A big step in the wrong direction

By Nat Bellocchi 白樂崎  / 

Sun, Apr 01, 2012 - Page 8

At the annual Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) forum held in Beijing on March 24, former KMT chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) put forward the concept of “one country, two areas” as the basis for future cross-strait talks. This proposal appeared to come out of the clear blue sky, and has raised eyebrows in Taiwan and overseas.

The move caused commotion in Taiwan, with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Taiwan Solidarity Union criticizing it and promising to mobilize protests. What is different about it? Or is it in line with existing policy, as the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has claimed?

Let us examine the idea and its context, and see if it helps or hurts Taiwan’s international position.

First, we must note that the proposal was launched at the CCP-KMT forum, which has become an annual ritual between the two parties. This is not a good development for Taiwan, because the topic was raised in party-to-party discussions. Experience shows that the CCP-KMT forum is not the proper place for the development of cross-strait policy, because it does not involve legislative oversight, accountability or transparency, which are essential elements in a democracy.

Second, it looks suspiciously like the “one country, two systems” formula proposed by China, first for Hong Kong, and later also as a “model” for Taiwan. The new term is therefore a further step on the slippery slope toward the “one country, two systems” formulation. In view of the reluctance of Beijing to give the people of Hong Kong the freedom to choose their own leader and move toward full suffrage, one wonders if this is a wise move.

Third, defenders of the new terminology have argued that it moves the discussion between the two sides of the Strait forward, and that it adheres to the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution. The problem with this argument is that it strengthens Beijing’s hand and weakens Taiwan’s sovereignty by putting Taiwan on the same footing as Hong Kong and Macao, as an “area” that is part of the country called China.

To just about everyone around the world, China is synonymous with the People’s Republic of China. Few outside a small circle of diehard ROC supporters in Taipei still adhere to the argument that “one China” equals the ROC. This is simply not the present-day reality, and the sooner everyone says farewell to that anachronism, the better.

One must also wonder what implications “one country, two areas” would have for foreign policy and defense. An “area” generally does not have a foreign ministry to conduct foreign relations, or a military to defend its territory. Does Wu propose merging the foreign and defense ministries of Taiwan and China?

Wu’s ideas must thus be seen as a turn in the wrong direction, which could lead to instability and a downgrading of Taiwan’s international status.

If Taiwanese and their government want to strengthen Taiwan’s relations with the international community, they need to emphasize — not de--emphasize — Taiwan’s freedom, democracy and sovereignty. Making a complicated situation even more confusing by -inventing yet another fuzzy term does not help.

As I have argued before, moves such as this one and the so-called “1992 consensus” may bring the temporary false perception of a relaxation of tensions across the Strait, but in the longer term, they reduce Taiwan’s room for maneuver on the international stage, leading to increased tension down the road.

Most of all, what does this move actually gain for Taiwan?

If Taiwan really wants to move toward long-term stability, it needs to work on an internal consensus, a “Taiwan consensus,” on how Taiwanese, through a democratic mechanism, perceive their future. For long-term stability, Taiwan needs to strengthen its position as a key member of the regional economic framework among East Asian nations, and for long-term stability it is also essential to develop closer political ties with democratic neighbors such as Japan and the Philippines, as well as faraway friends such as the EU and the US.

Nat Bellocchi is a former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan. The views expressed in this article are his own.