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Home Editorials of Interest Taipei Times A premier who would back down

A premier who would back down

China has threatened to retaliate if The 10 Conditions of Love, a documentary about World Uyghur Congress president Rebiya Kadeer, is screened as part of the Kaohsiung Film Festival. Beijing has also banned a new book by Taiwanese writer Lung Ying-tai (龍應台) about the tumult of 1949, when Communist rebels defeated the Nationalist government and forced the latter to retreat to Taiwan. China may be shaping as a great power, but such behavior betrays its inability to rise above autocratic impulses.

The content of films and books and how it is transmitted are matters of freedom of expression. If China insists on putting economic pressure on Taiwan over legitimate subjects of debate, its efforts will backfire by widening the political gap between the two sides.

In Taiwan, four ways have emerged in dealing with such meddling.

The first is resistance. The book should be published and the film should be screened without interference, supporters say, and China’s opinions on the matter can be safely ignored.

The second way changes the approach to reduce the fallout. Threatened with a Chinese tourist boycott of Kaohsiung, the city government decided to proceed with four screenings of the documentary at the Kaohsiung Film Archive ahead of the festival proper. This concession claims to protect artistic freedom and the public’s right to watch films at the same time as meeting the concerns of the tourism industry. It is unlikely, however, that this will satisfy China.

The third way is taking a gradual approach and waiting for protests to subside and tempers to cool before acting. By banning Lung’s book before it went on sale, China took the opposite approach and helped make it a top seller in Taiwan and elsewhere.

Commenting on the matter, Lung said: “I think whoever made the decision to ban my book definitely hasn’t read it. But never mind. First let them get on with preparations for National Day on Oct. 1. I think once National Day is over there should be no problem.”

Lung says the fuss only highlights the lack of understanding between Taiwan and China, and that she would quietly wait for the Chinese authorities to change their attitude. There is no guarantee, however, that they will do so.

The fourth way is to bow in the face of adversity. Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) said the decision to bring forward screenings of the Kadeer film is a matter for the Kaohsiung City Government and not one in which the central government would intervene.

When answering questions in the Legislative Yuan, however, he said: “If we’re doing business together, and you would like me to go to your place and buy things more often, but you do something to upset me, then I’m not going to go and buy from you.”

The comment suggests that the central government would rather cater to China’s whims and political agenda than defend the stuff of a pluralistic society.

Which is the best way to deal with a neighbor as obnoxious and powerful as China? In strategic terms, the answer might differ according to the circumstances. Consideration would be given to dignity, time and expense in dealing with a problem, room for negotiation, balancing various interests and so on.

Sometimes a head-on collision is not the best option, but it is never acceptable to give way completely. It is therefore regrettable that the premier should attempt to please Beijing by suggesting that the Kaohsiung City Government back down entirely. Aside from reinforcing the impression that the new premier will end up an ineffectual toady, Wu’s comment were an affront to the dignity of this country and the values that give it strength.

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2009/09/21

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