Sat, Dec 11, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Beware of the Chinese saving face

By Nat Bellocchi 白樂崎

Many Taiwan watchers here in Washington, having miscalculated on the last election in March, are now more humble in guessing the results of the legislative elections. The majority of those who are willing to do so lean toward a modest majority by the pan-green camp.

There is, however, concern by many observers that the present administration in Taiwan might see this as a mandate to act on issues that are of great importance to many of the leaders in the ruling party, but would inevitably raise tensions with China to a very high level.

I do not believe this will be the case. Whatever issues are pursued, China will inevitably voice its ire and press the international community to make clear their concern to the US and Taiwan. They will have little basis for doing so, however, as the Taiwanese leadership, domestic difficulties notwithstanding, will pursue its national interest, ie, strengthen its relations with America, make efforts at beginning a dialogue with China and reform its institutions to meet today's challenges.

What generates concern and doubt about the direction President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) administration wants to take in Taiwan?

One has to begin with the possible reaction from China. On the one hand it is strengthening its influence throughout the world, and on the other it has more constraints in how to deal with Taiwan. The issue is not just a legal matter, or even just a political one, but it deals with China's own self-imposed national dignity as well. Thus, reaction is more uncertain, while its consequences go far beyond simply a cross-strait matter.

Other concerns are based on Taiwan's domestic situation. The experience of the recent presidential election campaign continues to linger in the minds of Washington officials and academics. In retrospect, one could have expected that Taiwan's democratic presidential election campaigns would inevitably come to include controversial issues relevant to the cross-strait relationship.

The experience can also be seen as a useful warning for both the US and Taiwan, indicating that a continuous dialogue between the two is vital. The current campaign for legislative seats has shown that communications has improved, but it is also beginning to show that foreign involvement in internal affairs of another country, no matter how close and friendly it might be, needs to be dealt with prudently, by both sides.

So must the understanding of the countries that are Taiwan's friends. The tensions that have developed not just this past year or two, but well into the last decade as Taiwan's democratization has developed, are in large measure a result of that democratization. In the people's democracy that exists in Taiwan, political leaders cannot be expected to "maintain a low profile" to appease adversaries on matters so vital to the electorate. For the elected leader of Taiwan, that would be political suicide. That does not mean he or she does not need to be prudent, but does mean its people must be informed.

Another reason for concern for Taiwan's immediate future is the ruling party's fundamental objectives for gaining independence, and the risks this involves if carried out.

The concern is not based only on campaign rhetoric, but also on the generation now in power, many of whom lived and made sacrifices under a regime that insisted Taiwan must be a part of China (though not under Beijing's present system).

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