Wed, Aug 22, 2007 - Page 8 News List

It's time for creativity: Beyond a referendum

By Nat Bellocchi 白樂崎

Now both sides of the pan-blue pan-green political spectrum support including a referendum in the next presidential election. In expressing disapproval of the referendum effort, the US may now have helped ignite stronger disapproval from China. It is clear that some means of preventing a serious problem in the Taiwan Strait is needed, or -- at the very least -- means of minimizing any harm to US interests.

Several issues have developed since Taiwan applied for UN membership under the name "Taiwan." The US very early on openly stated that it opposed this effort, and needless to say, China did as well. Taiwan insists it must continue pressing for the referendum as both political parties agree that the people of Taiwan support it -- and elections are not far off.

There has been some disapproval of the US' actions against Taiwan in the Taiwanese media, harkening back to other events that were not perceived as friendly. One event is President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) upcoming transit during a trip to Central America, which echoes former president Lee Teng-hui's (李登輝) transit stop in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1994.

On that day I met Lee on the airliner and he was dressed as one would be in a plane, not in pajamas as some say. That talk with him was the best meeting I had with him over several years. He was strong in his talk, but not angry, and he had a lot to say to me to go and tell Washington. There are books that carry on about his trip to Cornell University, often with similar inaccurate representations.

But for Taiwan, things will always be different. To demonstrate this, my favorite example of changes in Taiwan is the expression in the first US-China Communique.

The text reads: "The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China."

It originally said "all the people" agree that Taiwan is a part of China. It was changed by the US State Department to use the word "Chinese." We see now that a growing number of people in Taiwan do not see themselves as "Chinese" in that sense. They are Taiwanese, and that is why, way back in 1972, the word was changed.

In terms of continuing policies, China clearly continues its policy in the same way it always has: Taiwan is a part of China and that's it. Can the US continue its fundamental policies on cross-strait issues? Taiwan inevitably cannot. The US has a dialogue with China, but what is needed is a dialogue between the US and Taiwan that would keep problems from getting out of control.

Referendums are common in democracies, and having not had one in Taiwan for so long and then being told not to is not easy. Taiwanese know they have that right and political leaders are not likely to give it up. Perhaps the leaders could convince the people that the referendum could be put off for the time being if the country -- and the people's livelihoods -- could be lifted now.

One thing that might contribute to that is a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). There has been some talk that the US ought to offer an FTA to Taiwan for a variety of reasons, the main one being that it would be good for both the US and Taiwan. Perhaps there is some possibility in that.

Whatever can be decided between the US and Taiwan in that regard would not only contribute to Taiwan's economic or security matters at home, but would also strengthen its democratic system. It would also likely be helpful in international matters -- and for strengthening the US' position in East Asia.

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