Reaping cross-strait peace dividend

The Taiwan Strait is now morphing into a gateway not only for lasting reconciliation between Taiwan and mainland China, but also a conduit for regional peace and prosperity.

The last two years, since President Ma Ying-jeou of Kuomintang came to power in May 2008, have been nothing short of dramatic and transformational, awakening a new hope for a new Asia as the two sides brace to sign a landmark economic cooperation agreement.

Since Ma announced ‘diplomatic truce’ in 2008, the cross-strait relations has seen a surge straddling virtually all areas. Reconciliation through a web of trade, tourism and popular contacts has become the new mantra. Bilateral trade has multiplied over 10 times to $130 billion, up from $8 billion in 1991, making China Taiwan’s largest trading partner. Taiwanese companies have put more than $200 billion into 80,000 investment projects in China. At any given time, there are about one million Taiwanese people, or 4 per cent of its population, working, travelling or studying in China.

Driving force

In other words, what appeared unthinkable years ago has now become a living reality, underscoring the power of transformational diplomacy in today’s conflict-ridden world. But such seismic changes do not happen without the force of a big idea.

Fully aware of the shifting global architecture and the rise of China as a major player on the international scene, Taiwan, the world’s 17th largest economy, has adopted a calibrated practical approach towards international relations, focusing its energies on making a difference to the world through ‘meaningful participation’ in UN activities.

The global meltdown did not leave the Taiwanese economy intact, but Taipei has been relatively quick to bounce back, and is sharing its prosperity by redirecting resources that previously have been wasted on counterproductive competition between Taiwan and mainland China in the diplomatic arena.  Everywhere President Ma went for state visits, he reinforced a clear message that Taiwan’s foreign aid was meant only for legitimate goals and embodied the principle of effective cooperation for sustainable development.

The cross-strait thaw is, therefore, a major opportunity for creating a new dialectic of peace and harmony not only in Asia but in the world. Not all issues have been resolved between Taiwan and mainland China, most important being hundreds of Chinese missiles that continued to be pointed at Taiwanese cities. But the peace dividend has surpassed the remaining sources of friction. And the world is increasingly seeing it that way.

In India, too, the prospects of the new situation have not gone unnoticed even as it tries to improve its relations with mainland China. The growing strength of Indian economy and its leadership role in the G20 process has enthused Taiwanese investors who are keen to tap emerging opportunities in two-way trade and investment. Buoyed by their mutual strengths, the two sides have set a target of nearly doubling their bilateral trade to $10 billion by 2015. Direct investment of some $ 1 billion by 70 Taiwanese companies, including Acer and HTC, is expected to grow substantially in the next few years. Taiwan is also opening its universities to woo Indian students at very competitive conditions.

When Taiwan and mainland China sign the path-breaking Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) later this year, the world will watch closely, and will be hopefully see in it a chance for extending the web of peace and prosperity that is underpinning an increasingly interconnected world. Asia’s moment under the global sun is finally here, and improving cross-strait relations can only spur the ongoing Asian resurgence.
(The writer is Head, Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre, New Delhi)

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