Nowadays, any discussion on cross-strait peace will likely be associated with the possibility of Taipei and Beijing signing a so-called “peace agreement.” The problem is that any peace pact with Beijing means having to accept the “one China” principle, and thus the proposition that we have to respect the “one China” principle advocated by the Chinese government if cross-strait peace is to be possible.
My contention in this article is that this idea entails serious cognitive errors, which exist in essentially two areas: first, the nature of a genuine peace, and second, the view of sovereignty based upon which genuine peace could be established.
From the perspective of the Chinese government, nationalism and sovereignty are values that override the individual. Thus, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), when introducing his “Chinese dream” concept, could say: “History tells us that everybody’s future and destiny are closely connected to those of the country and nation”; and, “One can become better off only when the country and nation also become so.”
Developing his theme, Xi added that “to realize the great renaissance of the Chinese nation is the greatest dream for the Chinese nation in modern history,” and that this will be good for the Chinese nation and the Chinese people.
In this speech, Xi was viewing the relationship between the state and the nation’s citizens from a viewpoint that deemed the state and nation more important than individuals.
In the light of this perspective, adherence to the “one China” principle means that one should not betray the country or the nation. To understand where this idea comes from, we have to go all the way back to the Opium Wars, and the profound humiliation and enmity that resulted from it.
If cross-strait relations are to be understood from this world view, of China’s humiliation at the hands of foreign powers, then a so-called cross-strait peace will demand that both sides sacrifice themselves together for this “Chinese dream.”
This kind of “cross-strait peace” seeks to achieve the “great renaissance of the Chinese nation,” which not only suggests something less than peaceful for neighboring countries, but also has unknown consequences in terms of what sacrifices we Taiwanese, who have fought so hard to win our fundamental liberties, democracy and human rights, will have to make in order for Xi’s renaissance to take place. Will this “great renaissance” bring us true peace?
There is another way to look at sovereignty, and that is from the perspective of the citizens of a country: a group of people who, desiring freedom, establish a democratic country with a constitutional government as a way to guarantee the furthering of human rights.
Seen from this perspective, the sovereignty of a nation is the overall expression of the will of the citizenry of that country, through the realization of democratic rule and constitutionalism. Their goal is not to work toward any kind of “great renaissance”: It is to guarantee and practice freedom and human rights. There is no dream more important than the dream of securing liberty and human rights.
A country’s territory is defined by the area over which it has sovereignty. If two countries, built by free peoples, become embroiled in a territorial dispute with each other, there is no such thing as sacred territory. Such disputes, just like civil disputes between any two individuals, can be settled by engaging in dialogue with each other, based on reciprocity and goodwill.
However, this presupposes that both parties — nations — consist of two groups of people united in the goal of striving for freedom and human rights, through negotiations carried out by the democratic constitutional state that they had created, something that is absolutely necessary if the underpinnings of mutual trust are to be cultivated. If any one party enters into these negotiations placing its plans for a grand renaissance above its citizenry, and the other party is a government that does not think the same way, then the latter is going to think twice before agreeing to any concessions to the former.
This is why Taiwan and Japan can come to an agreement on fishing rights in the waters surrounding the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), and also why such a thing could rile Beijing so.
Given this, true peace across the Taiwan Strait cannot be guaranteed by a “peace agreement” predicated on achieving some kind of “great renaissance” alone. It needs to be constructed upon an understanding that both sides of the Strait can, to a given degree, realize a constitutional political order guaranteeing freedom, democracy and human rights.
Otherwise, whatever dream is concocted between the rulers will, in the end, turn into a nightmare for the citizens of their respective countries, and how can truly peaceful relations be established between two peoples living a nightmare?
Hsu Szu-chien is an associate research fellow at the Institute of Political Science at Academia Sinica and a board member of Taiwan Democracy Watch.
Translated by Paul Cooper