It has been about a month since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was inaugurated for his second term. This is a good opportunity to look back at his inauguration speech and discuss its significance. From an international perspective, his reference to “one country, two areas” (一國兩區) is most intriguing.
In his speech, Ma claimed that “one China” referred to, “naturally, the Republic of China [ROC].” This has raised some eyebrows around the world — ever since 1971, the international community has considered the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to be the “one China.” What is happening here?
According to Ma’s concept, Taiwan, its outlying islands and the “mainland” are all part of the territory of China under the ROC Constitution. Is this a realistic proposition? Clearly, it is not. Ma, with his notion of “one ROC, two areas” (一個中華民國，兩個地區), is digging himself a hole from which it will be difficult to extract himself, both domestically and internationally, in the nation’s relationships with the US and the PRC.
The “one ROC, two areas” framework threatens the unity and integrity of the political system in Taiwan because such a policy runs counter to public opinion. Already, the Taiwan Mood Barometer Survey on May 23 showed that 67.1 percent of respondents disapproved of Ma’s performance. Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) said that the concept “should be geographical rather than political,” which may indicate dissent within the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
There have also been polls showing that the majority of people perceive themselves exclusively as Taiwanese, not Chinese. This policy line is therefore not in the direction that Taiwanese support. Adopting such a policy would be a widely unpopular move that would hurt Ma’s already weak standing.
Ma also said that the concept was based on the 1972 agreement between East and West Germany. The problem, other than China obviously maintaining its advantage over Taiwan, is that the agreement between the two Germanies was made with the assumption of unification in the near future. This occurred in 1989. If Ma says that his concept was based on this agreement and that assumption of unification also holds true, then Taiwanese will not have the choice to remain a free and democratic country. Taiwan would have to unify with an obviously authoritarian China in the future. This is not what Taiwanese want. They want to remain in control of their destiny.
In the international sphere, Ma’s “one ROC, two areas” is destabilizing, because it makes a complex situation even fuzzier and more difficult to understand. To China, he seems to reject the existence of the PRC, itself a step backward from the so-called “1992 consensus.” To the international community, it projects the image that Taiwan is part of China, which undermines progress toward identifying Taiwan as a sovereign country. It provides more ammunition to China in its quest to isolate Taiwan, and push it onto a trajectory toward incorporation into the PRC.
In the US, it undermines the strong support for a free and democratic Taiwan in the US Congress. This support is built on Taiwan’s democracy and the desire of Taiwanese for their country to be a full and equal member of the international community, instead of a tributary of China. Especially as the US shifts its focus to Asia, Taiwan should maintain its distance from China to show that Taiwanese also oppose such authoritarian governments.