Wed, Apr 07, 2004 - Page 8 News List

A stronger democracy is good for the region

By Liu Kuan-teh 劉冠德

While the post-election domestic politics are entangling with electoral disputes and the election-eve shooting incident, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has already started "meeting the world" through interviews with the international media.

The main interests of the international media lies in the questions of what constitutes Chen's next step, especially how he plans to reconstruct his relationship with his Beijing counterpart and how he would convince the international community his proposed new constitution in 2006 has no bearing on a unilateral change to the status quo of the Taiwan Strait.

There is a perception internationally that Chen has sent a mixed message on his approach to China. His speech on election night was considered quite conciliatory, while more recent remarks have been interpreted as taking a tougher, more defiant attitude. For example, while Chen advocates the establishment of a framework for cross-strait peace and stability, he also contends that the rise of the so-called "Taiwanese conscious-ness" has reinforced the notion of "one country on each side" of the Taiwan Strait."

What impact will such a complicated picture have on the future cross-strait relationship? What specific steps can Chen take in his second term to reach out to China and try to break the cross-strait deadlock and to reassure the world that he won't cross Beijing's "red lines" on the independence issue?

Most international observers seem to have assumed Chen's victory and his strong adherence to Taiwan's statehood poses a clear challenge to Beijing's "one China" principle and will inevitably damage cross-strait relations.

Such a stereotypical reading fails to take into account new elements of Taiwan's further democratization and Chen's proposal to build a peace framework.

First, Chen has reiterated that the essential motive for the new constitution centers more on the improvement of "good gover-nance" and bringing about political institutionalization. The idea is to hold a constitutional convention to deal with more than two-thirds of the Constitution without touching upon any changes to the name or territory of the country.

The enactment of a new constitution will have nothing to do with changing the status quo. Nor is it related to the unification or independence dispute; it involves the deepening of the nation's democratic consolidation.

Moreover, the framework for peace and stability across the Strait aims at crystallizing cross-strait interaction and institutionalized cross-strait dialogue. By making bilateral talks more predictable, the framework enables international monitoring, even facilitation. It reduces surprises and miscalculation. Isn't this what the international community has been anticipating?

A democratized Taiwan helps reinforce other new democracies in Asia. It's also produces a "light house" effect on China in terms of promoting democratic openness and liberalization.

Most importantly, a transparent and peaceful cross-strait interaction is not only beneficial to regional stability but also is in line with US interests in the Asia Pacific region.

To demonstrate his good will for cross-strait reconciliation, Chen has publicly called for both sides of the Strait to put aside political demands and replace them with a peaceful framework. If Beijing put aside its long-term precondition of the "one China" principle and Taiwan put aside the notion of "one country on each side," a common ground would be found between Taipei and Beijing. That is, peace and stability.

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