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Wed, Jan 12, 2000 - Page 9 News List

Global trends help shape cross-strait relations

The twin forces forces of globalization and increasing demands for state sovereignty have created a delicate international balance which Taiwan should not ignore in pursuing its own aspirations

By Hsiao Bi-khim

The international environment in this new century will be dominated by a number of structural contradictions that will create a new set of challenges. The end of the cold war has not necessarily brought about sustainable peace, and it is essential for Taiwan to seek a balance within the context of these contradictions if it is to survive.

In its broadest context, the primary contradiction in this new century is the dilemma between globalization and state sovereignty. Globalization is not a new phenomenon, but in the new century it will take the form of a more actively integrated global civil society, the increased role of non-governmental organizations, interlinked and unrestricted information sharing across national boundaries through cable television and the Internet, increased free market access to goods and services, and the universalization of values such as human rights and democracy.

The current wave of globalization will not be a smooth one, as indicated by the confrontational WTO negotiations in Seattle, but there is no doubt that people, values, goods, information and services, will become increasingly global, transcending the traditional boundaries and protective walls erected by the state. Whether or not the integration of the European monetary union will thrive in the coming years will be a test of globalization's strength. 

While globalization is dissolving traditional boundaries, people are creating new nations and erecting new boundaries. This is taking place at two levels.

Communities that have long been deprived of representation are especially eager to re-define boundaries and assert their own sovereignty. Taiwan, Chechnya, East Timor and Kosovo are cases in point. At another level, however, the salience of hegemonic sovereignty is also growing. China, Russia and Yugoslavia are evermore rigid in defining their sovereignty and are not hesitant to use military force to protect their boundaries.

Another structural contradiction in this new century is the tug of war between uni-polar and multi-polar forces, which will define whether or not the US will continue as the lone and unchallenged superpower. Globalists like Sam Huntington see the decline of the US hegemony as large states like China and Russia, and even the European Union, seek opportunities to defy US supremacy in the hope of achieving multi-polarity. Such a transformation may not be realized in the short-term future, but the long-term evolution of the contradiction is in itself an important factor to consider.

I believe that these broad structural contradictions are what underlie the tensions in cross-strait interaction. Cross-strait exchange and increasing economic activity have not diluted either side's focus on state sovereignty. Essentially, sovereignty claims have only strengthened in the debate between "one China" vs. "state-to-state."

While economic boundaries are gradually dissolving, political and military boundaries are erected: The political and military boundaries are apparently in direct conflict with one another. China dictates Taiwan's sphere of influence while Taiwan struggles for a separate international identity. China's struggle to prevent US hegemony and to establish a multi-polar world only augments the assertion of a state sovereign boundary that includes Taiwan. And the US, in its domestic debate in search of a new international role is increasingly reluctant to project military might abroad, except for the defense of core national interests, which are often defined only vaguely. Taiwan stands at the threshold in the fight over spheres of influence, between the US superpower and an increasingly assertive China.

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