Sun, Mar 06, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Chen's concessions were for naught

On Friday, Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) issued a statement on the Taiwan issue, in which he highlighted President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) "five noes" pledges. Hu's talk is generally perceived as responding to the 10-point consensus reached between Chen and People's First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) last week.

Many commentators are wishfully interpreting Hu's talk as a sign of easing tensions in the Taiwan Strait. However, a closer look at the contents of Hu's speech, in the context of the bigger picture, indicates that Beijing has not budged an inch, while Chen has significantly backtracked on his position on Taiwan's sovereignty.

Those who defend Chen's 10-point consensus cite the need to ease tensions in the Strait given the pending passage of Beijing's so-called "anti-secession" law. It remains to be seen whether the hefty price that Chen paid to achieve consensus with Soong can buy him real cooperation with the PFP on important issues such as US arms procurement. However, in terms of winning over substantive goodwill from the other side of the Strait, Chen's compromises have hardly been worthwhile.

For one, the Chinese government remains unwavering on the "anti-secession" law. There is no sign that Beijing is even considering halting its passage, let along doing anything about the Chinese missiles targeting Taiwan.

As for Hu's talk, there is absolutely nothing new in it. He merely reiterated Beijing's cherished "one China" principle and its firm opposition to Taiwan independence. While he stress that China would "never give up on peaceful unification," the central point of the statement is still "unification." As for what happens when unification cannot be obtained through "peaceful" means, the Chinese missiles targeting Taiwan speak for themselves.

The other supposed "goodies" Hu handed out in his talk, in reality they are not "goodies" at all. For example, Hu indicated that the issue of the sale of agricultural products in China will be dealt with substantively. This is, for all practical purposes, a sugar-coated trap. The remark's intended audience is obvious Taiwan's farmers -- who are located primarily in the south, where support for independence runs high. So, this is in fact a transparent attempt to buy off Taiwan's farmers.

Moreover, it's no secret that the agricultural technologies of Taiwan are very advanced. Such technologies are badly needed in China -- where the income gap between the cities and rural farming regions has become a major source of social tension and instability. Clearly Beijing wants to reap the harvest of Taiwan's decades of hard work in building up its agricultural base, the same way it has benefitted from Taiwan's manufacturing and hi-tech industries.

As for Hu's comments about normalizing cross-strait links, he notably added the caveat that exchanges between "private groups" from each side would suffice -- thereby relegating such links to the status of domestic affairs.

In comparison, Chen's accord with Soong included substantive and major commitments. For one, Chen openly pledged that he would not push for changing the title of the country during the remainder of his term, and that any constitutional reform would require consensus between the governing and opposition parties. He also declared that he will respect the status of the country as defined by the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution. This is in reality an indirect acceptance of the "one China" principle.

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