'Chinese Confederation' versus 'One China'

By Lee Chang-kuei 李長貴  / 

Fri, Feb 23, 2001 - Page 13

In 1949, the Communist Party of China (CCP) declared that the People's Republic of China (PRC) was a newly independent country, having changed its name, national flag, and national anthem. Thereafter, the issue of "one China" evolved into a complicated problem in the international arena. Between 1949 and 1971, the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan had maintained, both at the UN and in the international community in general, the position of "one China, with the ROC on Taiwan being the representative government of China." In 1971, the PRC replaced the ROC in the Chinese seat at the UN. Subsequently, the US established formal diplomatic relationships with the PRC. "One China, with the PRC as the representative government of China" became generally accepted in the international community.

A very ambiguously defined one China

In 1992, a conference between Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫) of the ROC's Straits Exchange Foundation (海峽交流基金會) and Wang Daohan (汪道涵) of the PRC's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (海峽兩岸關係協會) took place in Singapore. During the conference, the issue of one China remained a subject of major dispute. With absolutely no consensus between the two sides, China expressed the view that "one China is the PRC, of which Taiwan is a part" while the ROC claimed "one China is the ROC, of which the mainland is a part."

Premised on the principle of "one China, with each side free to make its own interpretation," the conference reached several agreements over administrative affairs. However, the two sides never reached any consensus over a "one China principle."

In September 1997, PRC President Jiang Zemin (江澤民) told the 15th Central Committee of the CCP that "as long as Taiwan accepts [Beijing's] one China principle, any issue is negotiable." The demand is that Taiwan repudiate the existence of the ROC, and acknowledge itself to be a province of the PRC before any negotiations take place. This is basically a demand that Taiwan surrender just to get to the negotiating table. The PRC is apparently uninterested in negotiating anything with Taiwan except how Taiwan is to be subordinate to its new masters in Beijing.

In the battle of words between the two sides over the issue of one China during the past 50 years, CCP has never used the names "ROC" and "PRC," and instead referred to PRC as "China," and the ROC as "Taiwan." In 1998, the ROC on Taiwan was, absurdly given that it was the PRC which was the original rebellious entity, labeled by the PRC as a "rebellious province." For fear that this idea of Taiwan as a PRC province may become generally accepted internationally, Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) -- president of the ROC at the time -- declared that relations between Taiwan and China were a "special state-to-state relationship" -- that is, relations between two sovereign entities. His declaration immediately plunged the cross-strait relationship into crisis as China attempted (with some success) by saber rattling to force the Taiwan government to recant.

The incident clearly displayed the CCP's lack of willingness to face the reality that sovereignty of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait is now divided. This is all the more ironic since this division was created by the CCP. It was the CCP's announcement of the establishment of the PRC, which created two Chinas, since the ROC established in 1912, continued to exist -- in a highly abbreviated rump form -- on Taiwan.

The ROC on Taiwan has consistently maintained that the precondition to negotiation is a reciprocal acknowledgment across the Taiwan Strait that the two sides are equally sovereign states. Recently, PRC Vice Premier Qian Qichen (錢其琛) stated that "the two sides of Taiwan Strait belong to one China." This might seem an innovative approach -- there is at least a hint of equal status here -- but Qian's statement has not yet become formal policy by for instance, being stated by Jiang himself. But China's new statement fell far short of conceding that the ROC on Taiwan is an separate sovereign state. As a result Taipei remains distrustful and baffled by Qian's words.

Had Jiang himself officially stated that "the PRC and the ROC both belong to one China," negotiations for a "Chinese confederation" could easily have become a reality. The battle of words over one China would also ease. A Chinese confederation will, however, find it difficult to take shape against a background of an ambiguously defined one China.

Two Chinas under the ROC Constitution.

The PRC and the ROC are, under international law, both independent sovereign states. The ROC Constitution came into force on Dec. 25, 1947. At that time, both the KMT and the CCP participated in the drafting process, and both China and Taiwan were governed by this Constitution. After the ROC government relocated to Taiwan in 1949, the system and operation of government continues to follow the constitutional framework established in 1947. In addition, through Interpretation 31 of the Council of Grand Justices, the problem over the re-election of the ROC's central government legislative representatives was resolved, preserving the legal system in Taiwan. In 1949, the CCP took over the mainland, declared the adoption of a new state title, national flag, and national anthem, as well as a new constitution. The CCP then went on to announce the establishment of a new country, severing all relations with Taiwan.

In the 32 years from 1949 to 1981, the PRC's relationship with the ROC in Taiwan lacked clear definition in the PRC Constitution. This was the case until the following statement was inserted into the preamble of the PRC Constitution by a constitutional amendment on Dec. 4, 1982 -- "Taiwan is part of the PRC's sacred territory, and completing the unification of the motherland is a sacred task of all Chinese people, including the people of Taiwan." In other words, when the PRC established a new country in 1949, it abandoned Taiwan. Taiwan is part of the ROC, not part of the PRC. This is a historical fact.

The one China principle and "one China, with each side free to make its own interpretation" present constitutional problems. This is because after the CCP changed the name of the country in 1949, the reality of two Chinas was created. The amendment of the PRC Constitution in 1982 sought to fabricate the illusion of "one China." At the time of the Shanghai Communique, the one China the US government "recognized" was neither the ROC nor the PRC. Rather, it was "a China built by peaceful means," and "a future one China."

China has previously waged political warfare through its stance on the one China principle, and "one China, with each side free to make its own interpretation." Now it has made a three-part declaration: "There is only one China in the world; the mainland and Taiwan both belong to this one China; the permanent division of overall Chinese sovereignty and territory will not be tolerated."

The declaration demonstrates the CCP's realization that the one China principle is incapable of resolving the constitutional and political problems existing between the two countries. Therefore, the recent version of one China announced by Qian is actually a restatement of Lee Teng-hui's (李登輝) "one China, with two equal political regimes" announced in the early 1990s. This is by far the most pragmatic view of the ROC by the PRC.

The ROC was the government of China between 1912 to 1949, and the government of the rump ROC territory remaining under its jurisdiction -- Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu -- for 52 years from 1949 until now. After its establishment in 1949, the PRC has neither ruled nor forcibly taken over any part of Taiwan. So, Taiwanese and Chinese sovereignty are separate and the sovereignty of the geographical entity known as China before 1949 is divided.

Under the circumstances, the CCP's imposition of its one China principle on Taiwan, "one China, peaceful unification," and, in the event that this does not work, the threat to use force, has provoked even more resentment on the part of the Taiwanese people.

In 1995, Jiang Zemin declared eight points in which "Chinese do not fight Chinese" was given as the supreme guideline for unification propaganda toward Taiwan. However, during Taiwan's 1996 presidential election campaign, CCP missile drills targeted waters just outside the ports of Keelung and Kaohsiung. So tense was the military situation the the US felt compelled to send two carrier battle groups to the vicinity of the Taiwan Strait. The People's Liberation Army's threat to attack Taiwan generated huge resentment toward the one China principle, devastating China's idea of a unification strategy based on nationalist sentiment.

Since then the PRC has set up 200 to 300 short-range missiles along the coast of Fujian Province. The PRC has also purchased large quantities of advanced weapons, naval vessels, submarines, and fighter jets in preparation for an attack against Taiwan within the next 10 years, apparently showing that "Chinese do not fight Chinese" is nothing but a slogan.

After the handover of Hong Kong to China, the implementation of "one country, two systems" has been proven a failure. Selling Hong Kong's experience in the "one country, two systems" model under which Taiwan would become just a special administrative region is simply unacceptable to the people of Taiwan.

Jiang Zemin's unification gimmick of "unifying China with Chinese culture" is based on nationalism. Just look at how the CCP has ruled China in the past 50 years, victimizing its own people, and liquidating its own members. The KMT loudly broadcast slogans about Chinese culture when it first arrived in Taiwan, but the 228 Incident, the subsequent white terror, and the KMT's one-party totalitarianism gave Chinese culture a bad name among people in Taiwan.

The past 100 years is a page of painful memories for the people of Taiwan. Although developed by immigrants from China with, at that time, strong attachments to what they saw as their mother country, Taiwan was given away to Japan. After the end of World War II, the Taiwanese looked forward to returning to bosom of Chinese culture, yet were first raped by the KMT's carpetbaggers then imprisoned by the Chiang regime for 38 years.

The CCP also speaks loudly of Chinese culture, yet it had waged the Cultural Revolution, still brutally suppresses Tibet, massacred its own people in Tiananmen Square and is victimizing Falun Gong followers and other religious sects. Such dark aspects of Chinese culture foretell the pathetic fate of Taiwan's modernized democracy, economy, and society under the "one China principle." Taiwan's lesson, learned at great cost, is that only trouble comes out of China.

China has strongly demanded that Taiwan open up the "three links" -- direct transportation, communication and commercial links. Taiwan, however, ended up having to unilaterally launch the "small three links" to Fujian while China adopted a passive and uncooperative attitude.

This turn of events shows the massive self-contradictions in the "one China principle." China's says the three links are domestic affairs. If that were so, should they be governed by ROC or PRC law? Qian advocates handling them as domestic affairs according to PRC law, while the ROC thinks they have to handled according to a special status in accordance with the divided sovereignty of the two sides -- the "special state-to-state" relationship and "one China, with each side free to make its own interpretation." Qian just wants to ignore the fact that the two sides are separate political entities with independent sovereignties. The PRC's blind spot is of course "peaceful unification," since how can unification be accomplished unless you admit division in the first place?

The Triangular Relationship Between Taiwan, China and

the US

The triangular relationship between Taiwan, China, and the US is also very complicated. Before the US entered into formal diplomatic relations with the PRC, even at the time it signed the Shanghai Communique, the US maintained formal diplomatic relations with the ROC. The US declared in the Shanghai Communique that "all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China." However, the US' simultaneous passage of the TRA and entry into formal diplomatic relations with the PRC implied a recognition of "one China, two substantive political regimes," and a foreign policy of "one China, one Taiwan." The sum total of the US attempts to safeguard Taiwan via the TRA while opening diplomatic relations with a China intransigent over the status of Taiwan was a "three Chinas" policy. Under this one China is defined as the PRC, but the ROC on Taiwan is an independent entity while there is a future one China which incorporates both China and Taiwan.

Therefore, the one China acknowledged by the US is conceptually deeply ambiguous. From this ambiguity comes the US' policy for an ambiguous triangular relationship. This policy, on the one hand, has caused Taiwan repeated setbacks in international relations, yet, on the other hand, attests that the PRC has no control whatsoever over Taiwan. The one China that the PRC forces would-be diplomatic allies to accept is of course a mirage.

Former US president Bill Clinton consistently leaned toward the PRC in handling US-PRC-ROC relations, while using the TRA as a way of maintaining stable relationships and peace. In view of the fact that the PRC's development of long-range missiles constitutes a threat to the safety of the US, the new Bush administration is reconsidering the equilibrium between safety and peace in East Asia, as well as establishing a national missile defense system. The US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Europe in early February to exchange views with European allies.

The US' establishment of a theater missile defense system for Japan and Taiwan highlights the Bush administration's policy of skewing toward Taiwan's safety and stability in the triangular relationship, and US concerns about the proliferation of PRC nuclear offensive technology and missiles. The US also remains concerned about the PRC's human rights conditions. These two concerns remain unresolved.

US-Japan relations are the cornerstone of East Asian security. Singapore has also built a seaport capable of accommodating US carriers. The Philippines has a treaty of military cooperation with the US. The US has also entered multi-lateral treaties with many Asian countries for the purpose of maintaining East Asian stability and humanitarian aid works. The US has many measures to maintain peace and stability of Asia. With respect to Taiwan, the US does not expect Taiwan to accept the one China principle, rather it continues to go by the "one China, one Taiwan" principle. The latter is consistent with the US' self-interest and maintaining Taiwan's stability. For these reasons, the US is especially concerned about the substantive nature of an "integrated China."

A Chinese confederation is one China

The Taiwan government's cross-strait policy should follow the concept of the EU. With economics and culture as the basis of cross-strait exchanges, the two sides should establish mutual trust, understanding, and assistance. Communication and drafting administrative agreements with China should proceed under such a model. The cross-strait relationship should be built on an understanding that the two sides are political entities with independent sovereignty. ARATS on the PRC side and the SEF on the Taiwan side should arrange for agreements among high-ranking government officials of both sides on international relations, bilateral commercial and trade cooperation, public health issues, problems of illegal immigration, crackdowns on international crime, economic issues, tariffs, agriculture cooperation, technological exchanges, news exchanges, tourism and transportation. Such agreements would only facilitate a stable relationship between the two sides.

The president of Taiwan should instruct the relevant cross-strait policy and advisory units to begin drafting treaties governing political, economic and social rights, as well as basic human rights, for this "Greater Chinese Confederation." After these treaties have been executed and implemented by both the PRC and the ROC, the charter for a "Greater Chinese Council" should then take form. The Greater Chinese Confederation is best based on a treaty of peace. The confederation should not require a tight organizational and structural relationship. Consensus or agreement reached through communication and negotiation at leadership meetings and ministerial meetings should serve as a framework for the council.

A Leadership Conference should only decide on the external policies and legal framework of the confederation, without interfering in the member states' domestic politics, national defense and diplomatic policies. A Ministerial Conference should safeguard against international terrorist organizations, address safety on the high seas, and international crimes through WTO regulations on tariffs, economy, trade, and transportation.

The most fundamental purposes of the confederation's existence would be to create the best possible economic conditions for the member states, strengthen interdependence for economic interests, and improve the quality of life for people in general. Member states should not interfere with each other's politics, national defense and foreign affairs, so as to prevent any one state from becoming the appendage of another. Taiwan would neither interfere with China's domestic politics nor criticize China's human rights records, political reforms, economic and social policies, or its methods of power transfer.

The ROC and the PRC have never reached any consensus over the one China principle. The existence of two Chinas is a political fact. President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has by now accepted the principle of "one China, with each side free to make its own interpretation." China has reciprocated by making the reopening of cross-strait talks possible. The basis of negotiation for unification is a Chinese confederation. This is a topic that China should be capable of accepting. With the existence of divided state sovereignty and territory by the ROC and the PRC as a basis, these two independent sovereign entities can integrate in the evolutionary manner of the EU. This would also be compatible with China's new interpretation of "one China, two countries," that is, a union between democratic and socialist countries. Taiwan has unequivocally expressed that it will not accept the Hong Kong model of "one country, two systems." Qian has already indicated that "China and Taiwan both belong to one China," thereby acknowledging the reality of two sovereign entities and the possibility of unifying the two through integration.

Taiwan cannot possibly accept the "one country, two systems" model that China had previously insisted upon. Taiwan demands that it maintain its independent sovereignty. China is finding Taiwan's position hard to bear. The two sides of the Taiwan Strait have been in a stand-off which has absorbed many resources and much time, with neither unification nor independence, for the past 52 years. The international community has been able to reap benefits from the situation. The two sides' simultaneous entry into the world economic order of the WTO presents a good chance to make a breakthrough for the current impasse. The two sides will proceed with encounters under the WTO framework, as well as engaging in economic negotiations. Major breakthroughs on the issue of the "three links" are inevitable. This is a chance for the two sides to realign their relationship.

With respect to the realignment of the cross-strait relationship, I personally suggest a dynamic and gradual process. President Chen Shui-bian's discourse on integration is a pretty good starting point. From economic and cultural integration, we may evolve into political integration. Such a development would be compatible with the process of entering the WTO. A confederation system is a reasonable mid-point between unification and independence. Once the two sides enter the integration process, both would be able to enjoy a stable transition period in which experiments for gradual and progressive cross-strait cooperations and exchanges may be carried out. Independence of the two sides, as well as the possibility of a "future one China" may be preserved in the process, leaving open the options and flexibility of independence and unification.

A confederacy is neither the outright independence that Taiwan wants nor a unification under the "one country, two systems" model that China expects. Of course the two sides do not necessarily have to choose confederacy as a process of unification. However, China would think in terms of preventing Taiwan's declaration of independence by first incorporating Taiwan into an integration framework. Taiwan should think in terms of the price in terms of national security and economic losses in cross-strait cooperation, if Taiwan does not join the unification process through a confederacy. Instead of choosing an uncertain future and maintaining a long-term impasse, the two sides might as well choose a confederacy and a predictable future.

Wisdom to be tested

Confederacy would be a highly-refined political project. It would not only test the political wisdom of the leadership on the other side of the Taiwan Strait, it would also present an ultimate decision on peace or war to the people of both sides. In the past half-century, the two sides have undergone a process of civil war, cold war, and lukewarm peace. Now it is time to pursue a long and peaceful progress.

Lee Chang-kuei (李長貴) is president of the Taipei Times