Tension between Taiwan and China rises

Chris Collins & Quincy Malesovas, Staff Writers

March 25, 2016

The bald eagle looks on as the wary moon bear sits down for a cup of tea with the looming giant panda. This scene is both strange and complicated, much like the relationship between the states represented by their national animals.

The past years of interaction between the People’s Republic of China and The Republic of China, also known as Taiwan, have remained peaceful, yet recent political changes may leave the moon bear up a creek.

This “cross-strait” relationship has a powerful history, beginning with the end of the Chinese Civil War. The war signified growing disparity between Communist and Nationalist ideologies and ended with the division of these two parties. By 1949, many Nationalists withdrew to Taiwan to form a Kuomintang government, which ruled the state up until this year.

Today the relationship between the two sides is best described with a metaphor according to Li Ran, an English teacher in the Yunnan Province of China.

“They are father and son,” Ran said in an email interview to The Guilfordian. “One day they quarreled terribly, … And the son threatened to never come home and give up his surname. On the other side, the father really misses his son and wants him to come back home but the father still can’t fully understand and identify with the son’s values and thoughts. … No one can say when the son will come back home.”

On Jan. 16, the Taiwanese people elected Tsai Ing-wen president. Time magazine’s Emily Rauhala called Ing-wen’s stances “proudly, defiantly, Taiwan-centric.”

Zhang Zhijun, director of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, was recorded speaking to Reuters about the nomination.

“At present, relations across the Taiwan Strait are extremely sensitive and complex, and uncertainty about the future has increased.”

For outsiders looking in, Taiwan’s current political state seems positive.

“Taiwan is, relatively speaking, a resounding success story,” said Taylor Rankin, a Texan who teaches English in Taipei, to The Guilfordian.

Rankin considers Taipei “a great place to live” — especially compared to Shanghai, where he studied in 2008.

Those who grew up in Taiwan, like University of California, San Diego senior Jackie Chen, recognize Taiwan’s progress but also its residual shortcomings.

“Taiwan is seen as one of the only Asian countries that was successful in transferring to democracy, but there is definitely much more to work on,” said Chen via email interview to The Guilfordian. “The political arena is still a joke. Aborigines … don’t get much voice in the legislature and are mostly ignored in major meetings. There are issues with local vote-buying.”

According to Stephane Verdaille, who holds master’s degrees in both anthropology and Chinese, the recent election reflected Taiwan’s political dissatisfaction.

“Most of my friends … thought the past government was too close to China, not Taiwanese enough,” said Verdaille to The Guilfordian.

Verdaille was in Tainan the day of the election and reports being impressed by the fervor of the Taiwanese people.

“The colors of the party and the Taiwanese flag were everywhere,” he said. “I felt a strong sentiment of nationalism.”

However, such nationalism might put the prevailing peace at risk. Another teacher in Kunming, China, that preferred to remain anonymous shared her thoughts on the election and its effects.

“I personally think it would be very challenging,” she said regarding the new president’s role. “How can she (Tsai) win the trust of China when it is clear she is from the party which supports independence?”

Chen disagrees with China on many fronts, but one thing she will agree upon is the “parent-child” metaphor that Li Ran described.

“We’re like the rebellious kid running away from home,” she said.

The rebellious kid has yet to instigate a revolution but Professor Fan Chao, who teaches at China Foreign Affairs University, spoke to the core of the issue.

“The relationship between PRC and ROC is actually an internal affair of China,” he said in an email interview to The Guilfordian. “The U.S. policy towards China should take to keeping the status quo, … which demands the U.S. to stop the forces of Taiwan Independence.”

Still, many Taiwanese want independence. Taiwan’s youth population is especially active in political decision-making and social justice issues, something to which Guilford students can aspire. In the midst of this desire for reform, the Taiwanese recognize peace as a common value.

“Of course I wish Taiwan would be recognized as a country, but there is too much at stake when it comes to cross-strait relations with China,” said Chen. “So status quo is fine … for now.”

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