Focus on substance before looks
By Paul Lin 林保華

Taipei Times 2017.5.20

China held a two-day forum on its “One Belt, One Road” initiative in Beijing last weekend to help Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) save face. The purpose of the program proposed by Xi after he took power is to expand China’s economic influence by building an empire with a system of tributary states and using foreign capital to promote its surplus goods.

Many countries are participating in the program, giving Xi a lot of face, but they are only looking for bargains. After having proposed and worked on the plan for four years, China’s main achievements are that it has sunk a lot of money into “money pits” in Pakistan, Indonesia and Africa.

At the meeting, Xi pledged more than 100 billion yuan (US$14.5 billion) in extra funding for the plan in an attempt to attract more money from other countries, but he did not succeed in getting them to pull out their checkbooks.

The only thing left for China’s government-controlled media outlets to be able to save face for Xi was to write how the US and Japan changed their minds and attended the forum.

However, neither the US nor the Japanese national leaders attended the event.

Matthew Pottinger, the US National Security Council senior director for Asia, attended the event, making clear that the US was assessing what threat the plan posed to its national security, and immediately criticized China for inviting North Korea.

Instead of ministers, Japan sent a top official of the governing Liberal Democratic Party and a top aide of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in an attempt to find out what is going on.

Taiwan is a small nation compared with China, and faced with the complex international situation and China’s threat to annex it, the best for Taiwan would be to succeed both in appearance and in substance.

If this is not possible, it should prioritize substance over face.

Substance refers to the nation’s economic strength, fairness and justice brought by reforms, and the advancement of democracy and culture.

Only with a solid economic system, stable democracy and rule of law will Taiwan be able to resist external pressures that threaten to “move the earth and shake the mountains,” and to strive for international support to gradually win face: a national title that matches reality.

Before achieving this, Taiwanese are likely to have to suffer through a series of humiliations, but the public should never spoil the grand plan by showing impatience over minor issues.

Despite clashes of opinions within the Taiwan-centered factions, they must remain patient for the sake of the nation.

On one hand, they should try hard to win over the pro-unification camp, but on the other, they should give up any illusions about the support of pro-unification diehards.

This does not mean that appearance and substance are completely unrelated.

For instance, the “Republic of China” (ROC) is the national title of Taiwan. For historical reasons, it is difficult to abolish the word “China” in the title. If it remains that way, it would be difficult for Taiwan to become fully independent and the nation will continue to be haunted by China, so those in power must make changing the name their goal.

To avoid international disputes, Taiwan should remain quiet or at least keep a low profile, and start with the easier parts before moving on to the difficult ones. It should also fight back against China’s attempts to dominate it in reasonable, constructive and orderly ways. Perhaps the government would thus be able to improve its low approval rating and raise the low public morale resulting from Beijing’s insults.

Taiwan’s economy is doing well thanks to US economic growth, but many exports are actually made in China and the nation has come under Chinese pressure because of this.

Given these circumstances, the Cabinet’s Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program, which is focused on local construction, seems even more important, because it does not rely on China and is unlikely to be affected by global economic developments.

The government should work hard to implement the program, welcoming criticism and suggestions, but rejecting ill-intended riots and opposition.

Running a country is different from running an electoral campaign. The nation’s future depends on all Taiwanese finding solid ground and then moving forward step by step, not on empty election sloganeering.

It was not long ago that Taiwan entered the era of democratic politics. Neither the government nor the opposition parties have managed to eliminate the old “small peasant” attitude and cliquishness that still plagues the nation’s politics, and this is likely to be an obstacle to the nation’s development.

Paul Lin is a political commentator.

Translated by Eddy Chang

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