Mon, Feb 23, 2004 - Page 8 News List

A new identity without a new state

By Cho Hui-wan 卓慧菀

The referendum issue has entered yet another phase. The government has rewritten the referendum questions -- from the original demand for China to withdraw its missiles deployed along its coastal areas -- to whether Taiwan should purchase more advanced anti-missile weapons, and establish a cross-strait confidence-building mechanism.

But the alliance of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) questions whether this referendum meets the criteria for the president to hold a "preventive referendum." They believe President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has acted in contravention of the law.

Obviously, the government switched the focus of the referendum questions from China to ease massive US pressure. But Washington repeatedly stresses that its concern is about Taiwan's intentions in holding a referendum. The US still opposes the referendum if Taiwan's intention is to set a precedent for a future referendum on Taiwan independence.

What is the Taiwanese people's reaction to this significant event? They hope both the presidential election and the referendum will be over soon. After months of wrangling between the two camps, this reaction is normal. Still, the dispute over Taiwan's future will not end after the presidential election. Moreover, the differences in the candidates' views can push the populace to think about Taiwan's future.

After Chen proposed the referendum and a new constitution, he not only caused an uproar in Taiwan, but also shocked the US, which immediately expressed its concern. But the government, backed by public support, became even more aggressive. Some therefore predicted that Washington would give Chen the cold shoulder during his US stopover last November. Surprisingly, Chen's "glorious trip" ended gloriously. Not only did he receive a human rights award, deliver a speech and attend large-scale banquets with overseas Taiwanese, but New York dignitaries like Mayor Michael Bloomberg did not shy away from the media after meeting Chen. I interpret this reception as a US policy of "a new identity without a new state."

China's economy is growing rapidly and its military power is expanding. Its influence on Northeast and Southeast Asian countries has increased significantly, making it a challenger to the US hegemony in Asia. Before his US visit, Chen already made it known to the US government that he would reiterate his "five noes" publicly, making clear that the proposed referendum and new constitution would only deepen and institutionalize democracy.

Since Taiwan was not proposing a new state, and because it would be more able to tug at China's elbow with its new constitution and new identity, the Bush administration, with a hawkish ideology, supported Taiwan's posing a challenge to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to some degree.

Chen's election momentum received a great boost after his visit. To reverse the trend, the blue camp decided to support the referendum. Before the Referendum Law (公投法) was passed by the Legislative Yuan, Washington strongly pressured Taipei to ensure that Taiwan would only pursue a new identity and not a new state.

Unexpectedly, Chen made a further move, demanding that the government hold a "preventive referendum" on election day. Beijing, already nervous when the blue camp stopped insisting on the "one China" principle, believed that a referendum would be a prelude to Taiwanese independence. To avoid repeating the mistake of arousing bad blood among the Taiwanese people by direct military threats, which previously boosted the "reactionary" forces, Beijing tried to pressure Taipei through Washington.

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