Sat, Feb 17, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: `Interim' means a life sentence

The Presidential Office spent yesterday trying to explain that initial reports that Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) looked favorably on the "interim agreement" plan that has become the solution to the so-called "Taiwan problem" in some US foreign policy circles, were grossly exaggerated. We hope so. If the president found genuine merit in the suggestions of Stanley Roth, late of the US State Department, we would be extremely alarmed -- and here let us add that it shows the lamentable drift of Chen's China policy away from both a sensible course and his earlier ideals -- that that we cannot predict what his response would be.

The interim agreement idea, originally thought up by Kenneth Lieberthal of the University of Michigan, aims to allay the fears of both sides of the Taiwan Strait and create an environment of peaceful cooperation leading up to eventual negotiations on unification. Specifically, China was to renounce the threat of force against Taiwan while Taiwan gave assurances that it would not declare independence. The two sides were then to retain autonomy over their own domestic and foreign affairs while working on building a relationship with each other for 50 years, at the end of which they were to sit down together and open negotiations on unification. The basic idea was that the each side would renounce the action that most worried the other side -- these were the "interim agreements" from which a relationship could be built leading to the kind of trust that could enable unification talks to take place.

The Presidential Office spent most of yesterday trying to explain that what was originally reported -- alarmingly -- as Chen's endorsement of this idea was in fact merely the president's agreeing that a long-term process of confidence building cooperation would be a good idea.

Maybe it would, but the price of erecting the political structure within which this kind of cooperation could take place is, in the Lieberthal model, the sacrifice of Taiwan's sovereignty.

Frankly, the interim agreement model is an excellent one if unification is your eventual goal -- which is, no doubt, why it has been adopted, although without credit being given to its author, by James Soong (宋楚瑜). But is unification what Taiwan seeks?

Polls routinely show that 60 percent of Taiwanese seek no change in the status quo while around 20 percent want formal independence. Since the status quo is de facto independence, we might interpret this as showing as many as 80 percent of Taiwanese are opposed to renunciation of sovereignty.

Perhaps Roth, Leiberthal and company might ask whether this 80 percent or so would remain so opposed if sovereignty was the price of peace. To which our reply can only be to ask what could be the value of a peace that was actually the result of a cave-in to the threat of war. And that really is what is wrong with the interim agreement's idea.

Once you admit that Taiwanese do not necessarily seek unification, then reaching the kind of agreement proposed can only be seen as rewarding China for its intransigence over the use of military force.

The reason we don't like to see Chen endorsing the interim agreement idea in any way is simple: It is intrinsic to the idea that sovereignty is something that Taiwan will eventually renounce. For the president to speak favorably of any part of the plan is to run the risk that he looks on sovereignty as something which is negotiable. That, given the current appalling reality of the regime across the Taiwan Strait, is something that is simply not the case. It is simply irresponsible to say or do anything that might suggest otherwise.

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