Taiwan reps at NPC: less than meets the eye

BEIJING: Where does Taiwan and mainland China meet? Some say Kinmen, the military outpost under Taiwan control, which borders Xiamen in Fujian.

Others say it's Pingtan in coastal Fujian province, where a special economic zone targeted at Taiwanese businessmen is being built at blistering speed and state investments have topped 100 billion yuan (S$20 billion) from 2010 to last December.

One place where they don’t meet, though, is at China’s annual legislative session, where the 13 delegates selected to represent Taiwan at the National People’s Congress (NPC) aren’t all that representative.

Za men guo jia,” said Guangdong-based delegate Chen Weiwen, referring to “our country” in his Cantonese-accented Mandarin. Another spoke in a thick Beijing brogue.

Their accents gave them away. Only the Taipei-born Chen Yunying, wife of famous economist Justin Lin, sounded Taiwanese.

Most of the 13 are not born or raised on the island. Nor do they live there. Their claim to being Taiwanese is through grandparents or great grandparents who hailed from places like Hsinchu in Taiwan.

Some delegates didn’t even mention Taiwan in their speeches during a discussion on March 9, held on the sidelines of the NPC session.

“With the number of lifts going up, safety problems have also increased,” said Mr Zhu Taiqing. Elevator safety in China seems like a speck of an issue, but a powerful country has to look after all aspects of people’s welfare, he added.

In contrast, another delegate Chen Qinghai went big and spoke of the climate. If China did nothing to lick air pollution, he argued, it might become known as the “Sick Man of East Asia” again – a label stuck on China around the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 – because of high rates of lung cancer.

When it was time to ask questions, a reporter of China’s state Xinhua news agency asked how representative the Taiwan delegates were, as if to pre-empt doubts.

In his reply, delegation chief Wang Yifu stressed that they were chosen through a poll. What he didn’t say was that this was done in mainland China and not in Taiwan itself.

Things are tricky because mainland China sees Taiwan as a renegade province it is prepared to retake by force but the Kuomintang-ruled Taiwan, or the Republic of China (ROC) as it’s formally called, thinks it’s more than that.

For now, Beijing and Taipei agree that there’s one China but differ over what it entails - the gist of the “1992 Consensus” they struck in a meeting in Hong Kong.

The Communist Party continues to have a Taiwan delegation at its parliament to signify its jurisdiction over Taiwan. In contrast, until 1990, the ROC also had lawmakers representing different provinces and regions of China to signify that it covers more than Taiwan.

A reporter from Taiwan’s government Central News Agency asked unceremoniously during last Saturday’s meeting: What’s the difference between Taiwan NPC delegates and lawmakers in Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan. Who do the NPC delegates represent?

“Going by one country, two systems, we don’t have to insist the two sides of the Taiwan Strait does things the same way,” said Mr Wang, shelving the dispute.

Not that those representing Taiwan at the NPC didn’t try to be as Taiwanese as possible.

Entering the Taiwan room of the Great Hall of the People, one notices that the words for Taiwan were in traditional Chinese script like the case on the island. China usually uses the simplified script.

The staff at the Taiwan meeting have also been the most friendly I’ve seen so far. They took care to get chairs for reporters without prompting. They also offered bottled water.

Delegation chief, Mr Wang, stood up and went around introducing each delegate for the benefit of us reporters.

Such courtesy is very Taiwanese, I thought, having spent two years reporting in Taiwan from 2008.

Some delegates also talked about how they are trying to help Taiwanese businessmen on the mainland to protect their investments or raise capital.

Still, there’s only so much they can do to make the best of cross-strait political ambiguity. While ties have improved, it’s still a long way before mainland China and Taiwan can truly meet.

hoaili@sph.com.sg