Wed, Jul 21, 2004 - Page 8 News List

It's time to revisit the status quo

By Nat Bellocchi白樂崎

Last October, as Taiwan's presidential election campaign was heating up for the election in March of this year, I wrote about the status quo in terms of the many polls in Taiwan that asked people's preference on the subject of unification or independence.

My concern then was that so many of the respondents opted for the status quo, in one way or the other, thus making the majority's preference less clear. The polling was seen as Taiwan's internal matter, with important external political and security consequences to be sure, but cloaked primarily as a domestic campaign issue. Speak of status quo today -- and the media and the politicians do in great abundance -- and the term is seen abroad only as a cross-strait issue.

The result of Taiwan's presidential election has put into question the status quo of the past several years. It is getting increasingly difficult to confine the meaning of status quo to a narrow definition of China wanting Taiwan, a Taiwan that does not want to be a part of China and that neither side can unilaterally change. There are too many activities going on between both sides, underneath that broad status quo umbrella, that are meant eventually to meet the same objective of one side or the other. These activities will continue, and are drawing ever closer to a point where the old umbrella can't keep out the rain.

The US was genuinely pleased with the strengthening of democracy when the 2000 election resulted in a change in government, and especially after the new president's inaugural speech of that year. As the election drew near, there were many in the US that expected the pan-blue ticket would return to power. This was based more on the number of votes the pan-blue coalition had obtained in the last election than ideological preference.

But the US government's stance was, traditionally and realistically, that the US could work with whoever is elected.

The assertive strategy of the ruling party in the campaign on the issue of national identity, however, shook the foreign policy establishment in the US. Seeing the issue in cross-strait terms, and ignoring the tendency in America's own elections that winning an election is paramount, tensions in the US-Taiwan relationship escalated. Following the election and after some communication between the two sides took place, tensions receded, but the need for a policy review became apparent. A near consensus on national identity by the people of Taiwan made it clear that the status quo as defined by the poll takers may have changed.

China's behavior in the election in Taiwan was considerably different than in the year 2000. The coercive rhetoric was modified. The result of the latter election, however, came as a much greater surprise. This is understandable -- China's leaders aren't much on democratic elections. But there is more to this surprise than that. "Separatists" in Taiwan were supposed to be in the minority. "Taiwan compatriots" were supposed to be the mainstream. The migration of so many companies, people and money from Taiwan to China was supposed to bring people closer to China. And though it must have hurt, the opposition, despite its shift in campaign rhetoric closer to the Democratic Progressive Party, was more to China's liking than the present ruling party. Here too, then, the need for policy review was becoming apparent.

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