Fri, Aug 27, 2004 - Page 8 News List

New status quo needs new politics

Nat Bellocchi白樂崎

In assessing the state of cross-strait relations, we find the US struggling to maintain the status quo. We find China, within its closed-door system, apparently struggling over whether to strengthen its use of a military threat to resolve the "Taiwan issue," or to use a soft approach to convince Taiwan to succumb. And we find Taiwan, closer than ever to being a separate national entity, struggling with the issue of moving aggressively toward a de jure resolution of its political status or more carefully maintaining the status quo. In this unsettled atmosphere, policies have become outdated and need to be reviewed.

New policy decisions about cross-strait relations are not likely to surface in the present circumstances. The US has presidential and congressional elections a few weeks away and Taiwan has a legislative election a month later. China can change, although it will take longer to discern what effect this will have. Even if there is no change in administration after the US election, there will be reviews on all sides to adjust to the different atmosphere.

China's cross-strait policies have fundamentally not changed, but the very deep change in its own environment has made those policies unsustainable. It has greater influence, but it is also becoming much more dependent on the rest of the world for its markets, capital, resources, information and know-how. It is far less free to do what it pleases. In addition, both the "one China" principle and the "one country, two systems" approach have become unacceptable, not just to the leaders, but also to the people of Taiwan.

Taiwan's transformation of its political system to a democracy is no less spectacular than China's transformation to a market economy. Furthermore, one of the most important pillars of the US-Taiwan relationship in the past was Taiwan's acceptance of maintaining a low profile to refrain from agitating China. This policy continued through the 1990s, when democratization began blossoming. But trying to maintain a low profile in a democracy where political leaders have to deal with voters' wishes was clearly becoming unsustainable. Then president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) at one point bluntly told the US that this policy was no longer possible.

In more recent times, there has been some improvement in this bilateral relationship, but finding some way to effectively manage this unique system under the present circumstances and in the long term is still a work in progress. The need to expand exchanges between senior officials on both sides has become especially important.

An effort to address these outdated policies was made in 1994 in the Taiwan Policy Review. The preface explaining the reasons for conducting the review was very well done. It set forth cogently the profound changes that had taken place in Taiwan since the policy had been established 15 years before. The final results did not live up to the stated need, however. Trying to improve relations with China without changing the US' Taiwan policy, a questionable objective, prevailed.

There was never a question of officiality, however, as the US was committed to maintaining an unofficial relationship until such time as the two sides could resolve the issue of Taiwan's political status.

But the need to find ways to enhance high-level contacts in a relationship that was becoming increasingly broad and sophisticated was not met, and neither was the need to address the impact on Taiwan of the changing architecture of security, or the need for Taiwan's participation in the international community. But the momentum of its growing democracy continued nonetheless. The latter part of the 1990s saw the beginning of direct elections at all levels, the missile crisis in 1996 which awakened many to the changes and Lee's "special state-to-state" proposal, all signs of a different Taiwan developing in a different atmosphere.

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