Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (
Overall, Wen's repackaged policy is gentler compared to Jiang's. It is meant to create an image of Beijing as the protector of peace and stability and blame Taiwan for any possible unease created by Beijing. Wen told the Post that "the Chinese people will pay any price to safeguard the unity of the motherland," but did not repeat the naked threat that China does not abandon the option to use armed force.
Even so, the medicine Wen wants to sell doesn't address the illness. He talks extravagantly about democracy without understanding the meaning of the word. He said that "we completely understand the desire of the Taiwan compatriots for democracy," but he still demanded that "the US side must be crystal clear in opposing the use of a referendum or writing a constitution" -- basic rights in a democratic system. The fact that he can make these contradictory statements shows his lack of understanding of democracy.
Placing hope in the US was the new direction that Jiang adopted following the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis, when China fired missiles across Taiwan into the Pacific Ocean. He felt that if China were to use armed force to invade Taiwan, US intervention was a factor that would have to be considered. But neither he nor any military leader dared say that China had the power to deal with the US and force an armed invasion of Taiwan.
Beijing did not believe that the US bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade was a mistake, seeing it as a deliberate show of force by the US to make China realize its shortcomings. Jiang and former premier Qian Qichen (
The direction laid down by Jiang gives the highest priority to developing the domestic economy and technology. Under this guiding principle, China needs US markets, capital, technology as well as friendly Sino-US relations, and it should avoid becoming a hypothetical enemy of the US.
The Taiwanese people's self awareness has improved following democratization, and China's past guideline of placing hope in the people of Taiwan is no longer realistic. It cannot, however, say that it places its hope in the pan-blue camp. Therefore, it has to look to the US to suppress the development of democracy in Taiwan to give China time to use economic benefits to co-opt Taiwanese businessmen who will, in turn, pressure Taiwan's political leaders.
Chinese President Hu Jintao (
This, the safest way, puts the Taiwan issue squarely in the lap of the US. For China, handing the issue to the US means that they have a negotiation counterpart, and that they have something to show domestically. China hopes the US will pressure Taiwan and achieve the goals China wishes to see. If the US fails to put pressure on Taiwan, then China hopes the US-Taiwan relationship will become tense, which is also what Beijing wants.
But China's strategy of placing its hope in the US isn't a sure winner. In the past, China has always insisted that Taiwan is a domestic issue and that US intervention cannot be tolerated. China's negotiations with the US consist mainly of demanding that the US stop selling military equipment to Taiwan. Its placing hope in the people of Taiwan means that Taiwan should accept being annexed by Beijing. Given that the people of Taiwan persist in their refusal to be annexed, Beijing has placed hope in the US opposing the right of the Taiwanese people to hold referendums and create a new constitution. This only proves that the medicine China calls "peaceful unification" and "one country, two systems" is an unmarketable quack medicine. It also proves that the Taiwan Strait conflict is not a domestic conflict solvable by China.
What is the US reaction to China's demands? Fundamentally, the US follows two main principles. First, its major strategic interest in the Western Pacific region is to guarantee that Taiwan does not fall into the hands of a hostile state. Second, the US cannot suppress democratic progress in a democratic country based on the demands of a non-democratic country.
Based on these two principles, recent statements by US government officials are representative of the firm US position. First, the conflict between the two sides must be peacefully resolved, and the US opposes the use of armed force. Second, the US role is merely to create an environment for peace talks between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. Third, Taiwanese referendums and the creation of a new constitution are domestic issues in which the US does not want to interfere. Fourth, if holding referendums and creating a new constitution ultimately leads to Taiwan independence, the US will not support such a development. Fifth, the US believes that cross-strait dialogue will be helpful to peace and stability.
Only the fourth of these positions is a new formulation, but it is still an extension of the US position of not supporting Taiwan independence. The guarantee not to support independence, which dates back to the Nixon era, meant not supporting a Taiwanese independence movement, and there is currently no definition of the meaning of Taiwan independence. The US' unwillingness to formulate a clear-cut definition of independence is of course meant to leave the US space to maneuver and does not mean that the US follows China's definition. According to the US, holding referendums and creating a new constitution are not the same as Taiwan independence. If the goal of holding a referendum or creating a new constitution were the same thing as Taiwan independence, then the US would simply "not support" such a development.
China demands that the US "oppose" referendums and the creation of a new constitution, but all the US can say is that if the goal of a referendum or the creation of a new constitution is to achieve Taiwan independence, it will not support such a development. The US does not have a foundation upon which it can oppose Taiwan independence. Based on China's strategy of overtly placing its hopes in the US and covertly in the blue camp, together with the huge economic benefits stemming from its US$100 billion annual trade surplus with the US and Taiwanese annual investments of more than US$60 billion, Wen's talk of being willing "to pay any price" is just empty talk. Beijing can only continue to threaten Taiwan with empty rhetoric. It will not dare any rash actions lest the economy collapse and the government crumble.
During the Cold War, the US sacrificed its relationship with Taiwan in order to co-opt China and restrict the Soviet Union. This was not fair to Taiwan. Now, Taiwan has evolved into a true democracy and the things the US wants from China are not as important as is China's dependence on US markets.
The US should take a clear position on China's demands, firmly oppose military threats and reject the use of military force to solve differences. It should also reiterate its responsibilities under the Taiwan Relations Act. The US should demand that China and Taiwan conduct talks on an equal footing and without any preconditions, and it should not take on the role of suppressing Taiwan's democracy on behalf of China.
The US should clearly point out one fact -- cross-strait differences must not be resolved at the expense of Taiwan's democracy, but rather by China itself becoming democratic and respecting the wishes of Taiwanese. If China wants peaceful and stable development, it must maintain domestic peace, its people must enjoy democracy and freedom, and it must maintain peaceful co-existence with its neighbors. It must not violate these principles and demand that Taiwan abandon democracy and freedom, and accept rule by another government.
`no' to colonization
Taiwan should take a firm position and explain that holding referendums and creating a new constitution are necessary to deepen democracy and break through the problems facing the development of the nation's democracy. Taiwan must also explain that these are the demands of a majority of the people of Taiwan, and not merely the position of individual political leaders. During next year's presidential election, the people of Taiwan have the opportunity to elect a president who insists on Taiwan's status as a sovereign country, to leave the "one China" trap far behind and to disappoint those red and blue parties that think the people of Taiwan are still willing to be colonized.
James Wang is a Washington-based journalist.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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