The Washington Post ran an interesting article over the weekend on Tsai Eng Meng, Taiwan’s third-richest man and an avid supporter of the island’s unification with mainland China (on whose market Tsai depends for 90 percent of his profits). “Tsai says he can’t wait” for that day, according to the Post. “Whether you like it or not, unification is going to happen sooner or later,” Tsai said. “I really hope I can see that.” While such enthusiasm for unification with the authoritarian mainland may be surprising to Americans and is certainly not in tune with public opinion in Taiwan, it is not entirely out of the ordinary either: last September (the latest month for which statistics are available), 1.4 percent of Taiwan’s population favored unification as soon as possible and 10.6 percent favored unification eventually.
What is disturbing is Tsai’s willingness to serve as an apologist for Beijing:
China “is very democratic in lots of places. Lots of things are not what people outside think,” he said, adding that it is “‘constantly moving forward” while “Taiwan progresses very slowly.”
Elections, he said, are fine, but economics should come first: “Most of us don’t want to become some sort of chairman or president … From the standpoint of ordinary people, the most important thing is to eat a little better, sleep a little better, and be a little happier.”
But particularly shocking, if not outright despicable, are Tsai’s views on the Tiananmen Square massacre:
Tsai said he, too, used to fear China’s ruling Communist Party and didn’t want to risk doing business on the mainland, but that changed after the 1989 military assault on student protesters in Tiananmen Square. While the crackdown outraged most in Taiwan, Tsai said he was struck by footage of a lone protester standing in front of a People’s Liberation Army tank. The fact that the man wasn’t killed, he said, showed that reports of a massacre were not true: “I realized that not that many people could really have died.”
While Tiananmen convinced much of the world of the true nature of China’s communist regime, it confoundedly disabused Tsai of his previous beliefs about Beijing. Of course, hundreds of protesters were, in fact, killed in the crackdown and the fate of the “tank man,” as he has come to be called, is a mystery—though odds are that he is not living in freedom, if he is living at all.
One wonders if the irony of these comments is lost on Tsai. Disturbing as his remarks are, in Taiwan he is free to make them. On the mainland, Tiananmen is a taboo topic, one which most Chinese are simply too fearful to discuss openly. And that’s why so many of Taiwan’s people are thankful for the freedoms that their government protects—even if Tsai Eng Meng is not.