The latest talks between high-level US and Chinese officials have come and gone with all the players reiterating their standard lines. This time, US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice met with Chinese President Hu Jintao (
Li presented Rice with a "three stops" request -- evidence that China perceives a warmer US-Taiwan relationship and is eager to quash it. China demanded that the US stop selling advanced arms to Taiwan, stop all official engagements with Taiwan and stop offering Taiwan its support in gaining membership to international organizations that require statehood as a condition for membership.
These demands come in the wake of the increased quality and quantity of arms the US is willing to sell to Taiwan -- in the form of diesel submarines, antisubmarine planes and Patriot antimissile systems; increased military exchanges between the US and Taiwan; a fuller, more respectful reception for President Chen Shui-bian (
That Rice rebuffed these demands and reiterated the US' commitment to the "one China" policy was to be expected. That Rice went further, urging Jiang to open lines of communication with Chen, was also to be expected.
However, that Rice went even further, describing as unhelpful China's condition for talks -- that Taiwan accept the "one China" policy -- was a refreshing deviation from scripted policy lines. Her comments echo statements made by Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, who said that the governments on both sides need to "pursue dialogue as soon as possible through any available channels without preconditions."
As Richard Bush, former chairman and managing director of the American Institute in Taiwan, said, "It does not seem constructive for one side to set preconditions for a resumption of dialogue that the other side even suspects would be tantamount to conceding a fundamental issue before discussion begins. For side A, in effect, to ask side B to concede a major point would only raise side B's doubts about side A's good intentions.
Also, it does not seem helpful [or logical] for one side to say that anything can be discussed once certain conditions are met but rule out in advance discussion of approaches other than its preferred approach."
After all, despite the plethora of unresolved economic and social issues that divide the two sides, all discussion pares down to one issue: the relationship between Taipei and Beijing. But if Chen is forced to accept China's rigid and unrealistic "one China" principle before beginning discussions, what is left to discuss?
For China, the "one China" principle means that there is, unequivocally, one China to which Taiwan belongs. For Taiwan, the "one China" principle is an obstinate relic of a bygone era of a unified Chinese empire, a noose that threatens to suffocate the democracy that has emerged in the past 50 years.
For the US, the "one China" policy is not so much a policy as an ambiguous mantra combining presidential statements, the Three Communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act. Today Taiwan enjoys de facto independence. It meets all the requirements of a state, as the international community determined at the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States.
The conditions for statehood are that a state has a permanent population, a defined territory, a form of government and a capacity to enter into relations with other states. Taiwan clearly passes all tests. It has a defined population of 23 million, a clearly demarcated territory, a democratically elected government and can interact with other states as evinced by the diplomatic relations it shares with more than two dozen states.
cold war relic
Having an open dialogue between China and Taiwan without conditions gives both governments the freedom to discuss solutions for the future. The "one China" principle is a relic of the Cold War and as such it cannot be anachronistically applied as the foundation of discussions about the future of the Taiwan Strait. Unlike so many of these high-level meetings, Taiwan's future is not scripted, nor is it predetermined.
If negotiations must proceed with the condition of a "one China" principle and its assumed outcome, then is there really anything to negotiate? The future of Taiwan and its fate cannot be decided by a decades-old policy formed without the consent of Taiwan's people, it cannot be decided by China, nor can it be decided by the US -- the fate of Taiwan can and will only be decided by the people of Taiwan.
Wu Ming-chi is president of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs.
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