Observation: Let Matsu work her magic
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2014-06-14 10:04 PM
The annual Straits Forum has been touted as a barometer for the development of cross-strait relations. This year, observers and politicians are particularly curious about the political messages from the forum after a three-week-long sunflower student movement partially demanding Taiwan’s government to slam the brakes over the tighter economic and trade ties likely to be triggered by the Legislature’s review of the cross-strait agreement on trade in services. Although the occupation and mass rallies ended in mid-April, the fallout is still left to be seen in Taiwanese society. The Ma Ying-jeou Administration is worried by variables impacting on the agenda for the trade pacts in services and in goods with China as well as the influence on its ambitious plan for regional free trade integration.

Some experts earlier explained that the protest manifested the deep-rooted presence of worry, distrust, and even fear in Taiwanese society, or at least, in certain parts of its population. Seemingly, the economic benefits fail to spill over to a higher level of cooperation, leaving distressed ruling and political elites who are looking for deeper cooperation based on the theory of liberalism and the theory of trade creation effect coined by David Ricardo.

The protest must have been watched and debated on China's side. Experts are curious about what lessons Chinese political figures have learned and what would be next in the development of cross-strait relations.

Compared to the vague theme of last year's forum, participants can find more of a soft touch at the sixth forum and greater grassroots exchanges including a Matsu cultural week to honor the Chinese goddess worshiped by the majority on the island.

The opening remark made by a Chinese high-level official a day before the forum kicked off reveals a more sophisticated and soft touch by bringing out a collective memory of the legend of sea guardian Matsu. The folktale praises the mercy and kindness of Matsu who protects fishermen and fishing businesses, the mainstay of the economy for people in southern China and Taiwan for centuries before industrialization.

At the opening ceremony for the Fujian Matsu Festival, Zhang Zhijun, minister of China's Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), talked about Matsu in an amazingly soft tone, and then moved on to mention the close bond to ancestors on both sides. Zhang said that cross-strait relations will inevitably be met with headwinds and challenges, but he believed that wisdom could lead both sides to find a solution for problems after communications and exchanges of ideas.

One quote from him is heart-warming and, also, very intriguing: “We are on the same boat and sailing on the same ocean. As long as we work together with the same purpose, we can eventually land on the beautiful shore, safely, regardless of sea conditions. The goddess Matsu will be with us on the journey.” It is hard not to make people think of the cross-strait trade-in-services agreement and cooperation hindered by some disagreements in Taiwan.

It is a smart play, after all, to bring out the collective memory and history we share and the bonds we still hold together. Through the expansion of cross-strait grassroots activities and exchanges, mutual understanding might be built up, gradually, and then trust will follow, hopefully. In the end, both sides still need some luck to carry out deeper cooperation, so for now, just let Matsu and the wisdom of leaders work their magic.

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