Once-taboo ties gain momentum in Taiwan

For Global Times www.globaltimes.cn

Illustration: Liu Rui
Illustration: Liu Rui

Recent weeks have produced intriguing indicators that there may be a profound shift in Taiwanese thinking on cooperative ties with the mainland.

Politicians and academics who have always appeared as if they were super-glued to the “pro-independence” corner are suddenly ignoring the previous taboo of bold moves toward truly meaningful cross-Straits projects. At the same time, the new reality of interdependence between the mainland and large parts of the Taiwanese population is rendering ineffectual what were once powerful arguments against the Kuomintang government’s mainland-friendly course.

Run by the anti-unification Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and chaired by a DPP heavyweight, the Taiwan Thinktank is a research body whose usual findings and recommendations can hardly be categorized as “unbiased.” In the past, most, if not all of its papers and press releases, have painted the mainland as the bogeyman, and the hallmark conclusion was that the wider the Taiwan Strait, the better.

Therefore, it puzzled observers when the Taiwan Thinktank’s researchers in late November published the advice that Taiwan’s former frontline islands of Kinmen and Matsu should employ “Hong Kong style” and “Macau style” models. The circulation of both the Taiwan dollar and the yuan should be allowed, direct transportation links to Fujian Province’s Western Taiwan Strait Economic Zone enhanced and resource sharing with the mainland implemented in order to turn Kinmen and Matsu into a “gateway” for further cross-Straits integration, the “pro-independence” think tank said.

Although the DPP has yet to officially respond to the proposal, and former party chairperson Tsai Ing-wen was quick to make clear that she is not enthusiastic about the idea herself, the development is remarkable as just a few months ago, DPP-affiliated academics would have hardly dared making such recommendations public.

In Taiwan, political research bodies function as a stepping stone for positions up parties’ hierarchies, and the political environment on the island until fairly recently would have made the Kinmen and Matsu proposal in question a potential career wrecker for any DPP member who came forward with it.

Putting perfectly into perspective how far the traditionally “pro-independence” researchers have come in accepting the reality of interdependence with the mainland is the story surrounding Kinmen’s supply of drinking water. Residents’ health has been suffering for decades from low-quality water, and the island relies heavily on the drawing of underground supplies, which leads to land subsidence and in turn to salinization.

Fujian Province has offered fresh water, and there are no technical problems with such a deal, but the pro-independence camp previously prevented the construction of a harmless water pipeline between Kinmen and Fujian.

The late-November brouhaha surrounding Minister of Culture Lung Ying-tai’s asset declaration is a sign for shift. Lung owns NT$10.46 million ($359,141.63) in savings bonds of the Chinese mainland, and unsurprisingly, the political opposition as well as some commentators resorted to old patterns by promptly crying out that Lung should not hold any securities that are issued by the mainland government. But what has been new this time was that the attacks were short-lived and did not even come close to forcing Lung’s resignation.

Lung didn’t escape because the opposition holds her in any higher esteem than other officials in Ma Ying-jeou’s Kuomintang government. The revelations involving her assets failed to become political dynamite because a huge part of the Taiwanese population has recently made up their minds to commit a very similar “act of treason.”

This became apparent days before the Lung controversy erupted, when British lender Standard Chartered’s Taiwan branch published its assessment that more than 40 percent of Taiwanese want yuan deposits once Taiwan extends yuan-linked products and services, suggesting that 4.4 million islanders will open such accounts next year.

Whether Kinmen and Matsu or the Pingtan Comprehensive Experimental Zone currently being built in Fujian that will eventually function as a pilot area for cross-Straits economic integration will have to be determined by academics, policymakers and entrepreneurs on both sides of the Strait.

But what has become clear is that economic interdependence makes new ways of thinking imperative, and that when groundbreaking concepts emerge, it is this interdependence that protects those who thought them up from accusations of treason.


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