China's leaders may pursue a cross-strait unification with Taiwan, but will they go so far as to use force? Tommy Sheng Hao Chai writes.
Will China use force to reunify with Taiwan?
Why has Taiwan not passed marriage equality yet?
"In the face of love, everyone is equal. I am Tsai Ing-wen, and I support marriage equality.” In a short 15-second campaign video, Tsai became a symbol of progressive change in a region tainted by repression of queer rights. She and her party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), later won the 2016 elections, taking the presidency and a majority in the legislature. Marriage equality was imminent.
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Lessons from Taiwan: The epicentre of East Asian rivalry
Heads of state from across the Asia Pacific congregated in Vietnam this November for the annual APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting. As global political heavyweights gathered around the diplomatic roundtable in Da Nang, however, one placard may have seemed out of place.
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Strait differences: attitudes towards same-gender rights in Taiwan and mainland China
On the 24th of May, the Taiwanese Constitutional Court invalided marriage law defining unions between a man and a woman. The court ordered the parliament to amend the law within two years, otherwise, same-gender couples will be allowed to marry under the current law.
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Tiger on a tightrope – Why Taiwan is called ‘Chinese Taipei’
Heads of state from across the Asia Pacific will congregate in Peru this November for the annual APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting. As the global political heavyweights gather around the diplomatic roundtable in Lima however, one placard may seem out of place.
Squeezed between household names like Barak Obama, Vladimir Putin and Shinzo Abe will sit a Taiwanese politician from a minor opposition party, under the banner of ‘Chinese Taipei’.
A name for a nation that does not exist, ‘Chinese Taipei’ is a political compromise. It’s a label for one of Asia’s four great ‘economic tigers’ that must perform a delicate balancing act to win the right for global recognition. The diplomatic status of ‘Chinese Taipei’ or Taiwan as it is more commonly known, is a quirk of history – a by-product of a 70 year-old civil war over the governance of Asia’s oldest superpower.
[caption id="attachment_5005" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Taiwanese politician Lien Chan greeting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at the 2008 APEC Forum[/caption]
In the early hours of 10 December 1949, Communist troops laid siege to the final Nationalist stronghold in China – Chengdu. Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist Government, battered and bruised retreated to safety of Taiwan. The Nationalists however, much like the Communists, insisted that their government continued to represent all Chinese people, both on the island and the mainland.
While for much of the Cold War, most Western powers including Washington and Canberra recognised the administration operating in Taiwan as the legitimate government of ‘China’, it became apparent in the 1970s that the People’s Republic of China in Beijing posed greater economic and political utility in the fight against the Soviet Union.
And so, in 1971, representatives of Taipei walked out of the UN General Assembly, an organisation of which they were founding members, as Resolution 2758 was passed. It recognised the People’s Republic of China as “the only legitimate representative of China to the United Nations.”
The following decades saw a string of memorandums and communiques, with the United States promising to withdraw recognition and reduce the quantity of arms provided to Taiwan in exchange for an assurance from Beijing that Taiwan would be able to engage in capitalism and maintain a degree of autonomy – “one China, two systems” in the words of Deng Xiaoping.
But the China of the 1990s, undergoing turbulent economic and structural reforms, was ill-equipped to represent the diplomat and economic interests of a democratic, capitalist Tiger, eager to engage with the region.
The compromise was ‘Chinese Taipei’.
Taiwan would be permitted to participate in multilateral organizations, not on the basis of legal sovereignty, but on its role as an autonomously governed economy with significant regional economic interests.
The restrictions placed on this new ‘Chinese Taipei’ were not however limited to simply a humiliating name. A Memorandum of Understanding signed between China, Taiwan and APEC in 1991 significantly limited Taiwan’s space in the organisation, specifying that Taiwan is not permitted to send its President to the annual APEC economic leaders meeting or its Foreign Minister to the Ministerial Meetings.
Instead a strange diplomatic ritual has emerged, in which the APEC secretariat sends a special envoy to Taipei to deliver a letter of invitation to Taiwan’s President, who is then expected to politely decline. A second envoy then delivers an invitation to a candidate that has been both elected by the president and approved by the APEC host nation.
For a country with limited diplomatic means, the ability to appoint an APEC representative has become an unconventional but important tool for maintaining balance on the tightrope that is cross-strait relations.
Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s newly elected president, has used the APEC candidate selection process to extend an olive branch to Beijing. Representing ‘Chinese Taipei’ in Peru later this month is James Soong, leader of the People First Party – a small pro-China, minor opposition party with only two seats in the Taiwanese Legislative Yuan.
[caption id="attachment_5035" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Leader of the Taiwanese People First Party and representative of Chinese Taipei to APEC 2016, James Soong[/caption]
Tsai’s election of a candidate with a strong pro-unification stance is a show of good faith from a president whose Democratic Progressive Party is viewed in Beijing as a major challenge to the existing status quo.
Pulled in two directions by an ever growing domestic desire for recognition and an intense pressure from its powerful neighbour, Taiwan must tread carefully. The Little Tiger of East Asia must exploit the abnormality of its peculiar political position, even if that means working under an unfamiliar banner to achieve its diplomatic objectives.
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Media Control in China: Zhao Wei and Weibo
Often when it comes to film all the drama plays out on the silver screen. Not so in China.
A recent controversy played out on Sina Weibo, regarding a romance directed by one of China’s most famous actresses Zhao Wei. It is a revealing and cautionary tale about how much control the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) still has over the media.
Zhao has been forced to replace Taiwanese actor Leon Dai, and Japanese actress Mizuhara Kiko after finishing her new movie “No Other Love”, due to intense pressure on microblog site Weibo from both the public and Beijing.
Dai has a history of supporting Taiwan independence, while Kiko once visited Yasukuni shrine. Dedicated to dead Japanese soldiers, including those who fell in the Second Sino-Japanese War, the shrine has been condemned by the Chinese.
[gallery type="rectangular" ids="4199,4200"]
Weibo is a Chinese Twitter-like social media site, and the hottest microblogging service currently is Sina Weibo– the original inventor of the platform. It has various powerful functions, allowing users to insert rich media. The word limit for a basic microblog is 140 words, but users can edit and post “Long Microblogs” with lengthy text and multiple pictures.
[caption id="attachment_4218" align="alignnone" width="1346"] A screenshot of a microblog, otherwise known as Weibo[/caption]
Netizens can speak relatively freely on Weibo. Besides memes, commercials, news and harmless personal daily records, people use it to call out immorality, crime, and to criticise the political system – exposing injustice, corruption and the abuse of power.
Of course, this freedom is not entirely without limitation. Sina can delete posts and comments if they contain illegal content, or “sensitive words/information” unwelcome to Beijing, or the company itself.
For years, microblogs have served as a highly-valued justice tool. In 2016, however, things have started to change. Although netizens often criticize the CCP’s strict media control, they have paid more attention to Sina since the Zhou Ziyu Event.
The Taiwanese female singer insisted that Taiwan be an independent nation during her appearances on Chinese television. Angered, the public took to Weibo to ask her to apologise for the remarks.
Throughout the incident, a popular view emerged that Sina’s executives, in fact, support Taiwan independence, as the system deleted countless posts and comments in which furious netizens urged Zhou to apologise. Mistrust was bred.
The Zhao Wei Event is a replica of Zhou’s, but more serious and complicated. The movie was partly-financed by Alibaba, the country’s e-commerce giant as well as a major shareholder of Sina.
Three months ago when Zhao announced the cast on Weibo, her fans immediately realised that such choices would be a hidden danger to both Zhao’s movie and reputation. They kept reminding or questioning her about this on her posts, only resulting in deletion by the actress and her company.
The situation was inflamed on 25 June when she posted a joint photo with Dai to celebrate the movie’s completion. More protests appeared, while Zhao’s company threatened to sue, and Sina prevented users searching for the ongoing drama by blocking keywords.
[caption id="attachment_4229" align="alignnone" width="690"] The joint photo of Dai and Zhao that led to great controversy[/caption]
On 6 July, there was an even more surprising plot twist – the Party began to interfere. The official account of the Communist Youth League, a key element of the CCP, posted a long detailed microblog about the incident.
Although it used the word “alleged” when presenting Dai’s history of supporting Taiwan independence, the end of the article “kindly” reminded the public of three other movies which he stars in and will be soon on screen, and directly mentioned Zhao.
“Everyone makes mistakes – what is crucial is that you should be aware of and correct them,” it wrote.
[caption id="attachment_4263" align="aligncenter" width="604"] The screenshot of the article posted by the Communist Youth League on Weibo[/caption]
Making matters worse, Sina deleted the post after only 10 minutes, which led to unprecedented fury. As more political accounts got involved in the incident, Zhao finally threw in the towel and now the movie is in post-production.
Territorial unity is China’s most important political topic and nationalism is a mainstream ideology. The country is particularly sensitive to Taiwan. It may be seen as self-ruling from an international point of view, but in China it is considered an inalienable part of the territory. Any remark about independence can be a serious political mistake – as highlighted in both the Zhou and Zhao events.
And such control will continue to be stricter in the visible future. In February, President Xi Jinping stressed in a national speech the necessity of media’s subordination to the Party’s will.
Outside forces like business and the market might make some change in China, but they will never win the fight for dominance. Big Brother rules, as always.
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