During his interview with Phoenix TV in Beijing on Oct. 25, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said that "Taiwan is not independent. It does not enjoy sovereignty as a nation. We do not support an independence movement in Taiwan." He also said that Taiwan and China "should look for ways of improving dialogue across the Strait and move forward toward a peaceful unification." His abrupt remarks stunned political observers in Taiwan.
Looking back at the matter, what we cannot understand is: First, was it a slip of the tongue? If it was, what was Powell's understanding of Taiwan's situation that led to the mistake? Was the ideal of unification deeply embedded in his subconscious? Second, if his statement was a result of pressure from Beijing, why has this pressure grown to such an extent that it has made Powell deny Taiwan's sovereignty and future self-determination?
No matter how we interpret these points, Powell's words have already hurt the Taiwanese people, and given us an important warning sign. The public should consider why more and more foreign friends and governments are leaning toward China, insisting that Taiwan is not an independent sovereign state and that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait will eventually unite.
I believe that Powell's comments were a natural response to what he has seen and heard. Since he took office four years ago, he must have taken note of the booming cross-strait economic exchanges and the massive number of the Taiwanese businesspeople operating in China.
Taiwanese businesspeople outnumber their US counterparts in China, and 3.8 million and Taiwanese visit China every year, which also exceeds the number of US visitors. "China fever" remains, despite the more than 600 missiles China is aiming at Taiwan. Although ideas such as "one county on each side [of the Strait]" and Taiwan's UN membership bid are occasionally discussed, they are not taken seriously, because the Taiwanese people are unable to cut the umbilical cord between themselves and China.
The fact is that the frequent cross-strait exchanges have overshadowed Taiwan's insistence on its sovereignty, because it often sacrifices its sovereignty for the sake of business interests. Day after day, these facts have delivered a message to our foreign friends: "The two sides will unify, and they are moving in this direction."
In his interview with CNN, Powell clearly expressed foreigners' view on cross-strait relations by saying that "We want to see both sides not take unilateral action that would prejudice an eventual outcome, a reunification that all parties are seeking." His words "that all parties are seeking" prove that, in his mind, the two sides are making efforts toward unification.
In January 2001, William Kirby, the director of the Harvard University Asia Center, told Newsweek magazine that Taiwan is falling inexorably into the grip of Chinese economic power. He also said that there is little Taiwan can do to escape from that grip. Almost four years have passed since Kirby made these comments. China's capacity for controlling Taiwan is still growing, while Taipei is leaning toward Beijing economically. What else can we expect the US to say under such circumstances?
"Going west" has made China stronger and weakened Taiwan's economy, hampering the government's policy of "going south." Because of this trend, China's economic power will very soon be sufficient to influence US policies, while Taiwan sinks deeper and deeper. This reflects the old Chinese saying, "Human beings die in pursuit of wealth, and birds die in pursuit of food."