On Jan. 22, the Foreign Policy Research Institute published an interview with President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) conducted by Harvey Sicherman, the institute's president. In the interview, Chen said that "The Republic of China is a sovereign state .... The ROC effectively exercises jurisdiction over the islands of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu ?? a fact no one can deny." He said, "Taiwan is not a part of, a local government of, or a province of any country." He also said, "We want to emphasize to the international community that, as a sovereign state, the ROC cannot be downgraded, treated as a local government, or marginalized by anyone."
In these statements, Chen is emphasizing the nation's current political status -- that it is the government of Taiwan, not the PRC, which effectively governs Taiwan, Penghu and the offshore islands of Kinmen and Matsu. Chen is countering Beijing's claim that Taiwan is part of China, or a renegade province of China, since the PRC does not at present exercise, nor has at any time ever exercised, control over Taiwan or the Penghu islands. What Beijing means is that Taiwan should be a part of China.
On Aug. 3 last year, Chen declared to overseas Taiwanese attending the World Federation of Taiwanese Associations conference in Tokyo that each side of the Strait was a sovereign state. That statement caused alarm in some quarters of Washington. Actually Chen was merely describing the current political status of the county, the fact that it is a de facto independent country, not subject to the effective control of the PRC.
None of these statements by Chen is in conflict with his other statements in regards to the country's future status. Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) has criticized Chen for his lack of vision for Taiwan's future. In fact, Chen has clearly enunciated his vision for the nation in his Dec. 31, 2000 address: "Bridging the New Century." Because "the people of Taiwan and China share the same blood, culture and historical background ...," Chen has appealed to the leaders in China to "take cross-strait economic, trade and cultural integration as a starting point for gradually building mutual trust ..." and "then jointly seek a new framework for permanent peace and political integration between the two sides."
Although Chen has not publicly explained what is meant by "political integration," it is clear he aims to give up the nation's de facto independent status in exchange for peace and a high degree of autonomy, perhaps an improved variant of the "one country, two systems" model. Beijing has already promised that after unification Taiwan can keep its armed forces and that no PRC officials will be sent to Taiwan. So despite the sad experience of Hong Kong, where the promise of 50 years of democracy is already in shambles, Chen's DPP government shares with Beijing a common vision of a prosperous future "one China."
Chen betrays his ignorance of the country's unique history when he says Taiwan and China share the same ethnicity and historical background. Due to his Sino-centric education, Chen does not fully appreciate the rich and diverse culture of Taiwan, which encompasses the culture and values not only of China but also of the Aborigines, Japan, the US and Europe.
Chen's world view is narrowly focused on China. This is why he is anxious to normalize relations with China and to pursue direct links, even though such links would damage the economy and jeopardize national security. A president of Taiwan who is determined to preserve the nation's sovereignty and hard-won democracy would insist as preconditions for negotiation of the direct link, that China must first renounce the use of force against Taiwan under international supervision, cease its military exercises in preparation for military action against the country and withdraw its short- and medium-range missiles targeted on Taiwan.
When Chen avers that Taiwan is a sovereign state, he is merely referring to its current, effective control of its territory. He does not mean that it is a fully independent, sovereign nation. In his inaugural speech, Chen promised that during his term in office that Taiwan will not declare formal independence, change its state name, codify the two states theory, hold a plebiscite to determine its future or alter the National Unification Guidelines.
All five actions he waived unilaterally fall within the authority of a sovereign state. By forfeiting these powers, Chen has marginalized the nation's status as a fully independent sovereign state, without consulting the wishes of the Taiwanese.
It is most unfortunate that in the global contest between the forces of freedom and repression, Chen's DPP government appears inexorably headed toward a political union with the repressive PRC. However, Chen has been consistent in his statements on the status of Taiwan. The key to avoiding confusion is to distinguish between his description of the country's present political status and his vision of a future "one China."
Li Thian-hok is a freelance commentator based in Pennsylvania.
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