The CORE OF president-elect Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) foreign policy strategy is his so-called “flexible diplomacy.” He first used the concept in a speech at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore in 2006, where he said the nation’s new path meant a return to the so-called “1992 consensus,” the signing of a 30 to 50-year peace treaty with China and the development of a flexible approach to facilitate participation at international bodies.
But Ma’s “new” strategy is not at all new. The communique signed by former Chinese Nationalist Party chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) in the wake of Beijing passing its “Anti-Secession” Law in 2005 and Hu’s report to the 17th Chinese Communist Party National Congress include similar suggestions. Ma just slapped a new label on it.
And following Ma’s election victory, Beijing gave its opinion. In a phone conversation with US President George W. Bush last month, Hu reportedly said, “it is China’s consistent stand that the Chinese Mainland and Taiwan should restore consultation and talks on the basis of the 1992 consensus.”
In its English news release, China’s Xinhua news agency explained the “consensus” as meaning that “both sides recognize there is only one China, but agree to differ on its definition.”
Quite a few people are overjoyed about this. But can Ma really hope to find the foundation for favorable and flexible diplomatic relations based on a single telephone conversation? This is closely linked to how the nation’s status is perceived by the international community: Is the nation one of the new democracies that emerged from the third wave of democratization, or a province of China?
It is incontestable that Taiwan is a modern constitutional state that completed its transformation to democracy in the 1990s. Since the first presidential election in 1996, the New York-based Freedom House has ranked it as a free nation alongside such countries as the US, the UK and France in its annual freedom survey.
In his address to the APEC summit last year, Bush mentioned that “the expansion of freedom and democracy in the Asia-Pacific region is one of the great stories of our time” and highlighted the democratic transitions in Taiwan and South Korea.
The US Foreign Relations Authorization Act also clearly designates Taiwan a “major non-NATO ally.”
This is how Taiwan is perceived by the world. The most dangerous move for Ma would be to disregard the fact that the nation has emerged as a liberal, democratic and independent state and instead recognize the fictitious “1992 consensus.”
Whether it be “one China, with each side having its own interpretation” or “one China without any express interpretation,” there is no flexibility, but only a dead end.
Ma has said that “China” can refer to the “Republic of China” (ROC) as long as neither side denies this. The problem is that after UN Resolution 2758; then US president Jimmy Carter’s termination of diplomatic relations with Taiwan; and the canceling of the 1954 mutual defense treaty and withdrawal of US troops from Taiwan, the ROC has been replaced by the People’s Republic of China in the eyes of the world.
Where does that leave the ROC? Taiwan’s foreign policy strategies belong firmly on the side of liberal democracy. The nation should interact with China based on a foundation of independence, self determination, equality and mutual benefit, while remaining vigilant at all times to not be led down the “one-China” dead end.
Ruan Ming is a consultant at the Taiwan Research Institute.
Translated by Ted Yang