Mon, Mar 31, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Lien Chan makes China an issue

KMT Chairman Lien Chan's (連戰) speech following his -- inevitable -- nomination as the party's presidential candidate contained this little gem: "I will push for immediate opening of a direct air link with China and sign several agreements with China so that Taiwan and mainland people can live in peace."

A pity that Lien wasn't more forthcoming because we urgently need to know what these agreements might be. Right now it is hard to know whether Lien is a pathetic King Lear: "I will do such things, though I know not yet what they be ..." or whether he is moving one step nearer to his goal of selling Taiwan's sovereignty for Beijing's anointment of him as the Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) of the Taiwan Special Administrative Region.

What sort of agreement does Lien have in mind? What sort of agreement would be palatable to Beijing? Direct links perhaps -- there is little popular resistance to what most take as a common-sense measure ignoring, perhaps unwisely, the important security issues involved. But it seems from Lien's speech that the agreements are in addition to the opening of direct links. So what might they contain?

We know what Beijing wants: an end to Taiwan's diplomatic efforts and a commitment to some kind of reunification. This seems to be something that the KMT of Lien Chan -- unlike the KMT of Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) -- is prepared to offer. Taiwan's quid pro quo will of course be some kind of peace treaty, supposedly lifting the military threat from China. If this is the case we immediately have to say that it is a very one-sided deal since Beijing gets a commitment from Taiwan that is in all practical senses irrevocable -- for any future move on the part of Taiwan's government to pull out of it would be regarded as a cassus belli -- while Beijing's commitment is something it can tear up any time it likes.

One might expect Beijing to want an agreement by Taiwan to cease its purchase of advanced arms from the US. After all, it will reason, why spend so much on advanced weapons when Taiwan faces no military threat. To agree to this is to agree to Taiwan's extinction in anything like its current form. But will Lien see it like that?

To speculate more on what Lien might be willing to sign is probably a waste of time at this stage until he has made his aims clearer and provided real policy details. After all, he might only be talking of restarting the SEF-ARATS consultation process which produced landmark agreements in, er, recognition of each other's registered mail.

But something else bothers us. Before the last presidential election PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) sensibly pointed out that it was a waste of time for a leader of Taiwan to go to China until there was a consensus in Taiwan over what his negotiating position should be. Three years later we are still no nearer to such a consensus. It is regrettable that the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) government, in order to avoid controversy and intra-party dissension, has done little to fire the tough public debate that would be needed to form one.

But taking a cue from Soong, we have to ask Lien this: Since there is no consensus among the people of Taiwan about relations with China, how does he think he can speedily sign agreements with China on their behalf? Lien might claim that victory gives him a mandate. But it would do so only if China, not that KMT favorite, the economy, is the main topic of the election. So when the DPP attacks Lien on China during the campaign and the KMT accuses the DPP of trying to cover up its own lackluster record, the answer is, no -- China is central to the KMT platform, that is what the election is about. Lien said it was yesterday.

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