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.
Of course the complexity of the power politics and conflicting or merging interests is beyond the scope of this short position paper. However, the point is to define the fundamental policy dilemmas for Taiwan in the context of broader global structural contradictions. I believe that for both Taiwan and China, the global structure provides at least two core policy dilemmas: Sovereignty and the role of the US.
The sovereignty dilemma is obviously most salient. My DPP colleague, Chiou I-jen (
Although an outside observer may argue that it would be in the best interests of both sides to ease their respective claims, the reality is that out of mutual suspicion, both sides take hard-line deterrent strategies, resulting in mutual confrontation. This dilemma is not likely to be resolved in the short term.
Since President Lee's announcement of "special state-to-state relations," all Taiwan's major political forces have reached a consensus on a number of key points, including Taiwan's position as a sovereign independent state. Even James Soong's (
In any case, President Lee has set the tone for the domestic political debate, and that is an increasingly assertive position on sovereignty. This position is also likely to incite displeasure on the part of China, and in response we may also expect growing Chinese pressure. The inauguration of the new president, however, opens a window of opportunity for reconciliation, which both Taiwan and China must grasp.
The second policy dilemma is how to view the role of the US. Although it is not clear how long US hegemony can be sustained, China is certain to continue to defy the US when a conflict of interest is perceived, or when the US is seen as attempting to dominate China. Thus China will remain suspicious and vocally critical of the US-Japan Security Alliance and US intentions over Taiwan. In looking at the role of the US, a structural evolution from a uni-polar world to a multi-polar world would produce three possible consequences, assuming China remains strong and steadfast on its sovereignty claims:
1) China succeeds at establishing its sphere of influence, and the US accepts China as the dominating regional power with Taiwan under its control (a smooth evolution according to China's will).
2) An outright conflict occurs between the US and China in the wrestle for influence (a bumpy evolution).
3) The struggle for influence continues in its present form indefinitely, with cooperation on some matters and competition on others, with ongoing tension but no dramatic breakthroughs (status quo).
What this means for Taiwan is significant. If Taiwan and China are not able to reach a reconciliation on their own, tension is certain to continue. Cross-strait tension would necessarily engage the concern of the US, even though the US is not yet prepared to assume a role of direct intervention. At present, some Taiwanese politicians assume that the US would necessarily stand up for Taiwan. Some even invite the US to stand as a peace broker between the two. But others feel that US strategic interests in China would prevent any support for Taiwan's independent sovereignty. Either side of the argument has supporters and opponents on both sides of the strait, and depending on which side of the strait one is standing, each person would interpret the benefits of the US role differently.
The irony about US power, however, is that in the structural contradiction of globalization and state sovereignty, while China is surely going to resist US domination over Chinese political and security interests, it is more difficult to resist American "soft power" in the form of cultural influences and introduction of free information. Furthermore, despite Chinese defiance of US hard power, China is practical enough to discern when US power converges with China's interests. For example, although they reject any outright US intervention in resolving the Taiwan issue, the Chinese government has discovered that it is more effective to pressure Taiwan via the US than to do so directly. Thus there is also the possibility of China engaging the US in a dialogue against Taiwan's sovereignty aspirations.
Therefore Taiwan must be realistic about expectations of the US in the new international context. This involves ensuring national security and survival when trends are not favorable, and identifying and seizing opportunities to maximize our interests when the conditions permit. It is a delicate balancing act: maintaining adequate state interests while riding the tide of globalization and ensuring continuing survival amid a power struggle between major powers.
In practical terms, Taiwan should pursue the following directions in cross-strait relations:
1) Seizing the benefits of globalization: Taiwan can utilize its cultural and managerial advantage in developing the Chinese market and integrating China into the global economic system. This would require further deregulation of cross-strait trade and re-evaluation of the current government's "three links" position.
Some advantages would include: Profiting from China's economic growth, decreasing the economic transaction cost across the strait, compelling China to abide by international norms of behavior and allowing a free flow of information.
2) Avoiding the pitfalls of nationalism: The reality is that sovereignty is a zero-sum game in cross-strait relations. As both sides stand right now, sovereign claims on either side only invites stronger nationalist responses from the other side. It has become a vicious cycle in which antagonism has only intensified over the years. It is not realistic to expect either side to compromise in the short term and to accept the other's definition of sovereignty, so in the pursuit of mutual interests of easing tensions, I personally believe that it is wise for both to de-emphasize simultaneously the salience of sovereignty in the crossfire of rhetoric. Unless both sides can agree to disagree, which does not look achievable, it is best to put aside the disagreement and lift the insistence on sovereignty as a precondition to talks.
The greatest obstacle for doing so is the mutual suspicion and lack of confidence. Only continuing engagement can gradually resolve this difficulty over time.
3) Cautiously maneuver in the US-China balance of power. In the process of US-China engagement, Taiwan may take a more active role when the engagement is consistent with Taiwan's interest, such as the exertion of soft-power influence through developing information channels and technology, democratic promotion, personnel exchanges, human rights, military confidence building, judicial reform and market reform.
When there is a conflict of interest in US-China relations, unless it directly relates to protecting Taiwan's security interests, Taiwan should avoid positioning itself as the center of dispute. Taiwan should maintain a cautiously realistic expectations of the US, avoiding bold optimism while also exhibiting adequate confidence when responding to pressure. Furthermore, the Taiwan government should take a more liberal attitude about promoting and diversifying communication channels, allowing more convenience for Chinese to travel to Taiwan, promoting second-track dialogue with the US and China, and re-establishing meaningful consultation with the US, which was apparently did not take place when President Lee made the "state-to-state" announcement. In a situation of global contradictions, and before a clear new world order emerges, Taiwan must remain cautious and yet allow room for creativity and initiative.
Hsiao Bi-khim (
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