How overseas Chinese could help revitalise the ‘one China’ dream
Jieh-Yung Lo says mainland China and Taiwan have a chance to change history by working towards peaceful reunification, and overseas Chinese from both sides of the strait could play an important role as an intermediary
When I watched both Korean Winter Olympics teams marching out under one flag during the 2018 Games opening ceremony, it made me think about cross-strait relations. While there are deep unresolved issues between North and South Korea, they were willing to put them aside in honour of the Olympic spirit.
When the Koreans walked out together, I received a phone call from my mother who said, “Look at the Koreans putting on a display of unity. Why can’t [the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan] do the same thing and show the world Chinese people can also put their differences aside for the greater good?”
Recent events have once again sparked tensions in cross-strait relations, from the launching of a Taiwanese independence referendum campaign by two former Taiwanese presidents to the US Senate passing a bill promoting closer ties between the United States and Taiwan. And, in response, Beijing has delivered a stern warning to Taiwan that any independence movement will not be tolerated and to the US and other countries not to interfere in what Beijing believes to be internal business.
After years of acknowledgement of the status quo and attempts to improve trade and dialogue, it seems cross-strait relations are once again at a crossroads. As a Chinese-Australian member of the overseas Chinese diaspora and a follower of Sun Yat-sen’s teachings, I want nothing more than peaceful reunification between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan.
The reunification dream is not just the dream of the People’s Republic; it is a dream shared by many overseas Chinese and their communities. But due to political, cultural and historical complexities, Beijing’s proposed model of “one country, two systems” would only add further challenges.
Taiwan is not Hong Kong or Macau. Taiwan has a thriving democracy. It is the 22nd-largest economy in the world and is highly ranked in areas such as public education, economic freedom, innovation, health care and human development.
One of Taiwan’s major political parties, the Kuomintang, and its founders played a leading role in overthrowing the last imperial dynasty of China. In addition, the KMT’s role in ending the warlord era, unifying China under the Republic of China banner and leading China in repelling Japanese aggression and imperialism during the second Sino-Japanese war and second world war, should never be forgotten. The Democratic Progressive Party played a major role later on in the democratisation of Taiwan.
Given its historical achievements, legacy and standing among Chinese people around the world, Taiwan deserves equal treatment and acknowledgement. Perhaps better recognition of Taiwan’s achievements and legacy by the Chinese mainland would be a good starting point for peaceful reunification.
It is correct to say, as one commentator noted recently in the Post, that Beijing and Taipei must take time to understand each other before any true reunification can occur. Threats and military intimidation will only make those in Taiwan more resentful of Beijing. The old cold-war-style of politics and rhetoric are no longer effective if the mainland hopes to establish greater trust and friendship. Claiming similar kinship and cultural heritage is not enough to win the confidence of people who have developed a strong sense of self and identity over the decades.
If Beijing is serious about achieving peaceful reunification, then it needs to offer Taiwan some goodwill and provide a level playing field. Reunification on the current terms and conditions would be seen more as a takeover. Given their neutrality, perhaps overseas Chinese communities could serve as an intermediary between both sides to find a mutually beneficial outcome.
To ensure equal treatment and recognition, a new National People’s Congress could be formed to include Taiwanese political elements where representatives from both sides have the opportunity to nominate senior leadership positions within the joint government. Other potential changes to consider under a reunified China would be changing the national anthem and flag to reflect historical, current and future aspirations. Both sides drew and continue to draw inspiration from Sun Yat-sen and believe in his legacy for a strong, modern, prosperous and unified China. With goodwill, respect and recognition, this can be achieved without the need for armed conflict.
Throughout history, China has never managed to unify on peaceful terms. The People’s Republic of China and Taiwan have the opportunity to change history, fulfil Sun’s legacy and set the standard for the global community by achieving reunification through diplomacy.
For the stake of peace, prosperity and the future of mainland Chinese and Taiwanese people, I urge both sides to take a step back, consider new options such as those mentioned here and find a meaningful way forward.
Jieh-Yung Lo is a Chinese-Australian writer and policy adviser. He tweets at @jiehyunglo