Co­ex­ist­ing his­tor­i­cal mem­ory is a con­di­tion for peace

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

Cross-strait re­la­tions are once again in the fo­cus as the elec­torate gets ready for a qua­dren­nial elec­tion for the na­tion’s high­est of­fice. Bei­jing is ner­vous, and has been mak­ing as­sump­tions and state­ments about the im­por­tance of the com­ing elec­tion on bi­lat­eral ties, with Xi Jin­ping’s words that “a new im­por­tant junc­ture” has been reached and then Tai­wan Af­fairs Of­fice di­rec­tor Zhang Zhi­jun last week mak­ing a state­ment chal­leng­ing Tsai and the DPP on their stance, say­ing that “re­spon­si­ble par­ties must clearly state their po­si­tions.’ on the “core is­sue of the ‘1992 Con­sen­sus,’ which states that Tai­wan and the main­land be­long to one China.”

Zhang of­fered sharp crit­i­cism of for­mer Pres­i­dent Lee Teng-hui, who met Ja­pan Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe on his trip to Ja­pan. “Even to­day, there are some in Tai­wan who dis­tort history and beau­tify Ja­panese rule” and at­tempt to cut the con­nec­tion be­tween Tai­wan and the main­land, Zhang blasted.

It is un­der­stand­able that Bei­jing is ad­vanc­ing its ties with the KMT, be­cause both share a com­mit­ment to a one China frame­work. It is on that ba­sis that the two sides have been sit­ting down at the ta­ble, ex­chang­ing views at the high­est par­tyto-party level. The prob­lem with this sce­nario is that in ex­ert­ing its bid to get all par­ties to ac­cept its view­point, Bei­jing is throt­tling op­por­tu­ni­ties for di­a­logue with the op­po­si­tion.

Put another way, a bet­ter place to start might be a po­si­tion with­out pre­con­di­tions. This is es­pe­cially crit­i­cal be­cause the big­gest point of de­bate in cross-strait re­la­tions is the Re­pub­lic of China’s po­lit­i­cal sta­tus, and Bei­jing’s view doesn’t cur­rently even rec­og­nize the ex­is­tence of the R.O.C. The Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic wants to win by of­fer­ing some form of lesser sta­tus for Tai­wan, but the cru­cial de­bate can’t even be had with such a pre­con­di­tion.

The crit­i­cism of for­mer Pres­i­dent Lee can be ex­panded upon to re­mind Bei­jing that the clash of his­tor­i­cal mem­ory re­mains deep in Tai­wan. There are those whose fealty and sense of iden­tity are firmly en­trenched in the nar­ra­tive of a Greater China, with bonds to places and peo­ple and in­sti­tu­tions on the main­land. There are also those whose over­ar­ch­ing mem­ory is one of Ja­panese ed­u­ca­tion, and who through the tur­bu­lence of change in the af­ter­math of World War II had to go through another regime change that al­tered the lan­guage and coun­try of their al­le­giance.

From the stand­point of a citizen, one could have taken this very harshly, or the change might have left scars, re­sent­ment, and a feel­ing of be­ing adrift. It is hard to blame those who have coped less well with the tu­mult of the times. Or, one could have coped rel­a­tively well via good luck and strong spir­its through bad times. What is un­de­ni­able is the amount of suf­fer­ing that has been etched into the his­tor­i­cal mem­ory of peo­ple who have been through cruel, dis­as­trous twen­ti­ethcen­tury up­heavals in a suc­ces­sion of wars and Chi­ang’s mar­tial law.

Un­der­stand­ing is cru­cial for an ef­fec­tive di­a­logue. While peo­ple as in­di­vid­u­als con­gre­gate into camps with shared mem­ory and per­spec­tives, it has to be said that their feel­ings are equally valid, whether the fond­est mem­o­ries are that of an up­bring­ing in the main­land or that of grow­ing up as a Ja­panese, or even that of a time when abo­rig­i­nal vil­lages have not been in­cor­po­rated into ei­ther power.

All things con­sid­ered, it is wiser for Bei­jing to stop tak­ing a polemic stance and to give space to those out­side its own world­view. It can be­gin by drop­ping the as­sump­tion that all his­tor­i­cal views and allegiances that don’t fit neatly with those of its own are trai­tor­ous, of­fen­sive, or dis­rup­tive. As so­ci­ety in Tai­wan con­tin­ues to strug­gle with the fault lines of na­tional iden­tity, once again brought into fo­cus by the con­flict over ed­u­ca­tion guide­lines over history, it raises un­com­fort­able per­spec­tives for peo­ple with dif­fer­ent back­grounds. Thus, the need for com­pro­mise and di­a­logue.

The DPP has stated be­fore that uni­fi­ca­tion can be an agenda for dis­cus­sion, but it can­not be the pre­con­di­tion for talks. Thus far, it has been left out of dis­cus­sions with the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party due to the lat­ter’s in­sis­tence on ad­her­ence to its pre­con­di­tion. It would truly be a new level of con­fi­dence for peace if the CCP can find the heart to sit down with the DPP and those like-minded be­cause un­der­stand­ing re­quires a will­ing­ness to ap­pre­ci­ate the his­tor­i­cal mem­ory of those dif­fer­ent from one­self.

It is un­der­stand­able that Bei­jing feels like it has too much at stake to lose. How­ever, de­nounc­ing the his­tor­i­cal mem­ory of worldviews for­eign to its own doesn’t help foster cross-strait peace.

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