Wed, Jun 01, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Where does Taiwan go from here?

By Sushil Seth

Taiwan has been through a lot lately. It started with China's "Anti-Secession" Law, which threatens Taiwan with attack if Beijing thinks Taipei is heading toward independence. As if this wasn't enough drama, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) further enlivened proceedings with their separate visits to China, where they were given a hero's welcome, so to speak. And why not? It suited Beijing pretty well.

The visits firstly exposed the disunity of Taiwan's political class on the vital issue of the nation's future. While the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is inclined to favor independence, the KMT and the PFP are for eventual unification with China. It is a great opportunity for Beijing to promote and exploit this disunity. The visits of the two chairmen were, therefore, a bonanza, coming so soon after the passage of the Anti-Secession Law.

Second, it reinforces the Chinese leadership's belief that the majority of Taiwan's people are for unification, whether or not this is borne out by election results or popular surveys.

Third, Lien's and Soong's visits enabled China to play to the international gallery regarding the presumed support for unification in Taiwan.

Fourth, it might marginalize the US role on the Taiwan question. Beijing has now demonstrated a capacity to subvert Taiwan's body politic, making it look like a divided nation.

Where does Taiwan go from here? The obvious answer is that it should continue with business as usual. In a way the National Assembly elections underlined this. Despite all the hype from the China visits, Beijing cannot derive any satisfaction from the results. The ruling party improved its position both in terms of votes polled and seats won.

The 300-member assembly will sit for one month to approve electoral reforms already enacted by the legislature. It will also make constitutional amendments subject to approval by referendum after being enacted by the legislature.

The lower voter turnout of about 23 percent was disappointing, suggesting a level of popular disengagement with the country's politics. There is a message here for Taiwan's political establishment, which is that the voters want results and not theatrics. Therefore, diversions like trips to China by opposition leaders do not seem to have much impact.

Beijing will not be able to play up the Taiwan opposition card every time. Now that the drama of the visits is over, if Beijing is interested in taking the political process further, it will have no choice but to deal with President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) government.

Will Beijing be interested? Not if one goes by its previous signals. The official position remains that Beijing would talk with Taipei only on the basis of the "one China" formula. Therefore, the DPP must scrap its party platform and forsake its "separatist activities." Which means that Beijing will continue to subvert Taiwan's polity.

Lien seems to believe that his visit, and the dialogue he initiated, "has presented to our people a viable alternative, a viable choice in our relations with China." He has obviously not explored, and probably will never get to explore, whether Beijing would agree to the perpetuation of the status quo (subject to the "one China" provision) for a long or undefined period.

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