Wed, May 28, 2003 - Page 8 News List

China's new thinking dies early

By Tung Chen-yuan 童振源

Taiwan's request to join the World Health Organization (WHO) as an observer was once again rejected. The reason, of course, was China's thuggish obstruction. Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi (吳儀) stressed, "As a province of China, Taiwan has no right to participate in the WHO" and "if Taiwan hopes [to gain] outside help, the Chinese central government is willing to consider [extending such help]." Such an inflexible stance clearly shows that the new thinking on Taiwan, announced by the Chinese Communist Party at its 16th National Congress, has died an early death.

Relations across the Taiwan Strait will once again return to the confrontational cycle of international zero-sum games. China will pay a price for this, helping Taiwan to gain even more international sympathy on the WHO participation issue, and at the same time creating even more revulsion among the Taiwanese public toward China's suppression.

During the 16th National Congress last November, then president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) clearly indicated in his report that, "There is but one China in the world; both the mainland and Taiwan belong to one China; China's sovereignty and territorial integrity brook no division."

In fact, before the congress, then premier Zhu Rongji (朱鎔基), vice premier Qian Qichen (錢其琛), foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan (唐家璇) and others had publicly explained a new definition of "one China" -- on such occasions as Tang's speech to the UN General Assembly.

According to this new definition, China would no longer emphasize that Taiwan is part of China, much less one of its provinces. Rather, relations between Taiwan and the mainland would be equal under "one China." At the congress, the party formally incorporated this new definition into its documents in an effort to express China's sincerity.

In addition, in his report Jiang said that under the "one China" premise, the two sides should "discuss the international space in which the Taiwan region may conduct economic, cultural and social activities compatible with its status." As for the issue of Taiwan joining international organizations as a sovereign entity, interviews that I conducted in China at the time suggested that Beijing was not opposed to the two sides discussing the matter and exchanging views under the "one China" principle in order to seek an approach acceptable to both sides.

But this new thinking on Taiwan has died an early death over the WHO issue. As for the definition of "one China," Wu's description has even regressed to the one that was in place before Jiang's "Eight Points" of 1995. As for the issue of Taiwan's participation in international bodies, Wu's stance is a complete rejection of the flexible approach presented by Jiang at the congress.

According to reports, China's Taiwan affairs agencies once suggested that the matter be handled in a more flexible manner, and that Taiwan be allowed to join the WHO under the "one China" principle. But in the end these suggestions were not adopted by the top leadership.

The significance of the early demise of China's new thinking on Taiwan deserves further study. Has the fourth-generation leadership led by President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) proposed a Taiwan-policy strategy entirely different the previous generation led by Jiang? Or could it be that the fourth-generation leadership's hardline stance against Taiwan is an expediency calculated to solidify their own power and avoid criticism from their political enemies?

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