EDITORIAL: Fear not, a peace accord isn’t near

Fri, Feb 03, 2012 - Page 8

With his re-election on Jan. 14 to a second four-year mandate, rumors have begun circulating in pan-green circles that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) could be tempted to broach the issue of a peace accord with China before the end of his second term — or even within a year.

Even if the executive here and in Beijing had such intentions, the chances of a peace accord are very slim, as too many variables will act as brakes on any such move.

Ma first raised the issue of a peace accord in October, saying it would be feasible for Taiwan to sign such an agreement with China within a decade. Those remarks, ostensibly the result of pressure from Beijing and Washington rather than Ma’s initiative — given the awkward timing of the announcement, three months before the election — immediately alarmed Taiwanese and forced Ma to add conditions for the signing of such an accord, including a referendum.

Beijing would be expected to seek to include in the accord such conditions as the framing of Taiwan as a province of China rather than as a sovereign state, the cessation of US arms sales to Taiwan and perhaps the abrogation of the US’ Taiwan Relations Act. For Beijing, the ultimate objective of the accord would be the unification of the two countries.

Such fundamental changes in Taiwan’s relationship with the US, its one longstanding security guarantor, cannot be accomplished overnight, even if some elements within the White House appear intent on neutralizing the “Taiwan question.”

Rare is the Taiwanese who would welcome a decision by Taipei and Washington to sever a relationship that, for the most part, has benefited Taiwan, if only by providing it with the political and military backing it needs to deal with Beijing with confidence.

This also applies to the armed forces, which over decades have developed close ties with the US military and whose promotion system remains largely tied to the acquisition of US weapons systems. Ending that relationship would not only take time, it would risk alienating an important component of political stability and a key supporter of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).

However much Ma and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) may desire the Nobel Peace Prize, most members of the KMT are not in favor of unification and would oppose any rash move by the president. While under the Constitution Ma cannot run for a third consecutive term, his would-be successor within the party must already be looking to 2016 and would not want to see his or her chances scuttled by Ma rocking the boat and alienating Taiwanese voters.

The new legislature, in which the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) added seven seats and its ally the Taiwan Solidarity Union won three, is also a more balanced one, meaning that the executive will be unable to dictate policy to the same extent it has since 2008. Despite Ma’s wishes, he is constrained by a Constitution and a democratic system that imposes checks and balances on his ability to act. He cannot simply sign a peace accord into law.

One thing the DPP and its allies should push for is the requirement to hold a referendum before a peace accord can be negotiated and written into law. Given that Ma has already mentioned such a need and added to divisions within the KMT on unification, such a law would likely gain enough support from pan-blue legislators to pass the legislature.

For its part, China faces its own series of challenges. The Chinese Communist Party will have a new secretary-general at the end of the year and China will have a new president the following March. Added to signs of economic trouble and internal instability, Beijing will have enough on its hands and will also favor continuity and stability in the Taiwan Strait over the uncertainties of a rush into political negotiations.