Contrasting Dong’s, Lai’s speeches

2 weeks ago

Over the past two weeks the contrast between China’s hostility and Taiwan’s peaceful approach has become clear once more for all to see. Beijing is raising tensions further and further, while Taipei is keeping a cool head and is striving for peaceful coexistence.

In his inauguration address on May 20, President William Lai (賴清德) struck a conciliatory tone, and reiterated he would not do anything to change the “status quo.” Lai also said he would like to see a reopening of exchanges across the Taiwan Strait, including Chinese tourist groups coming to Taiwan.

However, he also said that the Republic of China (ROC) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) are not subordinate to each other, and urged Beijing to stop threatening Taiwan.

He added that Taiwanese must not be under any illusion about the threat from China, and that Taiwan must further strengthen its defenses.

Regrettably, just three days after the inauguration, China commenced large-scale military exercises surrounding Taiwan, called “Joint Sword-2024A.”

Chinese officials said the drills were intended to “serve as a strong punishment for the separatist acts of ‘Taiwan independence’ forces and a stern warning against the interference and provocation by external forces.”

Never mind that the nature and scale of the operations showed they were long-planned, and thus that the PRC was going to conduct them irrespective of what Lai would have said in his inauguration speech.

The next sign of China’s silly and foolhardy intransigence came on Sunday at the Shangri-La Dialogue defense forum in Singapore, where Chinese Minister of National Defense Dong Jun (董軍) made some outrageously offensive statements about Taiwan.

In a long-winded speech mainly focused on Taiwan, Dong — who was only appointed in December last year after his predecessor mysteriously disappeared — warned that Taiwan’s “aggressive” behavior and external forces to abet it were “eroding” the prospects for peaceful “reunification.”

Never mind that “peaceful reunification” is a contradiction in terms, as most observers of Taiwan and China agree that unification would never be peaceful. One only has to look at the examples of Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong. The real “peacefulness” there is that through harsh repression, the people’s voice has been silenced.

Interestingly, Dong also had a meeting with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the forum. Afterward he said that more dialogue was necessary, because of the differences between the two militaries.

“We have always been open to exchanges and cooperation, but this requires both sides to meet each other halfway,” he said.

The problem with Dong’s statement is that they are just empty words. In its relations with Taiwan, China has cut off all exchanges with the democratically elected Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government since 2016, in spite of the readiness and willingness of the DPP government — both of former president Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and Lai — to sit down on an equal basis without preconditions.

The international community needs to clearly understand the difference between Lai’s peaceful and moderate approach, and China’s ratcheting up the pressure and raising tensions in the region through its irresponsible words and actions.

To prevent a conflict from happening it is essential for the international community to double its collective efforts to make clear to the Beijing authorities that their current policies would be detrimental to peace and stability in the region, and thus seriously damage China’s own economic interests and standing in the world.

Gerrit van der Wees is a former Dutch diplomat who teaches Taiwan history and US relations with East Asia at George Mason University, and previously taught at the George Washington University Elliott School for International Affairs in Washington.

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