“The “one China, two systems” promise was in tatters and now, many who once identified themselves as Chinese in the island prefer to be distinctly Taiwanese”
The title of today’s article is borrowed from a well-written 200-page book by Shelley Rigger, a Brown University professor of East Asian Politics.
It was gifted to me in 2016 by ADB Director Paul Dominguez, who was also presidential adviser for Mindanao during the term of the late and highly admired Pres. Fidel V. Ramos, Taiwan’s Best Filipino Friend (BFF).
The tiny island of Taiwan has of late been cynosure of geopolitical observers not only in our region but all over the world, after China built up its pressure on it through military exercises and existential threats.
From conversations with friends gained during my five-year stint as the Philippines’ resident representative and chairman of the de facto embassy in the island, the Manila Economic and Cultural Office, there is a pervading calm among residents, despite the fly-overs and temporary naval blockade set up by China in the wake of the controversial Pelosi visit last month.
It is as if the majority sentiment is “so what else is new?” — even as several legislators and former high officials of the mighty US of A have ramped up their “in your face” visits, as if to taunt the bellowing dragon just about 180 kilometers west of Taiwan.
In one of my meetings with the head of a conglomerate which has since set up partial operations in the Philippines but whose expansion was slowed down by the pandemic, the 78-year old chairman said that China’s military tactics of always sending its jets to fly by Taiwan’s ADIZ – or Air Defense Identification Zone – is meant to “wear and tear” the island’s aerial defense capabilities.
“You see, many of our fighter jets have seen better days, and so have many of our pilots. The expense of having to intercept and warn the Chinese fighter jets is also a great expense,” he intimated.
In fine, bully tactics. In Tagalog: “nag-hahamit” or in Manila patois, “nang-aasar” or “nanduduro.”
Some young people I have met while speaking in a few universities are divided on the issue of independence as against assimilation under a supposed “one China, two systems” policy.
Prior to the Hong Kong shift to a mainland-controlled authority and the attendant protest rallies by its citizens, there was even a hint of appreciation over China’s impressive progress, and the higher wages they offer their Taiwanese “cousins.”
But Hongkong changed all that, and it was shown in the 2020 elections which gave DPP’s President Tsa Ing-wen an overwhelming majority over her Kuomintang rival, a popular figure himself.
The “one China, two systems” promise was in tatters and now, many who once identified themselves as Chinese in the island prefer to be distinctly Taiwanese.
Short of a call for full independence recognized by a tiny group of 14 nations including the Vatican, they staunchly prefer the status quo, which means being self-governed for all intents and purposes.
Time is however not a friend of this status quo.
The People’s Republic of China will not budge from its dream, nay resolve, of assimilation. And for Xi Jinping, who has anchored his continuing power on “unification,” there are no ifs and buts, just a question of time.
And, of course, strategy: whether to short-cut it by force, or wait for the apple to fall into its hands. The Chinese after all are known for their infinite patience, even if Xi is pressured for time.
World economists are quite antsy, because Taiwan is the biggest producer of the world’s advanced micro-chips, used in phones to drones, computers and cellular gadgets, radar and weaponry, appliances and practically everything modern in this high-tech world.
Both China and the western powers rely particularly on the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), chaired by the venerable Morris Chang, whose continuing dominance, powered by constant technological improvements, supply most of their needs.
For now, this dependency is a main factor for the bellowing dragon to lie low, and the high-flying eagle to keep an uneasy peace.
For the latter though, it profits tremendously from military weapons sales to shore up Taiwan’s defenses, and in fact, the overall defense budget for 2023 has been increased immensely to TW$586.3 billion, more than a trillion pesos, or a fifth of the total budget submitted by our president to Congress.
This for a country of 23 million, a fifth of ours, with a mountainous terrain comprising about one-ninth of our land area.
How this conflict will reach final denouement bears watching, especially for a country like ours which is nearest the theater of would-be confrontation. But along with us, the whole world is nervous.
• • •
But what makes Taiwan particularly interesting is the cultural and attitudinal discipline its people and leaders observe, as distinct from ours.
On 26 November, they will elect city mayors and local legislators, along with counties and municipalities.
Theirs is basically a dominant two-party system, the incumbent Democratic Progressive Party of President Tsai Ing-wen whose term constitutionally ends in 2024, and the Kuomintang or Chinese Nationalist Party which was the rival of the Communist Party in the mainland and which transferred to Taiwan following Mao Zedong’s defeat of Chiang Kai-shek in 1949.
There are smaller parties which manage to elect powerful “independent” leaders.
Two weeks ago, DPP’s rising political star and leading candidate for mayor of Taoyuan, where the international airport is located, dropped out of the race after National Taiwan University (NTU) decided to rescind his master’s degree because of thesis plagiarism, with another university, Chung Wha, likewise investigating him for the same.
In 2018, the Minister of Economic Affairs abruptly resigned because Taiwan suffered half-hour brownouts in many cities, 10 minutes only in the capital Taipei. MOEA supervises the country’s GOCC’s, electric company included.
Not, never in the Philippines will such a display of shame and resignation happen in our lifetime.
• • •
And even on business practices, something happened quite recently.
Leading Taiwanese coffee shop chain, Barista Coffee, was found guilty of fraud for misrepresenting the beans they sell as 100 percent Arabica when they were in fact adulterated with the cheaper Robusta.
The Shilin District Court ordered the confiscation of Barista’s NTS18.29 million ill-gotten gains (about 33 million pesos) confiscated and meted jail sentences for its general manager and factory manager too.
Not in da Pilipins. Inaayos lang ang ganyang kaso.
• • •
There is a straight road from the Taipei City Hall to the Presidential Palace of Taiwan.
In fact, aside from the incumbent Tsai Ing-wen, the first non-elected but appointed official to be elected president, all of Taiwan’s post-martial law presidents were Taipei City mayors: Lee Teng-hui, Chen Shui-bian and Ma Ying-jeou.
Current Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je, who is serving his second and last term and who is neither DPP nor Kuomintang, is touted as a strong third force candidate to succeed Tsai when her term expires two years from now.
His party, the Taiwan People’s Party, has fielded his lady deputy mayor, Huang Shan-shan, to face DPP’s former health minister and highly acclaimed pandemic manager, Chen Shih-chung.
Whether Ko can get his lady deputy elected as mayor of the nation’s capital will be a test of whether in 2024, the road to the presidential palace is once more a straight line from Taipei’s City Hall.
Whichever, DPP, Kuomintang or TPP, the presidential elections of 2024 will have the most worldwide watchers, as it could determine the next geopolitical and military moves of the powers in this region.