Sat, Sep 11, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Chen policy made with an eye on December

By Liu Kuan-teh劉冠德

During his short stopover in Hawaii en route to Taiwan's diplomatic ally Panama last month, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) offered an olive branch to his counterpart in China. He called off the annual Han Kuang military exercise in the wake of media reports that China had apparently canceled its military exercises on Dongshan island.

While displaying goodwill to Beijing and calling for a resumption of cross-strait peace talks, Chen also criticized China's planned enactment of a unification law as an apparent move to destroy the peaceful status quo in the Taiwan Strait. What is the rationale behind Chen's two-handed approach to cross-strait relations?

By selecting the historical site of Pearl Harbor as the setting for his speech, Chen successfully increased Taiwan's international profile by presenting a peace-loving gesture. His moderate stance also met the Bush administration's expectations of a simple and low-key transit.

Chen's new elaboration on cross-strait interactions should be judged from both an international and domestic perspective. He won the presidential election by a razor-thin margin and his promotion of a national referendum against China's deployment of ballistic missiles caused regional concern and misunderstandings about his motives.

To minimize misinterpretation, Chen's inaugural address on May 20 set a tone of pursuing peaceful cross-strait relations, as well as incrementally reengineering the Constitution. The speech won overwhelming praise for cooling down cross-strait tensions.

The cancellation of the Han Kuang drill was portrayed as part of a continuing process to defuse suspicions surrounding the arms race between Taipei and Beijing. As China's growing military build-up endangers the cross-strait military balance, Taiwan's unilateral reinforcement of its own defensive capability is no longer enough to deter Beijing's threat. To prevent conflict, it is a smart move for Chen to appeal to the international audience by characterizing Taiwan as not only a weaker country in terms of military capability but also a democratic nation.

Nevertheless, showing goodwill does not necessarily mean relinquishing Taiwan's sovereignty. Chen solemnly reminded the whole world of the political consequences that Beijing's enactment of the unification law would have. The law will not only legitimize the use of force against Taiwan but will also administratively define it as a "political and autonomous region" of China. This is a total violation of Taiwan's hard-won democracy and sovereignty.

Having won his re-election bid, Chen is keenly aware that there are still many things to be improved in terms of establishing healthy and stable cross-strait relations. It is imperative for Chen to keep a steadfast position on his China policy while at the same time remolding his international image as a peace-driven political leader.

On the other hand, as the nation's Taiwanese consciousness becomes stronger after the presidential election, Chen must carefully consider public opinion and the international political atmosphere and find a balance between safeguarding Taiwan's sovereignty and normalizing cross-strait relations.

Chen's application of both soft and hard strategies to handle cross-strait relations was to a great extent aimed at the year-end legislative elections. Since public opinion increasingly tilts in favor of a clearer identification of Taiwan's democracy and sovereignty, while at the same time welcoming peaceful and constructive cross-strait interactions, the Democratic Progressive Party government's maneuvering of peace and sovereignty has dominated the campaign tempo.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top