Fri, May 28, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: No more fantasies about China

The recent focus on the "middle line" of the Taiwan Strait reveals a few things very important to the people of Taiwan -- the delicate and volatile nature of the relationship between the two sides of the Strait, and the potential threat that China poses to Taiwan. Unfortunately, way too many people in this country do not seem to realize the true nature of Taiwan's relationship with China and continue to harbor unrealistic expectations and fantasies about a "Chinese motherland."

What caused the sudden interest in the middle line was a news story published on Monday by a newspaper in Hong Kong, theWen Wei Po, alleging that Chinese fighter jets had successfully fended off a group of Taiwanese fighter jets that tried to cross the middle line. The newspaper then went on to quote a high-ranking Chinese military official as saying that Taiwanese naval aircraft would be "crushed" if they dare any provocation.

In view of the highly sensitive, if not strenuous, relationship between China, the US and Taiwan over the past months, and the compromising attitude demonstrated in President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) inaugural speech with respect to major issues of concern to both countries, it is virtually impossible to believe that there can be any deliberate provocation on the part of Taiwan. In fact, the Ministry of National Defense has already denied the story -- that there had been any crossing of the middle line, whether deliberate or inadvertent, by any of its aircraft.

However, all the recent discussions about the middle line has revealed that, although it did not happen this time, an inadvertent crossing of the line by either side is a possibility that cannot be ruled out. The middle line is an imaginary line drawn by the US in the middle of the Strait in 1951. While Taiwan's government knows about its location, pilots of fighter jets typically have to rely on instructions from the control tower to avoid crossing the line inadvertently. As for whether the Chinese government knows about it, upon inquiry by lawmakers in the Legislative Yuan, Minister of National Defense Lee Jye (李傑) answered "I don't know." However, he went on to explain that, judging from the consistent flight patterns of Chinese fighter jets, the other side "ought to" know about it.

In other words, although the US in all likelihood had communicated to Beijing the location of the middle line, the two sides of the Strait had been relying on "tactful understanding" about where this critical line is, in the absence of any direct confirmation from the other side. In view of China's hostility toward this country -- as evident from the large number of Chinese missiles targeting Taiwan and the threats by the Taiwan Affairs Office in recent days -- one cannot help but wonder whether peace in the Strait is hanging by a very thin thread.

If China intends to start a war in the Strait, one cannot rule out the possibility that it may do so by claiming provocative crossings of the middle line by Taiwanese fighters or by attacking such jets in alleged self-defense. In particular, since Wen Wei Po is known as a mouthpiece of Beijing, the coercive undertone of the news story in question cannot be overlooked.

What the incident should reveal to the people of Taiwan is that, in reality, China is an enemy state that could barely be kept behind a middle line, the location of which most people did not even know about until Lee made it public this week. Yet, under the circumstances, many people continue to feel a confused sense of national identity. The middle line of the Strait goes a long way in revealing the genuine nature of the cross-strait relationship. The problem is some people just don't want to face the reality.

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