North and south korea made up. what about taiwan and china – ketagalan media electricity song youtube


The summit meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea yesterday is being hailed as a “ historic” moment, with a declaration that promises a formal end to the Korean War as well as steps towards denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. Images of South Korea president Moon Jae-in shaking hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un flooded international news and social media feeds as something to be celebrated.

Invariably, international affairs watchers will look a thousand nautical miles south to the Taiwan Strait and ask, “what about Taiwan and China?” The Taiwan Strait is another hot spot in the region that does seem to resemble the Korean Peninsula: a conflict from the 20th Century that has not formally ended, resulting in a democratic and a communist regime, frozen in time by the Cold War. So now the Cold War is behind us, these relics of geopolitical conflicts should be a breeze to patch up, right?

The Taiwan and China comparison quickly breaks down upon closer examination. Not only are the disparities in negotiating leverage between the parties vastly different, détente between Taiwan and China had already begun a quarter century ago, leading to economic, cultural, and personal ties and ultimately to a similar summit meeting between both leaders two years ago that had gone mostly unnoticed.

In fact, if the Taiwan Strait story can tell us anything, it is that while the leaders may pledge better relations in front of the cameras, what actually happens over the long run may be quite different—especially if the people in democratic societies are asked to give up their principles and identities.

Taiwan and China has been compared to East and West Germany, and North and South Korea, as a regrettable “split” as a result of the Cold War. But while East and West Germany, as well as North and South Korea, are similar in size and population, China is about 270 times larger, 60 times more populous and has a purchasing power parity GDP 25 times that of Taiwan’s. While China is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Taiwan is not represented in the UN, and is not recognized as a sovereign state by all but the most marginal nations. China’s military spending is 15 times that of Taiwan’s. Taiwan simply does not have the negotiating leverage against China to secure any kind of a fair deal.

Despite the negotiating leverage disparity, Taiwan and China actually began exploring closer ties right around the end of the Cold War. On this very day in 1993, representatives from both sides met publicly for the first time, and agreed to opening up of economic links and people to people exchanges.

At the time, the meetings were also hailed as “historic.” Travel between the two sides had been forbidden, not to mention any business activity or personal ties. These talks, based off of the so-called 1992 Consensus where both governments agreed Taiwan was ultimately part of China (with the Taiwan side claiming that “China” referred to its own government), eventually paved the way for increased investment from Taiwan to China. Direct flights, shipping, and postal services began, and at the height of air travel there were more than 750 flights a week between the two sides.

By 2000, China took over the US as Taiwan’s largest export market, and by 2014 China became Taiwan’s largest source of imports. Exchange students and tourists from China are no longer novelties in Taiwan. Pop stars and actors from Taiwan regularly perform in China; in fact, the popular singing reality show Voice of China featured Taiwanese superstars Amei, Harlem Yu and Jay Chou as judges. In 2015, the summit between leaders of Taiwan and China actually occurred. President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan and President Xi Jinping met in Singapore, and was also touted for its historic significance.

Despite the explosive growth in cross Strait ties, the prospect of the two sides coming together in a happy marriage is as unlikely as ever. In the years since the two governments began talking and getting to know each other, the people in Taiwan have steadily shed their identity as “Chinese” and now overwhelmingly identifies as Taiwanese, a nation distinct from China. When President Ma Ying-jeou tried to push for a free trade agreement as the cornerstone of his “sunshine” policies towards China, he was met with The Sunflower Movement, a student-led occupation of parliament and a demonstration outside his window of 500,000 people. When he eventually met with President Xi, the entire affair was quickly brushed aside as a non-event in Taiwan. Two months after President Ma’s summit, his party lost both the parliamentary majority and the presidency in historic landslides. After the two sides opened up, the Taiwanese people learned that what they desired was not simply the absence of conflict for the cost of giving up their freedom, identity, and dignity.

Fundamentally, the Taiwan Strait question is not a bilateral dispute between two regimes splitting the difference, ready to be wrapped up after the Cold War. Independence for Taiwan is not simply about stubbornly dragging a Cold War conflict, but a nation building project that rejects both the Nationalist Chinese regime that fled to and occupied Taiwan, and the Communist Chinese regime that now claims sovereignty over Taiwan.

Therefore, to say that Taiwan and China should follow the example set by North and South Korea today is to be completely ignorant of developments in cross Straits relations in the past quarter century. If anything, one can only fantasize that one day relations between the two Koreas could resemble Taiwan and China in the wildest of imaginations.

But more importantly, closer ties and exchanges do not necessarily lead to peace and happily ever after. There is another case of a people who rejoiced when closer ties with their compatriots led to political union, but found out later out that their dream of peace has turned into a nightmare of suppression. It’s called Hong Kong.