Wed, May 11, 2005 - Page 8 News List

China puts Chen on the defensive

By Sushil Seth

Were it not so serious, the current shenanigans of Taiwan's political landscape might be laughed off as a farce. We have the spectacle of the country's opposition trying to act as its government in negotiating Taiwan's future with China's communist leadership. In doing so, it is circumventing the democratic process of an elected presidency which returned President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to power, and blurring the important distinction between China's communist dictatorship and Taiwan's democracy. Taiwan's distinct identity is largely shaped by its democratic system.

Which, in effect, means that no single political party has an entitlement to govern indefinitely. The entitlement comes from the popular choice of the people. If this choice were to appear irregular or rigged, there are appeal channels to contest this. And once these are exhausted, the finality of the decision is accepted and respected by all sides of the political spectrum. The country then gets behind the government of the day. Unfortunately, this is not happening in Taiwan at the present time.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan's (連戰) China visit has created an anomaly of sorts. It suggests a historical continuity between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, marred only by the political feud of a bygone era between the communists and the KMT. The visit had the appearance of the return of the prodigal son, with an implied message of happy days to come. The television images of Lien's visit, and his meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), indicated some act of great reconciliation, though it is hard to pinpoint what it was.

Beijing got enough mileage out of it though. The passage of its "Anti-Secession" Law had dented its image, costing it the lifting of the EU arms embargo. But Lien's visit and the ensuing bonhomie seemingly made Taiwan's elected government ineffective.

It's clear that Chen is worried by the turn of events, with Beijing trying to manipulate Taiwan's politics to its advantage. Having failed to dissuade the opposition leaders from their ill-advised China trips, Chen is now trying to co-opt this new development as part of Taiwan's political process. For instance, he said Lien had not "overstepped the boundary" during his talks with communist leaders.

In any case, according to Chen, "No matter which Taiwanese party or individuals China chooses to talk to, it ultimately has to approach the leader elected by the Taiwanese people and the government of Taiwan." He seems keen to use People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) to establish some sort of contact with the Beijing leadership.

He wants to establish his government's relevance and efficacy in cross-strait affairs, and to avoid letting the opposition call the shots. The opposition, in any case, is not talking of handing over Taiwan to China in the near future. What they seem to be doing is to accept the principle of "one China," with Taiwan's eventual unification relegated to a longer time frame. In other words: to freeze the status quo over the medium or long term.

As Lien said in Beijing, "The two sides of the Strait must maintain the status quo." But this shouldn't be "static" or "passive," with both sides trying to "seek things in common from our differences and to accumulate goodwill." His vague formulation basically means that unification will happen eventually as China and Taiwan widen their common ground.

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