Local pan-blue commentators have recently been claiming that US efforts to facilitate talks between China and Taiwan have been stymied by Chen Shui-bian's intransigence. All Chen has to do, apparently, is to agree to the 1992 consensus that there is one China, of which Taiwan is a part, but each side is allowed to differ on just how that one China is defined.
It is bizarre, five years after Lee Teng-hui's "one country on each side of the Taiwan Strait" comments, that such views are still aired. Polls done at the time of Lee's remarks showed support for his statement at over 70 percent. Since that the DPP got only 39 percent of the vote in the presidential election the following year, this 70 percent support rate shows the closest thing to a cross-party consensus that Taiwan has to offer.
It is also bizarre, seven years after the Hong Kong handover, that anybody thinks that agreements with China are worth the paper they are written on. China has broken every promise it made to Hong Kong, and there is no reason why it would not do the same with Taiwan.
The "one China" policy the so-called consensus refers to has always had two versions, one for Taiwan, in which "one China" is capable of multiple interpretations, and another version for the international community, in which "one China" means the People's Republic of China. There is no doubt that as soon as Taiwan signed up for the "domestic" version, this would be portrayed by China internationally as agreeing that it was part of the PRC. For any Taiwanese government to consider any concession or agreement on the 1992 consensus would be diplomatic suicide -- though that no doubt is what these pan-blue commentators want Taiwan to commit.
The real problem, as we have said many times before, is China's inability to come to grips with the truth about Taiwan. That truth is that most people here, even among the pan-blues, see Taiwan as a separate country. They have no wish to reunify. Even if Beijing could provide any tempting incentive -- and up to this time it never has -- Hong Kong has shown them that the current government, in fact the current political system in China, can never be trusted.
The best that any reunificationist could hope for is some kind of confederation -- as Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan once proposed. And for this to happen, there would have to be trust that Beijing hasn't even thought about building.
The fact is that until Beijing junks the straitjacket of nationalist rhetoric that informs its policy toward Taiwan, and tries to understand how democratic change has put the kind of reunification it seeks beyond its grasp, and then does some constructive thinking about what kind of relationship might be possible with Taiwan to preclude its absolute separation, there is very little reason to talk.
It is hard not to see the US desire to bring the "one China" policy more into line with reality as a way of putting pressure on China to get reasonable about Taiwan. But what does the US want? Obviously to avoid a war in the Taiwan Strait, for which reason it has previously favored the pan-blues, equated with the "status quo," to the independence-minded pan-greens. But another US interest is making sure that reunification never occurs. After the prevention of war, this is the main strategic concern of both the US and Japan. It is also the truth that, in cross-strait affairs, dare not speak its name. The US has to try to ensure peace between Taiwan and China while making sure that Taiwan is left with enough independence from China to suit US strategic needs -- a subtle balancing act indeed.