The problem with academics who are also politicians is that they tend to say one thing when in office, and something quite different when they’re in academia.
This certainly applies to National Security Council (NSC) Secretary-General Su Chi (蘇起), who is both an academic and has a long history of involvement in government under former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and in the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration, and served as a legislator for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) for a good part of Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) presidency. Su the political animal has a weakness for hyperbole, such as when, in October 2007, he claimed that Taiwan was developing nuclear weapons, which was false.
A consequence of this is that Su the academic must be approached with caution. That being said, this does not mean Taiwan’s Relations with Mainland China is a bad book. In fact, it’s a fairly good book — at least when Su manages to restrain his political Mr Hyde.
Su’s book covers the period from 1988 through 2004, which includes tentative efforts to open diplomatic talks across the Taiwan Strait all the way to the end of Chen’s first term as president.
The core argument is that from 1988 until 1995, Taiwan and China acted pragmatically and launched a series of talks — initially secret — that culminated in official dialogue between the Straits Exchange Foundation and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS).
Su covers this period in detail, all the way down to a fascinating description of the protocol adopted to ensure “equality” between the two sides when they met, from symmetrical table arrangements to who was to speak first at press conferences.
Those talks gave rise to the so-called “1992 Consensus,” a term coined by Su that he says served as a viable alternative to thornier (and for Taiwan at times unacceptable) terminology such as “one China, respective interpretations.” While Su admits that the term was nothing more than a euphemism, he maintains that its ambiguity allowed the two sides to shelve differences and continue the talks.
Not only does this seven-year period coincide with China’s economic takeoff and opening to foreign investment, but it also marked a time when Beijing hoped that it could talk with Lee. In Su’s view, if there is mutual trust between the two sides and common ground can be found on the basis of “one China,” it is possible to build a stable, win-win relationship.
The SEF-ARATS meetings, which remained largely symbolic and did not achieve much of substance besides agenda-setting for future talks, were derailed by two developments of Lee’s making: his visit to Cornell University in June 1995, and the development of the Two-States Theory in 1999 — namely that Taiwan and China are two countries that exit on each side of the Taiwan Strait. Beijing’s reaction to Lee’s visit to his alma mater, Su argues, was based on the perception that Washington was attempting to drive a wedge between Taipei and Beijing and prompted the latter to launch the “offense by the pen and intimidation by the sword” campaign.
The following year, China fired missiles off the waters of Taiwan during the presidential election.
If the Cornell visit derailed cross-strait dialogue, the Two-States Theory “bombshell” sank it, Su argues.
Allegedly commissioned by Lee, directed by the NSC and using “special secret funds,” the drafters of the Two-States Theory documents worked under such secrecy, Su argues, that it was “a true mockery of the development process of a nation that claims to be democratic.”