Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Mister Ma Mayen't be Moderate

I just finished reading this fairly short article in The Washington Post by John Pomfret. I normally skim these because something about his pragmatic perspective (which I usually admire, even if I object on some idealist principle or other) strikes me as...dunno...unrealistic.

Generally speaking, though, this piece hit the mark in most respects. Yes, it's true that the only way Taiwan is going to be able to keep a separate government is to improve ties with China (I don't like it one bit, but that's life). Yes, it's true that China is shortsighted, priggish and unwaveringly stupid in its dealings with Taiwan and failure to grant Taiwan even a small modicum of respect. It's also true that it's about time that China at least recognizes that Taiwan's government is at the very least, a democratically-elected government. I doubt they'll recognize it as 'legitimate' anytime soon, but one can hope.

But there are a few points that are off the mark:

For China and Taiwan, they are tantamount to the US elections. While they are not going to usher in new governments, they could set in motion a new era of relations between China and Taiwan -- unless knuckleheads on Taiwan or China mess it up.

Uh, no. They are not tantamount to the US elections. Little history is going to be made unless something drastic happens at these negotiations, and that is unlikely. Locals don't seem terribly excited about them - only newspapers, government staff and some top businesspeople show any signs of caring.

And will Taiwan's independence extremists succeed in once again ruining the prospect for better ties with China as they push an agenda that is actually hurting the cause of Taiwan's independence?

They're not extremists! Well, some are. If you want extremists - those guys with that van on Dihua Street who advocate China joining the USA as the 51st state (well, 53rd after Canada and Iraq I suppose) fit the bill better. They're activists, and more people agree with them than foreign correspondents seem to realize - but so many independence-minded people don't dare say so, and realize that recognized, de jure independence is unrealistic now. That doesn't make those who voice their views extremists. It means they're exercising their right to free speech.

Looking at the last protest, I don't think 600,000 people (the author himself offers this figure below) can be labeled as 'extremists' - they're a legitimate political bloc.

Since Ma was inaugurated, there have been a number of protests against Ma and his moderate stand on China. Most recently on Oct. 25, 600,000 turned out against Ma. In late October, a Taiwanese legislator and six associates helped beat up a Chinese official, Zhang Mingqing, who was holding initial talks in Taiwan about Chen's visit.

Argh. At least he got the estimate of protesters right. But even I don't think they really 'beat up' Zhang Mingqing, despite feeling that they did push and intimidate him.

Also, Ma's stand on China is not 'moderate' - it's far too friendly for Taiwanese comfort. Hence the protesters. Why else would 600,000 people turn out?

Well, if you look at Taiwan's situation honestly, the only way actually to ensure its continued existence as a government separate from China, is to improve ties with China. That's what Ma is trying to do. Why would Tsai and her people want to stop it? The only reason I can determine is that they want to create a crisis because only in a crisis do their politics have any traction among most of Taiwan's people.

It's a lot more complicated than that - I don't think Pomfret has gone out and actually talked to a lot of Taiwanese people. Their ideals - an independent Taiwan - have a lot of traction among Taiwanese people. Maybe not 100%, but definitely a huge, huge number. Take the 49% who voted for Frank Xie in the last elections and add a big contingent of those who voted for Ma simply on the basis of A-bian's tenure, or because they want independence but want to go about it more pragmatically.

That is a LOT of people; that's most of the nation. Pomfret discounts them like so much fairy dust because it's inconvenient to recognize that this sentiment does, in fact, exist.

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