Friday, April 29, 2005

The same week the head of the KMT goes to Beijing to make nice with the Communists, a millionaire basketball player in the United States—Yao Ming, of course—is acclaimed a Chinese model worker.

Quite a week.

Lien Chan’s meeting with Hu Jintao is a bittersweet enactment of the quasi-state visit that might have been if Lien hadn’t lost the 2004 presidential election by 30,000 votes out of 13 million.

Instead, the KMT and the CCP will have to deal with a reality in which the political initiative lies with President Chen Shui-pien and the DPP.

The last election may have been a squeaker, but the salient statistic is this: Chen’s take of the vote swelled from 39% in 2000 (when the anti-independence elite, with preternatural sagacity, ran two candidates against him and split the vote) to 50% in 2004.

Chen can now claim to be able to express the aspirations of indigenous Taiwanese who make up 80% of the population and at the same time point to his success as a legitimate leader who kept the island from getting blown up by the People’s Republic of China.

He’s redefined the status quo—the magic circle of safety that Taiwanese are loath to abandon for any political extreme—as rule by indigenous, independence-minded Taiwanese in spite of Chinese hostility.

Now, from a position of advantage, Chen can play the wedge politics of bentuhua, indigenization, to coin an awkward phrase.

He can play the bentuhua card early and often. Appealing to Taiwanese pride, he can strip away support from the KMT, whose demonstrated ability to cozy up to the Chinese Communists may invite increasing derision and suspicion, instead of respect and political clout.

The Chinese Communists don’t have a lot of cards to play.

If DPP’s “Taiwan pride” degenerates into overt Min chauvinism, an opposition party representing the aspirations of the indigenous Hakka minority—which makes up 24% of Taiwan’s population—might stop the DPP’s momentum.

If the mainland-friendly KMT and PFP parties are progressively marginalized, China’s ostentatious hostility toward Chen and the DPP will simply make Chen stronger as the voice of a united pro-Taiwanese, anti-mainland block.

Otherwise, China is pretty much a paper tiger as far as actual intentions to invade Taiwan in the face of Taiwanese, U.S., and Japanese military opposition is concerned.

Now China has to consider how to handle its worst-case scenario: how to avoid military disaster and at the same time handle the internal political fallout if Taiwan declares independence—both the disappointment of Han Chinese, and the energizing of separatist sentiment in Tibet and Xinjiang.