Mon, May 02, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Talks can bring peace

By Huang Jei-hsuan

Against the backdrop of a China-bug-infected feverish Taiwan, the "four-nation meeting," brought up by former president Lee Tung-hwei (李登輝) to settle the cross-strait issue peacefully, came like a breath of fresh air.

The biggest obstacle is, of course, China. But the situation may not be as hopeless as most people might assume.

One of the basic realities is that China and Taiwan can never engage in productive direct talks because of an imbalance in strength. China will always have the urge to flex its muscles while Taiwan suffers a continuous lack of confidence to assert itself.

It's also dangerous for the two to talk directly after China's enactment of the "Anti-Secession" Law because what happens in the talks may "force China to conclude that all hopes for unification have been exhausted." The talks can then actually precipitate a military attack on Taiwan by China.

Therefore, any talks initiated by Taiwan now would be nothing more than surrender. In the case where China were to initiate the talks, Taiwan would have no alternative but to insist as a pre-condition that China repeals all references to "non-peaceful means" in its "law." None of these are probable in the current atmosphere.

One then has to conclude that only a multi-nation conference holds any reasonable probability of solving the impasse peacefully.

A multi-nation conference can be held periodically and ends only when a peaceful outcome is achieved. It can last months or even years. While the talks are ongoing, the chance for military confrontation is diminished. In contrast, direct talks between Taiwan and China can at any time cause a war just because of non-progress.

In addition, no pre-condition is needed here. That means China doesn't have to renounce its "non-peaceful means" before entering into the talks, thereby removing a thorny obstacle.

Unfortunately, the four-nation conference is a non-starter under present conditions.

The foremost issue is that China does not recognize Taiwan as a country. While formally neither do the US and Japan, they most likely wouldn't mind being seated at the same conference table with Taiwan as long as China doesn't object. But it's inconceivable that China would now agree to sitting down with Taiwan in the company of the US and Japan.

The idea of three-plus-one-nation talks, on the other hand, holds some promise.

Under this concept, the conference will be attended by China, the US and Japan with Taiwan as the observer. Taiwan can only channel its positions and ideas through the US or Japan. The conference can last indefinitely. Any arrangements agreed upon in the conference regarding Taiwan's future status would have to be approved by the Taiwanese people through one or a series of referendums.

In order to arrive at that point, there are hurdles to cross.

First of all, China will have to be convinced that the cross-strait issue is international in nature. There are signs that, to some degree, China might already have conceded this.

In the last couple of years, it was the US' help China would solicit to rein in Taiwan's democracy. Then, in February of this year, when Japan joined the US in announcing that the Taiwan Strait is a region of "mutual security concern," China didn't protest.

The most telling sign can be found in China's Anti-Secession Law. Since the law refers to the use of force as the last resort, it then follows that, once it was promulgated, China in practicality removed any chance for direct talks between Taiwan and China, leaving an international meeting as the only vehicle for a peaceful conclusion.

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