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China and Taiwan - separated at birth

Chiang Kai-shek often spent his summer holidays in a house on the banks of the Sun Moon lake, about four hours drive from capital Taipei. He told his aides that the area and the lake reminded him of his native place on the Mainland.

world Updated: Jun 02, 2012 15:37 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

Chiang Kai-shek often spent his summer holidays in a house on the banks of the Sun Moon lake, about four hours drive from capital Taipei. He told his aides that the area and the lake reminded him of his native place on the Mainland.

It probably won’t be an exaggeration to say that many Taiwanese, especially the elderly, still have memories of the Mainland, the home they had to leave when the Chiang-led Kuomintang retreated after being defeated by Mao’s Red army in 1949.

After decades, China continues to regard Taiwan (a little smaller in size than Kerala) as part of its territory awaiting reunification. This in spite of the fact that Taiwan has governed itself since the separation.

The Taiwan Strait that divides People’s Republic of China and Republic of China (Taiwan) is narrow but is fraught with history and sensitivities; China is a one-party authoritarian state with severely restricted individual freedom as well as freedom of speech and expression. Comparatively tiny Taiwan is a new democracy where current Kuomintang party leader and President Ma Ying-jeou wakes up every morning – at least since won his second election in January this year -- to scathing criticism of his politics and policies. Ten days ago, a day before Ma was to swear-in for his second term, thousands of people clogged the roads to the President’s house, demanding his resignation.

Part of the protest against Ma is because of his warming up to Beijing; there is fear that Chinese from the Mainland could swamp the country, dilute its unique identity, and colonise it in the long-term. “Can the government guarantee that our businesses and jobs will be protected,” asks a worker at restaurant on Taipei’s Shuang Cheng street.

Many support the government’s decision not to allow Chinese from Mainland to purchase commercial property in Taiwan.

Taiwan, according to the government, follows the 1992 Consensus on cross-strait relationship, which denotes the status-quo: “no unification, no independence and no use of foce.” According to Ma himself, it’s an agreement “whereby each side acknowledge s the existence of ‘one China’ but maintains its own interpretation of what that means…In other words, over the past two decades, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have been defined as one Republic of China, two areas.”

Since Ma took over as President in 2008, Taipei and Beijing have had 16 bilateral agreements.

Ma's moves triggered a surge in commerce. The island's largest trading partner, China now accounts for 40 percent of Taiwan’s exports.

More than two thirds of this massive flow of goods "is made of parts and components," said Kao Shien-quey, chief secretary of Taiwan's Council for Economic Planning and Development.

“Chinese visitors to Taiwan have increased from around 85000 in 2007 to 1.27 million in 2011," Joseph Hua, director general at the Mainland Affairs Council, said.

Till few years ago, there were no flights between the two countries; today there are several. Flights from Beijing from Taipei are packed with visitors from the Mainland; there’s steady stream of tourists from the Mainland at the National Palace Museum and the Taipei 101 building.

Earlier this week, Su Tseng-chang, the new chairman of Taiwan's principle opposition Democratic Progressive Party, reaffirmed his party's stance that Taiwan's future should be decided by the Taiwanese people upon being sworn in to the party's top post on Wednesday.

“Su said the DPP promises to stand firm on its position that nobody but the Taiwanese people can define Taiwan's status and decide the country's future. He added that the party promises to ensure everyone in Taiwan is treated fairly, while working to create sustainable growth for future generations,” news portal WantChina Times reported.

Even at the scenic Sun Moon Lake, where Chiang Kai-shek built a temple in his mother's memory, tourists from the Mainland are now more than welcome. As long as they don’t overstay it.