International shift toward China heightens search for identity in Taiwan
Taiwan is at a critical juncture: Deterioration of cross-Strait relations would hurt Taiwan with stock market losses, but Taiwanese aren't willing to get too cozy with China.
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Otherwise, Taiwanese worry that outsiders will consider Taiwan and China as one and the same.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Troubled waters: disputes in the China Seas
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The Taiwanese government has picked up its public relations campaigns. Forty activities this month in Hong Kong, for example, will showcase Taiwan’s independent films and booksellers, cultural assets of interest in the Chinese territory, but hard to find in the mainland.
“We are resolved to use our culture to pursue dialogue with Hong Kong,” says Lee Ying-ping, director of the Kwang Hua Information and Culture Center under Taiwan’s government offices in Hong Kong.
Taiwan reaches out to other parts of the world also, including the United States, that it feels are important for international recognition. However, Hong Kong matters in particular because it has legally fallen under China's rule since 1997 and Beijing is struggling to instill a sense of pro-mainland nationalism. If Taiwan's outreach is more effective, it would certainly frustrate China.
Taiwan is democratic, while China is not, and people here are more civil than counterparts in China, locals often gripe. Taiwan has unique entertainment, superheroes, and food, they argue.
The Tourism Bureau steers foreign visitors to watch only-in-Taiwan aboriginal dances and try recipes such as oyster omelets and pineapple cakes, indigenous to the island.
Non-profits are also taking up Taiwan’s cause. Wang Dan, a student leader during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, last year founded the New School for Democracy to teach online classes from his base in Taipei. The courses cover Taiwan’s open political system, something he’s quick to point out that’s missing in China.
Across town, the Taiwan UN Alliance organizes annual rallies to advocate a seat for Taiwan in the United Nations. China bans Taiwan now, saying it lacks sovereignty. The alliance has recruited 5,000 members with its sights on 10,000.
“China’s effort to take over Taiwan appears to be soft on the surface, so activism is quite urgent,” says alliance secretary-general Lo Kung-kuang.
Meanwhile, China is busy trying to win over Taiwanese for a peaceful, willing reunification. Two years ago the Communist leadership asked Taiwan to sign an agreement directing the two sides to develop a joint culture and link up their creative industries. Taiwan’s cultural minister called the deal off in August, leaving civil groups to form those links on their own.
Beijing may fight back by buying Taiwanese media or paying them for favorable coverage, Mr. Cheng says. “China certainly cares,” he says. “China certainly wants to win the hearts of Taiwanese people.”