this has meant an extra expenditure of $600 million in travel costs detouring via Hong Kong or Macao that could be used far more productively.

Tang went on to point out that as a major country, it is natural that China should invest in order to modernize its national defense. Such expenditure is totally unjustified, and unnecessary, for Taiwan with only 23 million people to maintain nearly the same defense budget. Such expenditure can only harm Taiwan’s smaller economy.

The solution, Tang suggests, is for both sides to de-emphasize the political differences, i.e., the difference between Republic of China and People’s Republic of China. Emphasize instead that all are Chinese.

Mainland needs to continue to grow economically so that people of Taiwan will be persuaded of the benefits of being part of China. “In the meantime, if Taiwan will foreswear declaring independence, mainland will foreswear use of force. End of problem,” he said.

Taiwan has expressed concern about recognition and participation in world organizations. This concern can be discussed and negotiated, Tang said. He can envision a subgroup carrying the Taiwan banner under the overall China heading, much like at the Olympics.

As for possible distrust and doubt of Beijing’s intentions, Tang pointed out that even after negotiation is concluded, Taiwan will keep its military and the mainland will not be sending any of its own forces to the island.

Will Chen listen to Tang’s overtures? He certainly should. Recent developments suggest Taiwan is becoming increasingly dependent on the mainland and resisting this trend is not in the interest of its people.

A recent poll revealed that 70% of the recent college graduates on Taiwan have yet to find a job. Last year, for the first time, over 1000 students went to the mainland for education. More are looking to join around a million already living and working on the mainland from Taiwan. Imagine the flood of applicants if the students are able to take the mainland college entrance examination in Taiwan.

Of course the flow of people and funds does not have to be unidirectional. Tsingtao Brewery with 7.5% of Taiwan’s market share has recently announced plans to build a plant near Kaohsiung in southern part of Taiwan.

However, to truly capture the comparative advantages on both sides of the strait, there has to be open travel and exchange of ideas, money and people.

The northern California chapter of Chinese for Peaceful Unification is only two years old and hosted a gathering of 400. In February, over 800 overseas Chinese from over 70 countries convened in Sydney to discuss peaceful unification and rejected the notion of Taiwan independence. No other issue can unite the emotions of all Chinese more than the eventual return of Taiwan to China.