Thu, Jul 29, 2004 - Page 8 News List

US should take clear stand in Strait

By Andrew Yang楊念祖

In the past week or so, the US, China and Taiwan have all concentrated formidable military forces in exercises in and around the Taiwan Strait. The media in China, Taiwan and throughout the world have sensationalized the events. Some people have taken the exercises out of context and are boldly predicting that China, Taiwan and the US are on the brink of war.

Though the drills heighten emotion and create tension, public opinion favors the peaceful maintenance of the status quo.

The question is how to define the status quo. In the Taiwan Strait, the term has two levels of meaning. The first level is how Taiwan, China and the US interpret the phrase.

For the US, the status quo is based in its "one China" policy, in which it seeks to maintain a situation of "no unification, no independence, no conflict, no peace [treaty]," which in its own estimation best meets US interests in the region. On this basis it encourages cross-strait dialogue, breaking down prejudice and building consensus to create a stable political environment.

For China, status quo means discussing issues such as direct links under the "one China" principle, preparatory to unification under a "one country, two systems" structure.

And for Taiwan, the status quo means that China and Taiwan are two sovereign entities and that Beijing should accept this fact prior to entering negotiations on issues such as direct links.

The second level of the meaning of "status quo" refers to what the various parties want to achieve within their definitions of the term.

Since there is no consensus or common ground between China and Taiwan on what it means to maintain the status quo, the policy pursued by both sides has only deepened mutual sus-picions. Beijing believes that Taipei is pursuing independence under the cover of maintaining the status quo, and the political environment that has emerged after the recent presidential election tends to reinforce this view.

From Taiwan's perspective, China's attempts to isolate it politically and economically are a result of Beijing's insistence on "one China" and its efforts toward unification.

As the two sides of the Strait become increasingly suspicious of each other, they have both lobbied the US with accusations of wrong-doing on the other side. At the same time, military threats and the manipulation of public opinion have deepened the mistrust.

This causes problems for US policymakers. Not only must they listen to the complaints from both sides, but on the domestic front they also have to mediate between the hawks and doves who are pulling in opposite directions on this issue.

Because the US position is full of contradiction and compromise, their principles and policies for maintaining the status quo have gradually lost credibility.

With Taipei and Beijing largely concerned with their own interests, they are not concerned with the US' problems. And Washington, while willing to help ease the tension between Taipei and Beijing, is clearly unable to achieve much.

With domestic security and the war against terrorism the primary concerns of the US political establishment, they have little time to concern themselves with the Strait. Even the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula has to be sorted out through six-nation talks.

It is quite clear that the US is can do little to resolve the cross-strait crisis. In response to Taipei's complaints, it can only recommend calm, and advise the country to bide its time to win greater space to maneuver. But the government does not see time as being on its side. Already there is a sense of anxiety among politicians and the public over the nation's political ambitions, which indicate that Taipei is in a hurry.

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