on the Edge … but Who Will Chicken out First?
-- Such a beautiful island, vibrant, successful, delightful --- yet poised
on the edge of disaster in the crosshairs of the mainland gun: Isn't there
something obviously grievously wrong with the very essence of our pathetic
civilization when this wondrous island might someday ---simply, conceivably,
unspeakably --- disappear from the face of the political world?
comes to living on the edge, average Taiwanese are Olympic class. They
exist, if persistent mainland China threats are to be believed, on the edge
of potential extinction.
Accordingly, their president, reelected in March, must be ranked the edgiest
leader in contemporary world politics. This, however, is a dubious
recently sojourned to the United Nations in an effort to persuade that body
to admit Taiwan as a member state. Fat chance. Even so, Chen Shui-bian seems
to get a personal kick out of poking a stick into the angry tiger's cage.
This is understandable – but also worrisome.
thing, sure, it sates the emotional needs of his many followers in the
pro-independence Democratic People's Party. But his carefully calculated
antics tease Beijing's skin to distraction and seem to keep the People's
Republic of China off diplomatic balance. This is pretty cool, for the
leader of a place with only 23 million people, against a place with 1.3
all together -- it's a game of high-stakes chicken of the most dangerous
kind. Despite its deep respect for Taiwan's extraordinary economic success,
China steamily regards Taiwan as an outlaw state that needs to be brought to
heel and reintegrated into larger (“Mother”) China. And despite its
ever-growing economic ties and increasing dependency on China, Taiwan warily
regards the mainland as a potent political communicable disease capable of
infecting the prosperous and democratic island with an epidemic of Communist
totalitarianism not unlike a socialist strain of SARS.
the continuing cross-strait contretemps is characterized by several
that China's military buildup proceeds with grim determination, and it may
be assumed that future invasion of the United States is not its primary or
is that the Chinese government has finger-wagged at Taiwan so often and so
publicly to accept subsidiary status as a mainland province, like Hong Kong
and Macao, that … where’s the room to back down? One can only hope that
President Hu Jintao will prove less abrasive on the issue than allegedly
abrasive outgoing predecessor Jiang Zemin – but that’s only a hope.
sure, perhaps the passage of time will cool China's ardor for
heavy-handedness and awaken it to the value of persuasion and moderation, as
was the marvelous lesson of the recent legislative election in Hong Kong.
the surprising results, which increased pro-Beijing seats without
eviscerating the pro-democratic party, led to the withdrawal of foolishly
tougher security laws from further consideration by the ever-embattled but
ever-under-appreciated Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong's nice-guy top leader.
concern is the role of the United States.
will not strike Taiwan, it may be assumed (unless Beijing is nuts), unless
it has some assurance, secret or otherwise, that the United States will look
the other way. And, for its part, Taiwan will presumably cease acting as
David to Goliath if it all it has in reserve is a silly slingshot and not
the security guarantee of the world's sole superpower.
in Vegas, that's called betting the house -- or, in this case, wagering the
whole future of the island on the gamble that America's historic
anti-communism will override the growing probability that China is destined
to become the second superpower with which the U.S., like everyone else,
will have to make an accommodation.
it this way: If Chen Shui-bian were suddenly to be in the shoes of George W.
Bush – or John Kerry -- what would he do in the event that China invaded
Taiwan, whatever the motive?
what? He just might duck. Chicken, you see, is such a dangerous
game: Sometimes the edgiest of the edgy go right off the cliff.