Sunday, January 16, 2005

Dancing with the enemy (SURVEY: TAIWAN)

Background: This is the first time, to the best of my knowledge, that the "Economist" magazine has done such a survey on Taiwan since 1998. Worth spending some time on reading the entire survey. Here is just an introduction to this survey.

The Economist, Jan. 15, 2005

For all the hostility between Taiwan and mainland China, their respective economies are now deeply interdependent, says James Miles (interviewed here). That should help to keep the peace.

“GIVE back our rivers and mountains,” says a slogan inside a military base on the tip of Kinmen (also known as Quemoy), a tiny island controlled by Taiwan but shrouded by the same polluted haze that envelops Xiamen, a port city on the communist-controlled Chinese mainland. A soldier on guard says giant loudspeakers inside the base still broadcast music across the 2km (1.2 mile) stretch of water to Xiamen.

The easy-listening fare, selected by Taiwan's “political warfare” troops, is a curious cold-war legacy on this fortress of an island. Taiwan's defence ministry will not say what it is for. But the original purpose of these broadcasts, which began after the inconclusive end of China's civil war in 1949, was to undermine the mainland's faith in communism and help to restore Taiwan's government as that of the whole of China. China had loudspeakers too, but they fell silent in 1991. It is decades since the two sides lobbed artillery shells at each other's broadcasting facilities.

Oddly, China would love it if Taiwan really wanted to regain control of the mainland. But the broadcasting station and the slogans are merely anachronisms. Taiwan's armed forces, led by officers who were either born on the mainland or had fathers who were, have found it hard to keep step with the rapid changes on the island. These days the goal of Taiwan's government is to assert the island's independence from China, ideally—though it dare not say so—a permanent one. But the barrack routine of shouting slogans calling for the reunification of Taiwan with the mainland was abolished only last September.

China knows that Taiwan is slipping ever further away. Since 2000, the island has been led by Chen Shui-bian, its first president from outside the Nationalist Party or Kuomintang (KMT) since the civil war. The main aim of his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is to bring about the island's formal independence from China. Its charter calls for a Republic of Taiwan, not a Republic of China, as the island now confusingly calls itself. Mr Chen himself has vowed not to go this far, but China's leaders do not trust him. They have given warning that a declaration of de jure independence (such as by a change of name) would mean war.

Pessimists—and there are plenty of them in both Beijing and Washington—argue that in the remaining years of Mr Chen's presidency, which runs to 2008, tension between China and Taiwan could escalate, even to the point of armed conflict. Such a war could drag in the United States, Taiwan's main provider of moral and military support. If America decided to intervene, two nuclear powers would be pitted against each other. Japan, from where America would probably launch any bid to defend Taiwan, could find itself sucked in. The whole region could be plunged into turmoil