From “three no’s” to “three links” in the Straight of Taiwan

Relations between Taiwan and China haven’t been very friendly for 65 years.  The memories of the civil war, the nationalists’ flight to the island in 1949, the military tensions, and the interminable after war period seem very far away.  Taipei’s position was unequivocal even in the 1980s, which was based on three negations with regard to Beijing: no contact, no compromises, and no negotiations.  Hopes for an amicable solution appeared to have vanished.  In 1979, eight years after The People’s Republic of China’s accession to the United Nations and the Republic of China’s expulsion, new diplomatic relations between Washington DC and Beijing seemed to prelude a long and uncertain– but possible– reintegration of the island with its mother country.  The incongruity of considering the small territory as the legitimate representative of China for so many years appeared clear.  No one, be it either side of the Taiwan Straight, nor the entire international community had any doubts at the time: China is a single territorial entity; whether Beijing or Taipei had political legitimacy remained to be decided.

 The Nationalists’ rigid position was eroded by the persistent drip of globalization.  The opening of Deng’s China was an irresistible magnet for Taiwanese entrepreneurs.  Attracted by low labor costs, familiar obligations, and cultural proximity, they delocalized to China, transferring their know-how and capital there.  Connecting direct telephone lines, maritime docks for goods, and business and leisure travel were easy consequences.  Even planes could land directly in their airports, avoiding the hypocrisy of a layover in Hong Kong needed to “denationalize” airplanes, causing the airplane to lose ties between two independent entities.

Today, people laugh at this gimmick.  The political relationships, even institutional ones, have reached unprecedented highs.  People speak openly about reunification.  Economic relationships are excellent and investments are growing, just like trade and the exchange of services.  It’s a typical win-win situation.  The old Beijing idea of three links seems to have prevailed with time: postal, commercial, and transport.  Logistical connections have become political.  However, obstacles are not lacking.  The opposition in Taiwan accuses President Ma Ying-jeou’s government of caving-in to China, and memories of the war are still vivid; the military is ready and aggressive.

 At the same time, economic integration is proceeding expediently, to the point of becoming irreversible.  Sly propaganda has given the go-ahead to facts, which are more silent and substantial.  Today, interests are so intertwined that it would be impossible to strike your enemy without hurting yourself.  It all gives the impression that the road to peace, albeit probable, will be long and bumpy.  For now, it’s auspicious to think that globalization could be an instrument of peace; in the straight of Taiwan, goods are exchanged instead of bullets and civilian rather than military airplanes fly overhead.