Thu, Jan 06, 2000 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Lien has a bright idea

Vice President Lien Chan (3s戰) does not carry a reputation for creativity when it comes to formulating cross-strait policy. He has always been seen as more heavily weighed down by the KMT's ideological baggage than his mentor, President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), which has prevented him from moving beyond the party's standard line that the "ROC has been an independent, sovereign nation since 1912." This perception was sharpened by his lukewarm endorsement of Lee's "two states" declaration last July.

How refreshing it is, therefore, to see Lien break the mold by suggesting a bold and incisive policy move on the cross-strait front -- especially when it seems that independent presidential candidate James Soong (宋楚瑜) is ready to give away the farm by signing a 30-year "mutual nonaggression treaty" with China.

What Lien has proposed is not so much a change in policy or strategy as a change in the presentation of Taiwan's position in the cross-strait debate. It is, in effect, the creation of a clever new public relations slogan: respect for human rights is higher than respect for sovereignty. In other words, respect for Taiwan's human rights should be higher than respect for China's claim to sovereignty over Taiwan.

This is obviously going to have an effect on politicians around the world, coming as it does in the wake of NATO's successful intervention in Kosovo. Can US President Bill Clinton, for one, ask the American public to condone an intervention on the grounds of human rights in Yugoslavia but not in the Taiwan Strait? Human rights are universal, after all, and the US has been a champion of the cause throughout the world. It is also a cause that is much easier for the international community to identify with, and more convenient for its leaders to exploit for their own public relations purposes. Better, certainly, than taking sides in a murky PRC-ROC sovereignty dispute that traces its origins to a civil war which took place half a century ago.

True enough, as Lien's critics have been quick to point out, this still leaves Taiwan at the mercy of fickle public opinion in the West. But it makes Taiwan's case much easier to sell abroad. And it does not supersede the argument that Taiwan's sovereignty rests with its people -- if anything, the new slogan is complementary: Taiwan's sovereignty is strengthened by its people's desire to uphold their human rights.

Soong, on the other hand, seems determined to cast himself as the great compromiser in cross-strait affairs and, by so doing, is creating the impression in international circles that Taiwan is prepared to enter into negotiations on its sovereignty -- however long-term they may be. This is something which no demo-cratic nation would ever willingly do. Yet by suggesting that Taiwan and China sign a "mutual nonaggression treaty" for a fixed period of, say, 30 years, he is proposing Taiwan begin treading the path that China and the US State Department have been increasingly desperate to lay down for it. By signing such an agreement -- dare we call it an "interim agreement" as suggested by Stanley Roth and Kenneth Lieberthal, Clinton's point-men on China policy -- Taiwan would be creating the impression that the clock has been set ticking on reunification. This would be disastrous from a strategic point of view for any cross-strait negotiator, and no one with Taiwan's interests at heart would have thought to suggest it.

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