One of the most successful strategies a politician or political party can pursue is to dress themselves in the language of those that oppose their policy agendas. This serves the purpose of confusing and dividing potential supporters of the opposition and acts as an election tactic to appeal to middle ground or swing voters who are turned off by polarised political discourse. In Taiwan, the latest example of this comes from KMT New Taipei City Mayor (and aspirant 2016 Presidential candidate) Eric Chu (朱立倫).
In an op-ed piece whose title is a perfect example of the utilisation of vague metaphor (“Turn into a blue magpie or a ring-necked pheasant”), Mayor Chu appears to caution against ‘putting all of Taiwan’s eggs in the China basket’. Except that a closer reading suggests that is the impression he wanted to give but not the actual meaning he conveyed:
As the world eyes the vast Chinese market, Taiwan should be concerned about whether it has missed its chance to pick which basket it wants to put its eggs in…
… the mayor said that although everyone knows the old adage warning people not to put all their eggs into one basket, few are thinking seriously about what choice of baskets Taiwan has.
“When the world is eyeing the China basket, what Taiwan should fear most is that it has missed its chance to select its baskets,” he said.
Chu said the nation has had time to choose, citing as an example of Taiwan’s nearsightedness the lessons learned from his interactions with new immigrants over the years.
“When you only see China and can’t see Indonesia, with its 300 million-strong population, what kind of a world perspective is that?” he asked. “When you have only Taiwan in your heart, is that caring for Taiwan? Or is it behaving like a mama’s boy that can’t reach out to the world?”
“When Taiwanese are busy embracing or hating China, it becomes the whole world in their eyes, overshadowing everything else,” the mayor added.
The activists protesting the cross-strait service trade pact have now heard many experts talk about the agreement, Chu said, adding that he hopes this makes them realize that the key issue is determining whether Taiwan still has the option of joining regional free-trade blocs.
If we look closely, it seems that Chu’s real message is not that Taiwan shouldn’t put all its eggs in the China basket but that Taiwan has missed its chance to not put all its eggs into the China basket.
Chu is in effect saying that there are few or no other baskets for Taiwan to put its eggs into because Taiwanese wasted time being consumed with the question of whether to build greater or lesser economic dependence on the Chinese economy. In it’s own circuitous way, Mayor Chu is in fact reaffirming President Ma’s repeatedly intoned policy of 'Going to the world through China’, and is castigating Taiwanese for prioritising their own nation’s economic security, depicting it as an act of immature obstinacy that is the opposite of genuine concern for the country’s welfare.
Next comes the clever part. Chu says that Taiwanese are both too busy embracing or hating China, and as a result they have blinded themselves to opportunities elsewhere. This, on the surface is entirely reasonable but what it actually does it draw a moral equivalence between the two, giving the impression that those who distrust closer economic integration with, or dependence on, the Chinese economy reject the idea of developing trade relations with other countries. This impression is reinforced by the linguistic disparity between the two - 'embrace’ is a weaker word than 'hate’. A fairer binary dichotomy would have been to say …
“When Taiwanese are busy blindly fawning over or hating China…“
Finally, Chu utilises the language of the wise patriarch in his desire to make the [ant-CSSTA] activists realise that the 'key issue is determining whether Taiwan still has the option of joining regional free-trade blocs.’ And it is here that we see Chu is absolutely toeing the KMT party line and echoing President Ma’s position by framing the debate over the CSSTA not as a question of putting all Taiwan’s eggs into the China basket or whether the trade agreement is actually beneficial for Taiwan’s economy, but as a discussion over the possibility of Taiwan joining regional free-trade blocks if the trade agreement is not passed, the conclusion to such a discussion having already been determined.
The subtext is clear - 'we need to discuss Taiwan’s exclusion from regional trade blocs (as a result of not passing the CSSTA)’. There is no discussion of whether membership of regional free-trade blocs is necessary for Taiwan’s economic development, no discussion of the dangers to democracy, rights, and the environment posed by signing away economic and political sovereignty through vague corporate trans-national plutocratic agreements like TPP or CERP, no discussion of the multitude of other ways in which Taiwanese could add massive amounts of value to their economy if only they weren’t so insecure about doing business with non-Mandarin speaking countries or stopped to consider whether pouring concrete on the Taiwanese environment is a sustainable engine of economic growth into the future.
No, the only discussion this Government wants is about how to convince Taiwanese that there is only one route forward for Taiwan’s economic development - putting all of Taiwan’s eggs into the China basket in the blind hope that the country then gets invited to the dining room to scavenge off the table scraps left over by the larger economies for whose profit these regional integration and trade liberalisation agreements have been set up.