Speaking in an interview with the Washington Post earlier this month, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) accused China of "hostile intent" against Taiwan and challenged the so-called "one China" principle that belittles and marginalizes this nation. He said that "the people of Taiwan firmly believe that there is one country on each side of the [Taiwan] Strait. One China and one Taiwan."
Although Chen has made such statements time and again over the past year, this long exclusive interview, which puts together his ideas and statements, occupied nearly half of the international front page in the Post.
In the past, when reporting on Taiwan's relations with China, the US media would habitually include China's views by adding that Beijing regarded Taiwan as "a renegade province of China." The Post article quoted Chen as saying that "Taiwan is not a province of one country nor is it a state of another," highlighting Taiwan's clear goal of walking along its own road of survival.
Chen's remarks not only upheld Taiwan's platform but also revealed his humility in expressing good-will and flexibility to China. But he still has to face animosity from China and an opposition in Taiwan which echoes Beijing's call for "one China." He has gained a deeper understanding of the evil nature of China's political culture and has realized that, suppressed by the "one China" ideology, the only way to secure Taiwan's interests and rights as a sovereign state is to challenge the "one China" principle.
China's refusal to give up "one China" is its own business. To achieve its goal of annexing Taiwan on a legal level and eliminating Taiwan's status as a sovereign state, China can only hold fast to its "one China" principle and claim that it has succeeded the Republic of China. Taiwan must not accept this principle, otherwise it will have to surrender its sovereignty and become "a part of China."
Clearly aware of this problem, former president Lee Teng-hui (
After Chen proposed his "one country on each side" platform and pushed for the holding of referenda, the US Department of State also expressed "concern." Washington diplomats still clinging to a Cold War mentality were all nerves. However, Chen "would not bow to US pressure to modify recent moves," as the Post quoted.
The firm attitude of Taiwan's two popularly elected presidents in challenging the "one China" principle ought to make the US government review its "one China" policy. Although the US' "one China" policy has a definition different to that of China's "one China principle," Taiwan's democratization and normalization of relations with the US have still been unreasonably and unduly obstructed by the "one China" policy.
The interview also quoted a Taiwanese "pollster," apparently a supporter of the pan-blue camp, as saying that "the only way [Chen] can win is if he induces a reaction from China." It also reported that "the Bush administration has watched with some alarm as the [Taiwanese] president has launched initiatives that many fear are designed to prompt a sharp reaction from Beijing."
The report quoted US government officials as saying that they worry "Chen would use the constitutional reform package ... to change the official name of the country from Republic of China to Taiwan, a move that would enrage Beijing."
These comments are either a residue of Cold War thinking or a reflection of their ignorance of changes to global strategic configurations. If Chen's only winning stratagem is to prompt a sharp reaction from China, then Beijing -- since it dislikes Chen and wants to hand-pick another Tung Chee-hwa (
But is it that simple? Even if there is some truth in this argument, it only explains the dilemma China is facing amid efforts made by Taiwan's localized government to pursue self-determination. Chen is capitalizing on China's predicament to get out of this "one China" trap. According to this argument, an irrational response from China will help Chen in his re-election bid. If Beijing refrains from responding, Chen will not necessarily lose but Taiwan will definitely benefit in establishing its autonomous status. It doesn't matter whether China responds or not -- Taiwan will always have the upper hand.
Cold War thinking has it that China will act strongly and irrationally when Taiwan moves toward independence. But this thinking ignores significant changes in the global situation -- Taiwan's democratization; changes in the international strategic situation, which prohibits China from annexing Taiwan by military, coercive means; and that China is "powerful" on the surface, but in fact has to rely on overseas markets and capital for survival. Unlike in the Mao Zedong (
Given Taiwan's unique historical background and its experience in dealing with China, its democratization will definitely lead to "one country on each side." When Lee was in power, forming the first localized regime, China condemned him for being pro-Taiwan independence. After Chen took over, Beijing criticized him in turn for backing "incremental Taiwan independence." But these developments merely reflect trends in Taiwan's public opinion and government policy. China can voice opposition but cannot effectively curb it.
Brainwashed by China's logic of banditry, some pro-China figures have turned a blind eye to its provocations against Taiwan. They take them for granted and don't even feel nervous. Instead, Taiwan's call for international help is deemed by them to be acts of provocation.
If China were rational and respectful toward democracy and not hostile toward Taiwan, tensions would not escalate and crises would not occur. Portraying Taiwan's attempts to defend itself and pursue self-determination and future survival as the cause of tensions is a perversion of cause and effect.
In the latter part of the Cold War, the US wanted to use China to contain the Soviet Union. Because China had strategic value, the US chose to sacrifice the interests of Chiang Kai-shek's (
China remains the US' only potential enemy of substance. In terms of a strategy for survival, what China fears the most is becoming the US' imaginary enemy and to see US intervention in wars around its borders. Bei-jing's show of support for the US war on terror and efforts pushing for dialogue between the US and North Korea are actually aimed at easing these two fears.
Pro-China figures have been blindly extolling the greatness of China, but China itself is not that blind. A closer look at books on national security published in China reveals an awareness that Taiwan's strategic status is of importance to the US, which will not allow Taiwan to fall into the hands of a hostile country. Therefore, China must have the determination and capability to go to war with the US if it is to use force against Taiwan. Except for the pro-China media and politicians who take pleasure in intimidating Taiwan, no one dares say that China really has this determination and capability.
The US also relied on China to counter the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but now China has to depend on the US for its markets, technology and capital. Without the US market, China's economic development will suffer a serious setback. A decrease in export and manufacturing opportunities will have an impact that will directly challenge the Beijing regime's survival.
The new generation of Chinese leaders consists of technocrats and management figures, rather than "revolutionaries" as were the first and second generations. They know China's weaknesses better and thus make a greater effort to protect achievements gained from economic reforms, especially the wealth amassed by the offspring of influential officials.
For them, using force against Taiwan is not a feasible option because it apparently runs counter to Beijing's development strategy of not opposing the US. It will only cause China's collapse.
Instead of changing policy and respecting Taiwan's democratic choices, China hopes against hope that the pan-blue camp will retake power in next year's election and accept its "one China" principle. Such an expectation offers Chen a timely opportunity to seek self-determination for Taiwan and challenge the "one China" ideology. It also allows Taiwanese people to oppose the KMT's attempt to overturn the "special state-to-state" relations and "one country on each side" platforms and to reject the "one China" trap.
James Wang is a Washington-based journalist.
Translated by Jackie Lin
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