Taiwan’s policy toward China can be very simple. Most Taiwanese would agree with the three following points:
One, China needs to remove missiles aimed at Taiwan and reduce the military threat against its democratic neighbor.
Two, China needs to respect Taiwan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
And three, China needs to give Taiwan more international space and stop blocking its membership in international organizations.
These goals should also be supported by the international community, as it represents a move toward peaceful coexistence of the two countries as friendly neighbors.
However, the policies of President Ma Ying-jeou’s administration have made things more confusing and complicated. They have sought to accommodate China, allowing peace to reign across the Taiwan Strait for the time being, but also setting the nation up for instability in the longer term, as they seek to tie Taiwan too closely to an undemocratic and belligerent China. Eventually, Taiwanese expectations of a free and democratic future will collide with China’s goal of incorporating Taiwan into its fold.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration has sought to paper over the differences by devising formulations such as the so-called “1992 consensus” (“one China, different interpretations”) and former KMT chairman Wu Po-hsiung’s (吳伯雄) “one country, two areas (一國兩區),” which later evolved into the “One Republic of China (ROC), two areas” adage. These confusing formulations have rightly earned the ROC the nickname “Republic of Confusion.”
This “China confusion” is all too common: How many times have Taiwanese been denied entry into other countries because their ROC passport gave foreign immigration officials the impression that they are from the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
When there is a mishap involving a China Airlines plane, the press, unsurprisingly, refers to it as a “Chinese airline.” And recently when a US congressional candidate accused a competitor of accepting an all-expenses paid trip to Taiwan, the flag used to represent Taiwan was that of the PRC.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is also currently debating its policy toward China. There is a general agreement that economic ties are acceptable, but even there Taiwan will need to watch its step: Getting too closely entangled with China economically will increase its political leverage. Taiwan needs to hedge and not put all its economic eggs in the China basket.
However, what other policies or positions can be devised beyond that? Former DPP chairman and premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) has come up with yet another formulation: “constitutional one China (憲法一中)” and “constitutional consensus (憲法共識).” To be honest, these fuzzy formulations are just as bad as, or even worse than, the confusion wrought by the Ma administration’s “one China” policy.
The DPP needs to stick to its basic principle that Taiwan is a free and democratic nation that deserves to be accepted as a full and equal member of the international community. Any decision on Taiwan’s future has to be made by Taiwanese themselves, in a democratic fashion, without any outside interference.
So if the DPP and the public alike want to move forward, they need to come to a Taiwan consensus that incorporates at least the three elements mentioned in the beginning of this article: removal of the Chinese military threat, respect for Taiwan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and international space for Taiwan and membership in international organizations.
Mei-chin Chen is a commentator based in Washington.