04 November 2008

China and Taiwan

My original travel plans out of South Korea called for visiting Taiwan, due to its short distance, but I have since decided to switch over to Hong Kong, as it's not much farther away and language barrier is a non-issue. But I continue to follow Taiwan, just in case.

While Korea is considered to be the only divided nation in the world by most, and it certainly is the only one divided by foreign powers over ideology, there are a few more divided nations in reality. Cyprus, a split Greek-Turkish island in ethnicity where the Turkish north broke away and declared independence (and got Turkey's recognition - but no one else's) is one. And China certainly is another, divided by a Cold War-style ideology struggle, even though the division of China resulted from a civil war. Beijing does require foreign governments to choose between itself and Taipei, never both, for diplomatic recognition; almost all nations choose Beijing due to its much bigger economic clout.

I am actually very happy to see the following report from Taiwan, where a visiting delegation from Beijing agreed to a huge expansion of ties between the two sides.


Specifically, direct flights between Taiwan and the mainland will increase significantly, and operate daily. Mail service between the two sides will speed up considerably as well.

The Nationalists in Taiwan had, for decades, refused to have anything to do with the Communists, going as far as funding the Unification Church. However, the economic and diplomatic reality, combined with the opening up of mainland China, demand that Taiwan work closely with the mainland. In return, China also gets to take advantage of Taiwan's advanced technologies and ample capital. Taiwan, as the first real democracy of the Chinese-speaking world, also hopes to set an example for China to eventually follow. There are benefits to both sides.

Of course, there is fierce opposition within Taiwan. However, it's the liberal faction of the political spectrum in Taiwan that's opposed; it opposes closer ties to Beijing because Taiwan has its own culture and history, and therefore ought to be independent. It's the formerly anti-Communist conservatives who are eager to work with China today, as they tend to be refugees from the mainland. By contrast, over here in South Korea, it's the liberals who, out of nationalist considerations, call for closer ties to North Korea, while the conservatives bring out their McCarthyist paranoia in opposing them.

China and Taiwan are working together to set an excellent example, one that the governments of both Koreas must heed and follow. China and Taiwan have chosen to put their ideological differences aside in favor of economic co-prosperity. North Korea can surely use South Korean capital and technologies, to its own benefit; only Kim Jong-il's megalomania keeps the North from opening up. And here in the South, 2MB must stop his hardline stance, which benefits absolutely no one (maybe except his buddies in the US Republican Party and the US military-industrial complex). Even if political unification doesn't happen, at least a peace treaty and some co-operation framework between the two Koreas will immensely help out both sides, economically and politically. As it stands, it's impossible for me to mail, email, or phone my Northern relatives, and if I try anyway, I may be labeled as a "Communist sympathizer" by the 2MB government.

The idea of cooperation, as carried by China and Taiwan, will be something that I will carry into my road trip. I will visit an observatory just outside the Diamond Mountains, and that point is the northernmost point in South Korea that I am allowed to drive to - but only after pre-registration and a briefing. The road, part of National Highway 7 and Asian Highway 6, continues north from there, into the Diamond Mountains themselves, but only bus tours are allowed into North Korean territory, and even that is suspended for now due to the rising tensions. When I get to the observatory, I will make a vow - to someday return, continue driving north, and visit my ancestors' hometowns (and continue on Asian Highway 6 into my favorite European cities).

Actually, another bus tour, a 40-mile run from Seoul to Kaesong, still runs, but given that strict pre-registration procedures are in effect, that I am strictly sequestered from Kaesong residents, and that North Korea will censor my camera and delete any "objectionable" photos (and even charge me USD $100 per objectionable photo) before my return south, I doubt my ability to improve prospects for peace on the Korean peninsula, and therefore will not make the trip. If the North wants to make me feel more welcome, however, and relaxes some regulations, then I am going in a heartbeat.