THE US BELIEVES that China, Taiwan and itself are responsible for maintaining a "status quo" that sees Taiwan as neither legally independent nor unified -- and considers anything else to be "provocative."
Recently, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice severely criticized Taiwan's referendum on UN membership, calling it a provocation. The US Department of Defense Web site confirmed that Taiwan's referendum constitutes de jure independence. However, the US Department of Defense subsequently altered its stance.
The two statements made by the US Department of Defense were in complete contradiction.
Whether from the perspective of Taiwan's perceived motivation to join the UN, or from the purely political theory that a UN member is by definition a sovereign nation -- as opposed to an "autonomous separate customs region" as Taiwan is called in the WTO -- the first reaction of the US Department of Defense would best follow previous statements of US policy. Yet if Taiwan's pursuit of de jure independence were recognized, it would be awkward for both the US and for China -- hence the correction.
According to political theory, the referendum on UN membership constitutes an act of sovereign independence. However, it must be rhetorically defined as "provocation" rather than an act of de jure independence because of practical considerations. This results in a contradiction between the theoretical definition and political rhetoric. China and the US have refused to acknowledge prior attempts by Taiwan to exercise its independence, so the contradiction is also one between subjective wishful thinking and objective reality, almost to the point of blatant denial.
The inconsistency of the US is based on this contradiction. The same applies to China: Though the referendum is clearly an exercise of independent sovereignty, Chinese State Council Taiwan Affairs Office Deputy Director Sun Yafu (孫亞夫) insisteddthat it is merely a superficial expression of independence, despite other officials considering it a step toward de jure independence.
China tries to avoid a concrete definition of Taiwanese independence. For instance, it does not allow Taiwan to declare independence, but it turned a deaf ear on New Year's Day, 2005, when President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said that the Republic of China is a sovereign independent state whose sovereignty belongs to the Taiwanese.
In the 1990s, China criticized Taiwan's various moves and statements as seeking independence and attempts to divide the country. These accusations were in accordance with reality as China saw it, but following up on them often proved problematic. The most serious form of counteraction would be military action, but that comes with considerable negative consequences. Instead, China has taken to gradually replacing political definitions with rhetoric.
Taiwan, under China's pressure, also emphasizes that acts of sovereignty are not equivalent to independence. However, this is perhaps unwise, as it is tantamount to agreeing with the US' and China's stance that Taiwanese independence is a crime.
Proclaiming that we insist upon independence at any cost is probably not a good option, though we should still tactfully and firmly assert our political stance. At most, Taiwan could choose to remain silent, but it should never give the impression that Taiwanese independence is a crime, and thus deny its own stance on independence.