Former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Wu Po-hsiung (吳伯雄) on March 22, described the situation across the Taiwan Strait as “one country, two areas” (一國兩區). Is the KMT preparing Taiwan for midterm unification with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), or is it merely fine-tuning its response to Beijing’s ever-increasing global power, by trying to please China without being too specific about the content and concrete implications of this declaration?
The KMT and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) have long taken into consideration that the military and diplomatic balance in the Taiwan Strait increasingly favors China. While the DPP has called for a cautious, but closer dialogue with China, the KMT has, since 2005, cooperated extensively with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Since Ma’s election in 2008, the KMT has justified this as a way to secure cross-strait peace and greater economic opportunities for Taiwan. In point of fact, both parties appear to be gambling with the nation’s future.
The pan-greens are betting that China will accept closer relations without talks on unification. The pan-blues believe they can defend the Republic of China’s (ROC) sovereignty in talks with a regime that refuses to recognize the ROC as a sovereign regime and insists that Taiwan accept its “one China” principle.
In the eyes of the DPP, the KMT’s new formula of “one country, two areas” is equivalent to the PRC’s old “one country, two systems” formula, which both the KMT and the DPP have consistently opposed.
Faced with criticism of its “new” position, the KMT has said the “one country, two areas” concept has been an integral element of the ROC Constitution since 1991, when the constitutional amendments recognized that the territory of the ROC is divided into the “mainland area” and the “Taiwan area,” hoping for eventual unification of the two sides.
Although the KMT denies that this formulation represents anything new, many consider it to be an attempt to appease Beijing. Indeed, it affirms more clearly than ever before that the KMT accepts Beijing’s “one China” principle, even with studied ambiguity over which China that means.
The question is whether Wu simply said something China wanted to hear, while remaining deliberately vague about the meaning of which China is mentioned.
Before the new cross-strait relationship unfolds further in the months and years to come, we might be well-advised to look at the similarities and differences between the geopolitical situations Taiwan faced in the 1680s and now.
With the end of the Rebellion of the Three Feudatories against the relatively new Qing Dynasty in 1681, China underwent a renaissance after decades of decadence in the latter years of the Ming Dynasty.
By then, the Cheng regime, established in Taiwan in 1662 to overthrow the Manchus and reinstate the Ming on the Chinese imperial throne, was a shadow of the powerful insular kingdom it had been earlier, having emptied its coffers in several failed military campaigns in China. At that time, the “Dongning kingdom” of Taiwan faced a Qing court determined to eliminate those it called “sea pirates.”
On July 16, 1683, the balance of power between China’s new rulers and the weakened pro-Ming bastion on Taiwan definitely shifted. The Cheng regime was defeated in a decisive battle at sea by Qing Admiral Shih Lang (施琅).