Taiwan’s New President

It’s farfetched to imagine that China and Taiwan can magically resolve their differences overnight, but this passage from new Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou’s inauguration speech is food for thought:

“I would like to propose with sincerity that the two sides, whether over the (Taiwan) strait or in diplomatic circles, reconcile, cease fire and assist each other with respect in global organisations and activities,” he said.

Noting that the people living on both sides of the Taiwan Strait “belong to the Chinese race,” he said Taipei and Beijing should work together for peace “instead of wasting resources in negative competition”.

One of the enduring mysteries for me of humankind is how ideological, ethnic and religious differences so often trump interests, dividing countries who by any other measure would stand to benefit enormously from cooperating with each other. Israel and the larger Arab world is one such example, where the technological capacity of the former coupled with the oil reserves of the latter would truly redraw the geopolitical map. Russia and Europe is another along the same lines, although certainly a less volatile one in terms of the barriers to further integration.

But China and Taiwan is by far the most extreme and puzzling example. The two one countries share a common heritage, language and culture. In fact, the only thing really dividing them is a difference in governance and the resulting claims of legitimacy, both of which date back only a few generations. As China’s technological and productive capacity continue to progress, the weight of what Taiwan might contribute to a strategic partnership diminishes. But the potential impact, both strategically and economically, of a durable resolution to the cross-Strait dispute is pretty mind-boggling.