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Taiwan-China Meeting Raises Reunification Hopes

Dr. Brenda Sun
Dr. B. C. Sun is a China strategist and award-winning economist. She began her career on Wall Street and was Vice President at Citibank and Basil Blackwell Fellow at The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), where she earned her Ph.D.

That’s Dr. Brenda Sun, a Logan, Utah-based economics scholar, reciting a famous Chinese poem that focuses on peas being cooked in a pot.

Legend has it that, back in the era of the Three Kingdoms, an emperor challenged his younger brother, a poetry prodigy, to make a poem in the time it took to take seven baby-steps. The product of that wager became the now-famous poem decrying the hostility between the two brothers. The peas being cooked by burning the stem, though they come from the same root.

Such imagery of rival brothers was certainly apt during Saturday’s historic meeting between the presidents of China and Taiwan. The event was the first of its kind since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. Sun said that the chances of reconciliation between the two governments, who don’t formally recognize each other, are improving thanks to recent efforts to foster trade and understanding.

“Over the last 15 years or so, the mainland Chinese government and the Taiwanese government have done a lot of ground work facilitating economic exchange between the two lands,” Sun said. “There are literally hundreds of flights between the two entities on a weekly basis. The people are mixed and even I hear a lot of mainland Chinese using Taiwanese slang and vice versa. They’re really mixing in with each other very well and, definitely, mainland China is Taiwan’s biggest trading partner.”

The governments of Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China are both committed to a unified country, although it is still under debate exactly what that would mean in practice. Sun said that Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has been voicing his support for reunification for nearly a decade.

“President Ma back in 2006 when I was still doing my research and working at the London School of Economics, he came to speak. He came across to us, back then and now, as pretty much the same person,” she said. “But even at the time when Ma came to speak, he was already talking about bridging the gap between the two governments.”

However, many Taiwanese citizens remain suspicious of mainland China, which has been steadily growing into a superpower. Sun said that roughly half of the island’s people favor full independence.

“A part of the Taiwanese population—close to about half of them—they are for independence. Of course there is a very well substantiated feeling of uncertainty and risk because you have a more democratic society than mainland China,” she said. “To many Chinese, overall, it seems like [an] irreversible development that perhaps has come to a culmination on Saturday.

Since the Cold War, the United States has had a policy of militarily aiding Taiwan. According to Sun, the United States could play a positive role in facilitating reconciliation.

“The United States has done a very good job in many different areas with its humanitarian politics, in terms of really bringing nations together. In the past, it has done a lot better in terms of, ‘Hey, you know, here’s the little brother [Taiwan], the mainland Chinese might come down on him,’” she said. “That went down quite well but [now] it’s not just the desire of a lot of the people, it’s really the cultural-ethnic roots that are really speaking very loudly to the tune of reunification.”

Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang Party will be challenged by a more independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party in the upcoming 2016 presidential election.