China is viewing the next 20 years as an opportunity for peaceful development. It is viewing these 20 years, the second stage of reforms and deregulation, as "a period of strategic opportunity" for raising the country to new levels.
China, however, views Taiwan's gradual move toward independence as the greatest threat to this period of "peaceful" development. In particular, with the planned amendment of the Constitution (or the writing of a new one) in 2006 and the promulgation of that Constitution in 2008, Taiwan will cross over China's "red line," and there is a definite possibility that this will be seen as a provocation for war.
The movement to rectify Taiwan's national title is not only a matter of the Taiwan Solidarity Union trying to impose concrete demands for the writing of a new Constitution, it is also an attempt by the independence-minded party to take the initiative in the nation's "big issue." The use of Taiwan's democratic process to write a new and appropriate Constitution and the attempt to define the status quo in the Taiwan Strait from the perspective of "Taiwan, Republic of China" are certain to cause much distain for the US and China, and will be the defining issue on which China bases its decision whether to invade.
If China responds to this situation by speeding up the promulgation of a national unification law, it will touch a sensitive nerve among Taiwan's independence proponents and cause a wave of "anti-China" protests. If that happens, cross-strait peace will deteriorate.
China is hoping for 20 years of strategic opportunity, during which time it can keep a lower profile and stop pressing "peaceful unification" and "one country, two systems" on Taiwan in favor of maintaining the status quo.
A Beijing-based think tank, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, has said that the next six to eight years are a crucial period in the cross-strait relationship, and also the most dangerous period.
Many analysts hold that the greatest obstacle to cross-strait negotiations is China's insistence on the "one China" principle, as well as its use of military intimidation. This issue is not only an obstacle to cross-strait negotiations, it is also a catalyst for the Taiwan independence movement. As long as Taiwan holds national elections, the nationalism inherent in such independence slogans as "love Taiwan or sell out Taiwan" and "protect Taiwan and oppose China" is the most effective way to mobilize the public against the idea of reunification. Who, then, cares about political ideology or administrative achievements?
The leader who most fiercely opposes China will be the one who gets the vote. Accordingly, Taiwan's future political leaders must become tougher and more hawkish. But if China finds it difficult to tolerate such a leadership, its own hawks are certain to rear their ugly head. And if the two sides of the Taiwan Strait move toward more hawkish positions, nationalism and attempts at vilifying each other will make war inescapable.
China must change its idea of what Taiwan's independence is. How, for example, should it be defined? Could a clearly-defining recognition of de facto indepen-dence but not formal independence satisfy the Chinese government? If that were possible, China would not have to worry about provocations or a gradual push for formal independence. Dialogue must be built on recognition of the status quo.