Taiwan’s China Dilemma: Contested Identities and Multiple Interests in Taiwan’s Cross-Strait Economic Policy

Taiwan’s China Dilemma: Contested Identities and Multiple Interests in Taiwan’s Cross-Strait Economic Policy

"Taiwan's China Dilemma," in many ways, it is own Taiwanese dilemma, with or without any reference to China writ large. Is Taiwan an entity that has all the rights of a sovereign member state, or, is Taiwan already such, but not specifically referred to as one ?

But beyond, and above, these quibbles are indeed Taiwan's tacky, indeed, impossibly taxing, relationship with China; especially when more than 1000 missiles are aimed at the island, producing what is essentially an "existential threat,"; and not just a "clear and present danger."

Put bluntly, how do you co exist with a giant, when the giant thinks you must always be in its political and economic pocket in perpetuity ? Something which the giant, ever now and then, can take out to show the world, that you are part of it. This part is most interesting precisely because the dynastic history of ancient China has always had more than several dynasties co existing in conflict or unison. But the key is, anyone familiar with ancient Chinese history, will know that the "normal" China is one based on the existence of several dynasties at the same time. Hence, when the Chinese communist party insists there is only "one China," and Taiwan is a part of it, what it invites is not merely a rebuke from Taiwan intellectuals and politicians, but the renunciation of the Taiwanese masses too. But, granted that Taiwan identity is in a conundrum, especially the delicate balance it has to maintain with China, addressing it wholesale requires a deft hand at two forms of scholarship: identity awareness of Taiwan; and bread-and-butter issue of Taiwanese economics, especially its future evolution.

Along comes the exceptional narrative of Syaru Shirley-Lin, using various industries as a juxtaposition to the issues; especially the acute pressures and incentives faced by the semi conductor industry to work closely with China to capitalize on the lower labor cost in mainland.

Based on her Ph.D. dissertation in University of Hong Kong, Syaru expertly weaved together a flawless explanation of the tugs and pulls of the Chinese economic/political pressures; a process that incidentally began with her role as a volunteer/translator to the Koo-Wang Dialogue between Taiwan and mainland China in 1993, held in Singapore. Thus, the book achieves the status of an insider perspective somewhat.

More importantly, it is a superb rendition of Taiwan's internal politics, especially its struggle with its own Taiwan identity viz China, even as the economic benefits from China are necessary (to Taiwan); though concurrently experiencing a structural decline due to economic slowdown in the mainland.

How then does Syaru Shirley Lin define Taiwanese identity struggle ? Often this is done by looking at opinion polls, the responses of key corporate leaders, the policy dilemma of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Kuomintang Party, and the aggressive tactics they employed, invariably, to project themselves as more Taiwanese than the average Taiwanese, often by making speeches in Minanhua (Taiwanese dialect) or lowering their identification with Mandarin as the only language of choice in Taiwan.

But, the complexity of Taiwanese identity, not unlike the immediate days of being replaced by China in the UN Security Council in 1971,is jerryrigged with a multiple process of global economic and political change all at one go. Taiwanese are confused, occasionally, confounded by the disruptive changes of both processes.

What is the value of being a Taiwanese, if the very insistence of it, is enough to cause the world to abandon one altogether ? Alternatively, what is the benefit of deeper engagement with China, if more inroads suggest wholesale absorption in the belly of the beast ? These are questions that arise from rational calculations as well as fear and insecurity which cannot be calculated. This book soldiered on and showed each facet of the dynamics. By using interviews and opinion polls, Syaru Shirley Lin made her methodology more rigorous and disciplined; even if the actual politics in Taiwan is often a mess, as it occasioned by the brawls in parliament or the Sunflower movement where the students tried to occupy the president's office.