Thu, Aug 23, 2018 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Stealing allies changes ‘status quo’

Beijing’s continued policy of enticing Taiwan’s diplomatic allies away claimed a new victim on Tuesday, when the government was obliged to sever ties with El Salvador, having learned it was planning to switch allegiance to China.

The timing of the event, one day after President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) return from a state visit to Paraguay and Belize, is consistent with Beijing’s policy of punishing Tsai for refusing to accept the so-called “1992 consensus,” which it considers to be integral to the cross-strait “status quo.”

The “status quo” is a nebulous concept that suffers from being ill-defined by the US and clearly defined — albeit in radically different ways — by Beijing and Taipei.

US support for Taiwan does not extend to support for independence, but it does extend to protection from invasion by China, so long as Taiwan makes no moves to unilaterally change the “status quo.” This stance has been criticized as being aimed at controlling the problem rather than solving it.

First is the problem of definition. The US, committed to acknowledging that Beijing believes Taiwan to be part of China — as part of its “one China” policy, while not actually recognizing Beijing’s “one China” principle — would like to continue ties with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the sole representative of China, while maintaining engagement and unofficial ties with Taiwan.

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) agrees there is “one China,” yet differs on who represents that “one China.” Its official position is that the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan does, while tacitly recognizing that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on China shares this aspiration.

Implicit within this is the idea of two “Chinas,” existing in parallel universes until such time as the question of the correct interpretation is resolved.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) views the “status quo” as entailing the existence of two sovereign nations.

The CCP insists that Taiwan and China are part of the same country, albeit not yet unified. From this perspective, Beijing’s aggressive provocations, such as its military build-up, drills clearly purposed for Taiwan invasion-readiness, frequent military fly-bys, thousands of missiles aimed at Taiwan, the theft of diplomatic allies and the enactment of an “Anti-Secession” Law are all consistent with maintaining the “status quo.”

During the administration of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), the US was wary of the 2003 Referendum Act (公民投票法) and Chen’s plans to hold a defensive referendum. Chen was adamant that such a referendum was necessary to preserve Taiwan’s sovereignty, and thereby maintaining the “status quo” as defined by the DPP.

He believed that the government should build a vigorous defensive force to ensure that the “status quo” was maintained. This is something that Tsai is pursuing, too, with promises to reinforce Taiwan’s defensive capabilities.

The second problem is dynamism. Domestic politics and international relations are never static.

Could the development of democracy on Taiwan be interpreted as a unilateral changing of the “status quo”?

Prior to Taiwan’s democratization, both sides of the Taiwan Strait were ruled by totalitarian states. The annexation of Taiwan at that point would have been easier.

Yet, what were former presidents Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) and Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) to do? Maintain the nation in a cocoon-like stasis to ensure the smooth handover to the communists, whom the KMT — at least back then — still regarded as mortal enemies?

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