Fri, Jan 21, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Beijing’s failed policy on Taiwan

By Tung Chen-yuan 童振源

Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) recently said in Beijing that cross-strait relations must be based on the so-called “1992 consensus,” and stressed China’s objection to Taiwanese independence. He even issued a threat, saying that without this “consensus,” the two sides would not have this current peaceful development.

Chen made the statement in the face of continuing conflict between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) over the existence of such a consensus. Obviously Chen has not learned from China’s past policy mistakes on Taiwan. The long-debated issue on the consensus also highlights the problems of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) cross-strait policy.

The Chinese government has become more flexible and pragmatic in addressing the Taiwan issue after years of monitoring democratic developments and public opinion in Taiwan. These changes are based on lessons learned from the past failures of Chinese policy on Taiwan. From 1995 to 1996, Beijing tried to stop then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) being re-elected, but Lee won by a landslide despite Chinese intimidation and saber-rattling. In 2000, China issued a white paper on its Taiwan policy, saying it would not rule out the use of military force if Taiwan refused to talk about peaceful reunification. But with the US voicing its objection to a military solution, China did not dare mention the issue again.

Also in 2000, China warned Taiwan of cross-strait conflict if the DPP’s Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) were elected president. Chen was elected, but war did not break out. What’s more, although China had said it would only agree to restart cross-strait dialogue if Taiwan accepts the “one China” principle, it changed its stance after Chen took office, saying that cross-strait economic issues did not have to be predicated on the “one China” principle, leading to the establishment of the “small three links” and the first lunar New Year charter flights.

China kept a very low profile during the presidential election in 2004 for fear of agitating Taiwanese voters. Still, it issued a statement afterwards that war could break out if Chen continued to move toward Taiwanese independence, and that only if Taiwan accepted the “one China” principle could cross-strait peace be maintained. But again, although Chen was re-elected, there was no war. Instead, Taipei and Beijing began negotiations and reached a second agreement on Lunar New Year charter flights and four other charter flight agreements. The two sides also engaged in eight rounds of talks on allowing Chinese tourists to visit Taiwan, passenger and cargo charter flights, as well as two months of intense talks about bringing the Olympic flame to Taiwan.

Having learned from its mistakes, China adopted the ambiguous position that each side has its own interpretation of the “1992 consensus” to initiate cross-strait talks and exchanges with Ma after he became president. But contrary to the KMT government’s interpretation of the “1992 consensus” as signifying that there are two Chinas, the Chinese government says the consensus means both sides adhere to the “one China” principle. While China does not reject the KMT version that there is “one China, with each side having its own interpretation,” it has repeatedly stressed the importance of mutual political trust — meaning the KMT must object to Taiwanese independence and must accept the “one China” principle.

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