Mon, Jun 21, 2004 - Page 8 News List

China's leaders need reality check

By Lai I-chung 賴怡忠

The 2004 annual report submitted on June 15th by the Congress-mandated bipartisan committee, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, has recommended that the "Congress and the administration should conduct a fresh assessment of the one-China policy." Also in the State Department's written testimony to Congress on April 21, it seems that the US has adjusted its Taiwan policy in order to adhere to its "one-China policy." It is generally believed that the reassessment of this policy was triggered by the re-election victory of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

This move is long overdue. I believe a reality check on this policy is urgently needed now, given that all the geo-strategic, political and social conditions have changed since its enactment thirty years ago.

The US' "one-China policy" can be traced back to the 1972 Shanghai Communique. At that time, the US-China rapprochement vis-a-vis the Soviet Union benefited both Washington and Beijing, and implicit understanding on the Taiwan issue was necessary to avoid letting this problem distract US-China strategic cooperation. It was crafted by taking advantage of the ROC government's positions then, as reflected in the following sentence: "The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one-China and that Taiwan is a part of that China."

In 1972, Taiwan was still under the Chiang Kai-Shek(蔣介石) regime's authoritarian rule. China unification was the regime's sacred mission, and Chinese identity was imposed on the native Taiwanese people. Adhering to the Taiwanese identity was viewed as equivalent to subversion of the state. And people who questioned the validity of China unification were risking capital punishment.

Today, the collapse of the Soviet Union has taken away the necessity for US-China strategic cooperation. Governments in both capitals need to deal with each other on their own merits. Though both the US and China are concerned about terrorism and nuclear development in North Korea, these two issues can hardly serve as a strategic common bond, as the threat of the Soviet Union did during the Cold War era.

The democratization process in Taiwan also dramatically changed the political landscape. According to one opinion survey publicized by National Chengchi University last December, people who identify themselves as "Chinese only" account for only about 10 percent of respondents; the remainder identify themselves as pure Taiwanese (50 percent) and Taiwanese-Chinese (40 percent). This shows the reverse of the situation in 1992, when the poll was first conducted and Taiwan started to accelerate its democratization.

Chen's re-election also means that the "unification with China" option receives no backing in today's society. Despite the widely perceived shortcomings of Chen's first term in office, he still managed to increase his share of the vote by 12 percent. The core reason for this shift is that both Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan and People First Party Chairman James Soong were unable to assuage people's doubts about their determination to prevent Taiwan from being swallowed by China.

Thus the three pillars of the one-China policy are either nonexistent or marginalized: the need for US-China strategic cooperation against a global competitor, the Taiwan government's goal for the unification with China, and the omnipresence of Chinese identity. Thus to demand Taiwan to reach a deal with Beijing on "one China" can be expected to meet strong resistance by the Taiwanese people. Moreover, since the current practice of the one-China policy has severely limited Taiwan's international participation in the globalization era, Taiwan's democracy is now being put to the test. This is because participation for rule-making and trend awareness are essential for the nation's sustained political, economic and social development.

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