Build consensus, then discuss peace

By Joseph Wu 吳釗燮  / 

Sat, Oct 29, 2011 - Page 8

The nation’s main political parties are gearing up for the January presidential and legislative elections. Even though many have witnessed the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government’s rampant use of the judicial process to criminalize opposition leaders, the people of this young democracy should be congratulated for having arrived at the final phase of the presidential term and being able to yet again decide on a national leader through the popular vote.

Cross-strait policy was the focal point in the previous presidential elections. However, the Democratic Progressive Party has decided to campaign on the platforms of social justice, unemployment, welfare and other social and economic issues to highlight the government’s inability to address these issues. Nevertheless, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) considered relations with China as more advantageous to his election chances and decided to set the debate on cross-strait ties by introducing a possible peace agreement with China in his platform.

This action has certainly turned the campaign spotlight back onto the issue. Peace is a universal value and is at the heart of the UN Charter. When, and if, Taiwan and China can reach peace with one other, it should be welcomed by both Taiwanese and the international community. Nevertheless, the concept of a cross-strait peace agreement as proposed by Ma and China contains major problems that cannot be ignored.

China has clearly expressed its view on the resolution of the “Taiwan problem” in the roadmap laid down by Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) in his six-point statement at the end of 2008.

In the roadmap, Hu said that the two sides should, based on the “one China” principle, negotiate the formal end of the civil war and sign a peace agreement. The two sides could then discuss the political framework before unification as well as the issue of mutual military trust.

According to this roadmap, the “one China” principle and a formal end of the civil war become preconditions for a peace agreement. Apparently, the result of the peace agreement will be unidirectional: Taiwan neutralized and on the irreversible road to unification.

Ma has neither repudiated China’s method of resolving the Taiwan issue nor explained his position on the “one China” principle or the ending of the civil war as preconditions for talks on a peace agreement. In fact, he asserted that he saw genuine goodwill in the six-point statement in a video conference in April 2009.

This has left much room for speculation that he has accepted the preconditions and China’s plan for engaging in political talks. However, this is the center of much nervousness on the “one China” issue and can be taken to mean that Taiwan is part of China. Without the position cleared up, Taiwan may have its de facto independent status altered when going into negotiations.

However, if Taiwan is to be part of China, it should be the result of the talks instead of a precondition. Many Taiwanese are concerned to see that the Ma administration takes no position when China claims internationally that Taiwan is part of China.

Ending the civil war is another serious problem that needs to be scrutinized. Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) terminated the emergency decree in 1991. If Ma wants to send the country back to the pre-1991 years and recognize that the two parties are still engaged in a civil war, ending it means that the two parts will come together again.

For countries that have a stake in maintaining the cross-strait “status quo,” the impact of such negotiations and the follow-up peace agreement on the regional strategic environment would be considerable. Without notifying and consulting Taiwan’s key international partners, such as the US and Japan, the surprise announcement of the potential pursuit of a peace agreement with China is simply reckless.

China has already placed great pressure on the US regarding the sale of defense weapons to Taiwan.

One inevitable result of a formal end of the civil war and a peace agreement would be that the foundation for such security cooperation would no longer exist, as Taiwan would have become part of China. Similarly, the foundation for the Taiwan Relations Act would no longer exist.

China’s record of following through on agreements has been questionable. Exiled Tibetans continue to remind us of the outcome of their “peace agreement” with China in 1951: It invited the Chinese invasion and a massacre. Peace is easy; it can be reached if China renounces the use of force in accordance with the UN Charter.

Cross-strait policies have been divisive and often controversial in Taiwan. A national leader should enter into a consensus-building process domestically before any political talks with China.

Unfortunately, Ma’s policy-making style is the opposite of this and has further divided and consequently weakened Taiwan.

Joseph Wu is former chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council and former representative to the US.