China-Taiwan Relations Hit Low Point. 'Same Bed, Different Dreams'?

By Jennings, Ralph | The Christian Science Monitor, November 19, 2014 | Go to article overview

China-Taiwan Relations Hit Low Point. 'Same Bed, Different Dreams'?


Jennings, Ralph, The Christian Science Monitor


Taiwan and China have hit a rough patch, marking the lowest point since the two shifted from openly hostile to cordial relations six years ago.

Causes for the trouble run deep, ranging from jitters in Taiwan over Beijing's hard-line views of the student "Umbrella" democracy protests in Hong Kong to an anxious feeling in China that the island it claims is not moving swiftly enough toward unification after a host of lucrative economic deals.

China and Taiwan have signed 21 trade, transit, and investment deals since Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008 and agreed to build trust for the first time. But Taiwan's lack of desire to march as fast toward unity as China would like may bring a drag on a Taiwanese economy that has depended largely on the mainland for economic buoyancy. The low point takes place as Taiwan, sometimes referred to as Asia's most vibrant democracy, prepares for Nov. 29 by-elections that, China worries, could bring more opponents of unification into office.

"The initial momentum is spent. The Chinese have not gained as much ground as they hoped to by now and the resistance to political unification seems as strong as ever," says Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu. "On top of this is the spectacle of hardening authoritarianism in China and the crisis in Hong Kong, which Taiwan's people are watching closely."

A significant dip in relations with China dates to last March, when university students in Taipei led a 24-day occupation of the parliament building. The so-called Sunflower student movement protested a host of agreements with China that students said were never explicitly understood by the Taiwanese people and that could put the country in hock.

They said that pending deals with China undercut Taiwan's self- rule and were troubling since China had for decades threatened to take the island by force if needed.

"The young people are awakening," says Joseph Wu, general- secretary of Taiwan's opposition Democratic Progressive Party. "They're seeing that the current government is too close to China."

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since Mao Zedong's Communists won the Chinese civil war in the mid-20th century, leading the Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek to flee to Taiwan, some 99 miles off the coast of China's Fujian Province.

Since the Sunflower protests, Taiwanese lawmakers have delayed indefinitely the ratification of a huge multi-layered agreement with China that would liberalize some 144 service trade sectors. The service deals are increasingly being viewed on the island as a lure by China to unify based on economic incentives.

Expectations are also low for any breakthroughs on a different deal now being negotiated to slash thousands of import tariffs.

No political talk, pleaseTaiwan officials wanted to lift their slow-growing, half-trillion-dollar economy through more trade and investment links with China, which has a GDP of about $10 trillion. …

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