Tue, Mar 22, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Rice botched her chance in Beijing

China's "Anti-Secession" Law was one of the key issues for US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's two-day visit to Beijing. During a meeting with Rice on Sunday, Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) demanded that the US not send a "wrong signal" to the "Taiwan separatist forces," while Rice reiterated Washington's opposition to any unilateral action that may change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

Superficially, the two countries appeared equally matched in the meeting, but in fact, China had the upper hand, as it had already passed a law legitimizing in its own mind its threat of war against Taiwan. That law has shifted the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. In requesting that Beijing make efforts to reduce cross-strait tension, Washington was merely trying to remedy a situation that existed. There is no guarantee that Beijing will take up this proposal, so clearly Hu came off better in the talks.

When the 10th National People's Congress passed the law on March 14, Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) attempted to entice the people of Taiwan by expressing China's willingness to relax restrictions on agricultural imports from southern Taiwan, chartered passenger flights for holidays and opening chartered cargo flights. The government immediately rejected such insignificant concessions, while the Taiwanese people took Wen's mix-up between "Tainan" and "southern Taiwan" as a joke. His confusion made it abundantly clear that Taiwan was totally foreign to him.

Taiwan opposes the law simply because it compels compliance with Beijing's will. This flies in the face of democracy and freedom. The violation of such fundamental values can never be counterbalanced by material interests.

Rice had the means of persuading China to reduce cross-strait tensions at her disposal, but she failed to make use of the opportunity. The means are the themes of "freedom" and "democracy" that figured so prominently in US President George W. Bush's second inauguration speech. The disparity between Taiwan and China is not only a question of incomes and quality of life, but one of values, beliefs and systems of government. This difference cannot be made to disappear through the use of guns, battleships or missiles.

The gulf that separates Taiwan and China cannot be spanned unless China is willing to undertake political reform that will give its people greater political rights, create a democratic government and resolve its social problems concurrently with its efforts to continue its economic development.

Since the passage of the "Anti-Secession" Law, antipathy and suspicion of China among the people of Taiwan has increased. Taiwan's anxiety about China can only be reduced if the Beijing leadership is prepared to show respect for Taiwan's existence, introduce measures that guarantee its security and enhance the prosperity of Taiwan's society. For example, they could stop blocking Taiwan efforts to join the World Health Organization as an observer and sign free-trade agreements with other countries. This would pave the way toward cross-straits negotiations founded on equality.

Taiwan's perception of the "one country, two systems" model has been a negative one. The departure of Hong Kong's former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) and his replacement by Donald Tsang (曾蔭權), has made the clear the sham that is the Hong Kong government. If China's leaders had a change of heart about democracy, the election of the new chief executive would be a good opportunity to show it. If the election was open to direct election by the people of Hong Kong, this would not only be an important political achievement for democracy in the territory, but would clearly demonstrate to the people of Taiwan the degree to which China has accepted democratic values.

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