Sun, Nov 21, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Consider an interim cross-strait agreement

By Chiou Chwei-liang邱垂亮

I believe that the chance for the green camp to win a legislative majority in the Dec. 11 elections is very high. In that case, the legislature should immediately amend the Referendum Law (公投法) to allow the public to truly decide major national policies by their direct vote. After the amendment passes, the first referendum will not relate to the complex issues of constitutional reform, or a rectification of the country's name and other pro-independence issues, since President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has already excluded those options in his two inaugural speeches.

Taipei does not want to anger Beijing or embarrass Washington. The timing for a unification or independence referendum has not arrived. As former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) suggests, it should be held when 75 percent of the public supports independence. But if Taiwan holds referendums on the "one China" principle and "one country, two systems," it will be despised and opposed by the majority of people of Taiwan. So such options do not work either.

The only referendum that can be held immediately is perhaps on an "interim agreement" proposed again by former senior director for Asian affairs at the US National Security Council Kenneth Lieberthal in Taipei this month. That plan would follow a strategy of "no independence, no war" and postpone a final political resolution of the cross-strait situation for 50 years.

Lieberthal first formulated this idea during a February 1998 conference in Taipei, and took unification as the ultimate goal at that time. But his stance changed in his article "Heading off the Next War," jointly written with another China expert David Lampton in the Washington Post on April 12. The biggest change is that he no longer sees unification as the ultimate goal now. His proposal is therefore seen as an "improved" interim agreement by Taipei.

As the Washington Post article pointed out, perhaps the two sides can build a stable framework across the Taiwan Strait for a long period -- counted not in years but in decades. Under such circumstances, "Taiwan can continue to assert that it is an `independent, sovereign country,' but it must abjure additional steps to turn this island-wide sensibility into a juridical fact. Beijing can continue to assert that there is only one China and that Taiwan is a part of it, but it must give up its threat to use military force to change Taiwan's status."

Lieberthal also said that given the numerous disagreements between the two sides, they should build a stability framework grounded in the concept of an interim agreement. On this basis, they can maintain the status quo for 50 years to negotiate disputed issues -- including military and security issues, and Taiwan's participation in various international organizations.

As Lieberthal stressed, the cross-strait issue should be resolved by Taiwan and China themselves, not the US. But if the two sides hope that the US can get involved, Washington can have a hand in this by playing the role of an international witness.

If China attacks Taiwan militarily during this interim period, the international community will take it seriously. But if China attacks Taiwan because the latter declares independence, all other countries -- including the US -- will not support Taiwan. This will force the two sides to strictly abide by the agreement.

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