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True colours: China summit foments Taiwan's green-blue split
By Benjamin YEH
Taipei (AFP) Nov 6, 2015

What's in a name? Taiwan question endures internationally
Beijing (AFP) Nov 6, 2015 - The Miss Universe contest and the World Trade Organization have both puzzled a common conundrum: what to call Taiwan, an island whose relationship with mainland China is riddled with complications.

Now presidents Xi Jinping of China and Taiwan's Ma Ying-jeou will meet on Saturday for the first such encounter in 66 years, with one of the spotlights on their own titles.

Overshadowed by the mainland's economic and geopolitical might, Taiwan has governed itself since the nationalist Kuomintang fled there in 1949 after being defeated by Mao Zedong's communists in the Chinese civil war.

It is not a member of the United Nations, World Bank or International Monetary Fund, and it only has formal diplomatic relations with 22 states, including the Holy See -- population 800.

Its bid to join the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank was rejected, as was its attempt to take part in this month's UN climate change summit in Paris as a full official delegation.

But Taipei continues to wage a delicate war of words with Beijing, in which the two governments must avoid subtle linguistic choices that might indicate recognition of the other's national legitimacy.

When Ma and Xi meet this weekend, they will refer to each other as "mister" to sidestep potential awkwardness.

A larger conflict is over what to call the island itself, one that the international organisations it has joined have settled in different ways.

The Asian Development Bank went with "Taipei, China", while the Olympics, the Miss Universe competition and football's governing body FIFA have all chosen "Chinese Taipei" -- although it often has to use alternative flags at sporting events.

But the World Trade Organization clumsily refers to it as the "Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu" -- naming the smaller islands under Taipei's administrative control.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum takes care to use "economies" rather than "states" to refer to its members, which include "Chinese Taipei", "Hong Kong, China" and the "People's Republic of China".

- 'Sacrosanct mission' -

Both Taiwan and China agree that there is "one China" and officially view the island as a Chinese province. But they disagree over whether the China in question is the communist "People's Republic of China" or the "Republic of China", as Taiwan styles itself.

Beijing refers to "compatriots across the Taiwan Straits" and makes clear in official white papers that national reunification is "a sacrosanct mission of the entire Chinese people".

It is vehemently opposed to Taiwanese independence, and makes clear that in the event of "separation of Taiwan from China in any name... the Chinese government will only be forced to adopt all drastic measures possible, including the use of force, to safeguard China's sovereignty and territorial integrity".

In mainland airports, signs direct outbound passengers towards "International/Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan" flights, pointedly equating the island with the Special Administrative Regions that enjoy significant autonomy after their return from colonial rule to Beijing's authority.

The ministry of foreign affairs in Beijing refuses to answer questions about Taiwan, deeming them "internal affairs", and the dispute even encompassed the MH370 aircraft disappearance last year.

Malaysia Airlines listed 153 people of Chinese nationality and one from "Chinese Taipei" on the passenger list -- but Beijing consistently says that 154 Chinese were on board.

In Taiwan's decades-long debate over independence or reunification with mainland China, the colours blue and green symbolise a rift that polarises friends and families and has been deepened by this weekend's historic summit.

Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou's meeting with China's leader Xi Jinping in Singapore on Saturday has unleashed a visceral response on the island, a cold war outpost which has long sheltered under a United States pledge of protection.

But as the island wearies of the seemingly irreconcilable split over its identity and future, exemplified by the colour-coded political parties, some are seeking to breach the divide.

The summit could be a turning point for Taiwan, a self-ruling democracy which split from China in 1949 following a civil war, and which Beijing views as a renegade province awaiting reunification -- by force if necessary.

The blue camp favours closer ties with China, with the staunchest "dark blues" supporting full unification.

The greens strongly reject any "one China" principle, viewing Taiwan as an entirely separate entity. "Dark greens" call for formal independence from China -- a move that would risk an armed response.

Ma's Beijing-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) is the main blue party, while the opposition Beijing-sceptic Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) represents the greens.

"Taiwan traditionally has been split between the KMT and DPP, or the unification and independence they each represent," says Wang Yeh-lih, a political science professor at National Taiwan University.

"The blue supporters will back the Ma-Xi meeting, and the greens will of course oppose it. Taiwan has never had a high degree of consensus on this."

The blue, taken from the KMT banner of a white sun against a blue sky, is associated with the party's urban strongholds in the north, while green evokes the DPP's grassroot rural support, particularly in the island's south.

The announcement of Saturday's talks provoked strong responses from from political leaders, academics and the general public, with the blue camp saying it was long overdue and the greens accusing Ma of selling out Taiwan.

While citizens have become used to the split, some fear the enduring impact across an island that is heading to presidential elections in January as Ma bows out.

"My family is open-minded, but the problem has affected relationships between some of my friends. They argue until they are red in the face, defending their political ideas or their favourite parties," says Jesmine Su, a 30-year-old office worker from the southern city of Tainan.

"The phenomenon is bad for Taiwan... it has led people not to look at issues in a rational manner, from individuals and families to different political parties," she said.

- A third way? -

Ma has overseen a dramatic rapprochement with China since he came to power in 2008, yielding a tourism boom, the opening of flight routes, and more than 20 trade agreements.

But there is scepticism from voters who believe that only big business has benefited from the pacts, while the Taiwanese economy remains in the doldrums and salaries are static.

There are also fears that closer ties will risk Taiwan's sovereignty and security as Beijing tries to impose control, concerns that have seen public support for the president and his party plummet.

But while Ma's leadership has stoked divisions, there are also those who seek a path beyond the green-blue polarisation, and independent candidates with a fresh approach have benefited at a local level.

"I'm part of the population that doesn't care about green or blue. I care about the present, the reality, who can really make Taiwan better," said Hu Chih-cheng, 48, a building manager in Taipei who is among those embracing the new credo.

With the economy flagging, livelihood issues have become central to voter sentiment, for some overriding their traditional leanings.

Some analysts say the line between the camps is far more nuanced and flexible than it might initially appear as pragmatism weighs on ideology.

"There are of course many people who are diehard greens or diehard blues, but a much larger majority of voters base their support on the performance and policies of the parties," says Jonathan Sullivan from the University of Nottingham's School of Contemporary Chinese Studies.

"If the blue-green cleavage was absolute, we wouldn't see the kind of fluidity and volatility in election results in Taiwan," he said.

"Remember that after 2008 the DPP was supposedly finished, while the KMT rose to ascendancy. Now the opposite is happening."


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