Reporting on the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 18th National Congress by the Taiwanese media mostly focused on who was winning factional struggles and whether China’s strategy toward Taiwan had hardened or softened. This focus on details has meant that the bigger picture was missed.
China’s Taiwan strategy has always been subordinated to its grand global strategy. In the 1970s, Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) grand strategy was to work together with the US to contain the Soviet Union. When it came to Taiwan, Mao agreed to Washington maintaining diplomatic ties with Taipei while also establishing a liaison office in Beijing — in other words, dual recognition.
On Oct. 21, 1975, Mao told then-US secretary of state Henry Kissinger that it would be better if Taiwan remained in the US sphere of influence, and that he did not want it even if the US were to give it to him. He also said: “I am going to heaven soon, and when I see God, I’ll tell him that it’s better that Taiwan is under the care of the US.”
After Mao died, former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) changed Mao’s grand strategy and began working to contain Taiwan. He forced then-US president Jimmy Carter to sever ties with Taiwan, withdraw US troops stationed here and abolish mutual treaties. Deng wrongly thought that strong US pressure would force then-Republic of China president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) to the negotiating table to discuss “peaceful unification.”
In addition, China attempted to lure Taiwan with then-National People’s Congress chairman Ye Jianying’s (葉劍英) “nine points” in 1981 and Deng’s “six points” in 1983. Beijing even set a timetable for unification in the 1980s.
Chiang’s grand strategy was to shift the focus from re-conquering the Chinese mainland to developing Taiwan, as he launched the Ten Major Construction Projects and returned power to the public. Chiao Jen-ho (焦仁和), Chiang’s chief secretary during his latter years, told the following two stories:
When Chiang sought advice from his national policy adviser Tao Pai-chuan (陶百川), Tao suggested democratic reform. Chiang agreed with him, saying that power in Taiwan should lie with its people.
According to the second story, when the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was established in 1986, there were strong calls within the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to suppress the new party. When the Presidential Office secretary-general at the time, Shen Chang-huan (沈昌煥), warned Chiang that the KMT might lose power if the ban was lifted, his response was that no ruling party can stay in power forever.
With his policy of no contact, no negotiation and no compromise with China, Chiang defeated Deng’s timetable for unification by promoting his grand strategy of promoting economic development, democratic reform and national vitality and creativity. In a meeting with former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev on May 16, 1989, Deng said that the “Taiwan issue” was the only unfinished business in his life, and that he might not live to see the issue resolved.
Did the CCP change its tactics on Taiwan at its latest party congress? No, because it continues to uphold Deng’s policies of peaceful unification and “one country, two systems.” Still, there is a strategic difference between former Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and his successor, Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). After Jiang’s attempts to intimidate Taiwan by word and by sword failed, Hu focused on a strategy of peaceful development. The key component of his strategy was “one China, and joint opposition to independence,” based on an innovative approach suggested by the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits’ then chairman Wang Daohan (汪道涵), who said that Taiwan should be made to take the bait voluntarily, to make the whole exercise look better. Over the past 12 years, many Taiwanese have willingly taken Beijing’s bait.
In the face of the current global situation, things do not look too good for China. Before the CCP’s National Congress, US President Barack Obama was re-elected, and he promptly visited Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia. He has also proposed a grand strategy of rebalancing the US toward Asia, the so-called “Asian pivot,” and supporting and cooperating with Asian democracies in an effort to contain China’s military expansion. Under these circumstances, the overall situation is much more favorable to Taiwan now than it was under Chiang Ching-kuo.
Not long ago, Obama gave Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi a hug and kiss during his visit to the country, while Philippine President Benigno Aquino III criticized Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) at an international meeting in Cambodia. The Philippines is aware of the strength of unity between Asian democracies. Meanwhile, Japan is eager for talks over its entry to the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership.
Astonishingly, Taiwan seems oblivious to the ongoing changes. No wonder Associated Press reported on Nov. 20 that Taiwan has been “left out in the cold.”
I agree with DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang’s (蘇貞昌) and his predecessor, Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文), call for a national affairs conference. Such a conference would help remedy problems such as the underfinanced national pension system and year-end bonuses for retired government employees, as well as discuss and propose a grand Taiwanese strategy to deal with the changing global situation. Taiwan’s economic development and democratic politics could gain new vigor which could help realize a happy, fair and just society, terminating the loss of national vitality and creativity so Taiwan would be able to stand together with the world’s advanced countries.
Ruan Ming is an academic specializing in cross-strait issues. He was an assistant to former Chinese Communist Party general-secretary Hu Yaobang.
Translated by Eddy Chang