Saturday, January 3, 2009

Taiwan and China reach out across the Straits.

I was present at an interesting lunch yesterday to celebrate the birthday of a Hong Kong friend. I was sitting next to a Taiwanese businessman who has interests in Australia, Hong Kong and London.
Our conversation turned to the warming of relations between Taiwan and China. In general he was quietly supportive but clearly had some reservations. With journeys shorter by 90 minutes, businessmen and travelers are finding it easier to get across the straits.Up until the direct air connections were established a week or two ago if he needed to go China on company business he used to travel via Hong Kong and Macau. But now he is able to fly direct to Guangdong Province, reducing the traveling time by more than an hour. He pointed out that as well as shortening the travel time and distance there is a saving of eight tones of jet fuel. Ah! The minds of businessmen.
Of course it is not only business travelers who are pleased about that….family visits, holidays etc are now much easier with over 20 destinations in China being served and direct postal and freight services also commencing.

So everything is fine?
Well not really. It was explained that significant sections of the Taiwanese people are concerned that President Ma and the Kuomintang Party (KMT) are just a bit too close to the ruling group in China. Taiwan is historically fiercely independent, and with the strong backing of the U.S. has always kept a wary eye on the military power of China. Approaches from China to engage in joint military exercises, in return for reducing the number of missiles pointed at Taiwan are being greeted with much suspicion by the Taiwanese people. Interestingly the businessman’s son was also present and is about to start his compulsory National Service. He was clearly very positive about this and was adamant that Taiwan must maintain a separate and alert military.
The other concern expressed was the KMT’s increasing moves to control and censor both the printed and televised news services.
Apparently during this week thousands of people protested in Taipei against a draft motion that would enable the government to control the public television's news coverage and programming. The view at the table was that this could just be the thin edge of the wedge and that the Taiwanese people were not going to surrender any of their hard won freedoms.
Anyway we will watch with interest and after many toasts…which I have learned to cope with by taking very small sips…the lunch broke up.

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