US Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit to Beijing has produced both good news and bad news for Taiwan.
The bad news is largely superficial, while the good news is more substantial. Balancing it all out, Taiwan has probably come out ahead.
Taiwan's media, especially the United Daily News has overemphasized Powell's statement about Taiwan not enjoying sovereignty as a nation and the US' rejection of Taiwan independence. But at the same time, Powell referred to President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) as Taiwan's president. If Taiwan is not a sovereign nation, how can it have a president?
As far as the affirmation that Taiwan is not a sovereign nation and the US' rejection of Taiwan independence, Powell has not departed from the US' "one China" policy. He has simply been more explicit, with the aim of showing goodwill to his Chinese hosts. For Taiwan, this must be counted a loss.
But this loss is balanced by gains. Powell insisted to Beijing that the US had an obligation to maintain the Taiwan Relations Act, according to which the US pledges to ensure that Taiwan has adequate defensive capabilities. More importantly, one of the key issues of Powell's visit was the proposed arms sale to Taiwan, an issue on which Powell made no concessions whatsoever.
Even as Powell stated that the US rejects the idea of Taiwan independence, Washington is willing to arm Taiwan to resist the threat of forcible unification through invasion. The US rejects independence in the words it uses, but in its actions it arms Taiwan with defensive weapons.
Is China really the winner from the two-pronged US policy? Not necessarily.
The most amusing response was from Chang Jung-kung (張榮恭), the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT's) spokesman. He said that Powell's statement was a response to Chen's attempt to hide behind the shell of the Republic of China (ROC) in order to promote Taiwan independence.
But the point is that the US has long since ceased to accept the existence of the ROC and for that reason there is a Taiwan Relations Act and not an "ROC Relations Act." The fact that Powell emphasized that the US did not accept Taiwan independence indicates that the death sentence has already been passed on the ROC.
Establishing diplomatic relations with China in 1979 was the US way of dragging the ROC out to be shot. For Powell, the ROC does not exist anymore, so there can be no ROC "shell" to speak of.
As to whether Taiwan is a sovereign nation, this is totally unrelated to the ROC. So the KMT, which is wedded to the idea of the ROC, is totally unable to even become involved in the debate over Taiwan. The main point is what Taiwan's 23 million people want.
Senior adviser to the president Koo Kwang-ming's (辜寬敏) advertisement in the Washington Post and the New York Times has already raised a voice against the US' "one China" policy. The thaw is already beginning.
Chin Heng-wei is editor-in-chief of Contemporary Monthly magazine.
Translated by Ian Bartholomew