Sat, Jul 24, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Singapore mitigates cross-strait situation

By Liu Kuan-teh劉冠德

With less than a month to go before he is slated to take over the premiership, Singaporean Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍) came to Taiwan on a low-key visit earlier this month. During his stay, Lee had the opportunity to meet heavyweights from across the political spectrum, as well as business tycoons.

The timing of Lee's visit deserves special attention, and the influence that he might exert on Asian affairs should not be overlooked. The main purpose of Lee's short stop-over before heading back to Singapore was to get first-hand information on what's going on in Taiwanese politics, as well as sounding out President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) policies toward Singapore and China.

A lot of attention focused on whether Lee was playing the role of a special envoy between Taipei and Beijing, but he strongly denied this and reiterated that Singapore has no intention of acting as a go-between. And unlike his father in 1992, Lee also rejected the idea of pushing for the resumption of cross-strait dialogue.

It would have been inappropriate for Lee to interfere in the cross-strait stalemate in this way. Despite Chen having offered another olive branch to Beijing on May 20, China still refuses to talk to the Chen administration. The best chance for both sides of the Taiwan Strait to restart talks would be next year -- if the Democratic Progressive Party wins the majority in the legislative elections and US President George W. Bush is re-elected.

The cross-strait situation is a hot potato which no one would be interested in touching at the present time. Lee is smart enough to know what the bottom line is. As he has been traveling to China on a regular basis, but last visited Taiwan 12 years ago, the first thing he needed to determine was the real atmosphere of what has been going on in Taiwan before making any potentially inappropriate moves. Portraying himself as someone with good political connections to both Taipei and Beijing leaves plenty of room for Lee to exert political pressure in the future.

While keeping a proper distance, Lee skillfully expressed his observations on the current cross-strait situation. He said he was "troubled" by two things: The first is the growing Taiwanese identity among the population, in which is embedded a deeply rooted belief that China will not attack Taiwan and that the US will come to Taiwan's rescue if Beijing does attack.

Second, Lee emphasized that the Taiwanese are too preoccupied with elections and domestic issues, which has led to a severe lack of comprehension of international affairs. He did point out, however, that the development of the cross-strait relationship and Taiwan's democratization have been driven largely by domestic concerns.

Indeed, there are two sides to a coin. Taiwan's internal democratic change is a road of no return. But just because domestic factors overwhelmed international influence in affecting Taiwanese politics does not mean Taiwan has isolated itself from the global community.

The rise of a Taiwanese identity has followed a natural course and is the product of democratic consolidation. In essence, democracy is what separates Taiwan from China. There is no justifiable reason to think that the rise of a Taiwanese identity is detrimental to cross-strait peace. China's endless diplomatic saber rattling and constant military threats are the major obstacles to the normalization of cross-strait relations.

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