During the past few weeks a number of events have signaled that there is perhaps a consensus emerging in Taiwan.
When on June 11, Fan Liqing (范麗青), spokeswoman for the Taiwan Affairs Office of China’s State Council, said that Taiwan’s future “must be decided by all Chinese people, including Taiwanese compatriots” all hell broke loose in Taiwan, with people from both sides of the aisle condemning the statement, and countering that only the 23 million Taiwanese can determine the island’s future.
In separate statements, the Mainland Affairs Council and President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) office strongly rejected the Chinese statement, while three Chinese National Party (KMT) heavyweights, Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫), and Greater Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強), weighed in to rebutt the Chinese claim.
It seems the public are apprehensive about Beijing’s approach. In spite of soothing words by officials that China will pursue “peaceful development across the Taiwan Strait” and will “take actions to benefit the Taiwanese public,” the people in Taiwan see how China assertively and aggressively displays raw power to achieve its goals, whether it is in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, Tibet, East Turkestan, or even Hong Kong.
The recent developments in Hong Kong also show that Taiwan needs to be apprehensive of Beijing’s moves and ulterior motives. The white paper issued by Beijing on June 10 shows that it has little respect for the “one country, two systems” promises it laid out for the former British colony.
The document emphasizes that Beijing considers itself the ultimate authority, that “one country” is much more important than “two systems” and foreign governments should not interfere in Hong Kong’s “internal affairs.” This does not bode well for Taiwan’s so-called “1992 consensus,” which — from Beijing’s perspective — is also tilted towards “one China” with little regard for “different interpretations.”
A third example is a document on the China-Vietnam dispute in the South China Sea, circulated by the Chinese government at the UN on June 9, in which China’s deputy permanent representative told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon inter alia that China “has the right to take Taiwan and Penghu by any means necessary.” The envoy said that both areas indisputably belong to China.
This statement caused uproar and provoked ridicule in Taiwan, from both sides of the political spectrum. The reality check is of course that Taiwan has been a free and democratic nation since its transition to the democracy in the late 1980s, and that it has not been part of China since 1895, when it was ceded to Japan under the the Treaty of Shimonoseki.
Many of the public perceive China as being increasingly threatening toward Taiwan, not only to its freedom and democracy, but also to its economy: The recent Sunflower movement showed that few see closer economic ties with China as the panacea to economic woes.
Taiwan seems to be moving toward a consensus, based on the following elements: First, Taiwan is a free nation and its democracy needs to be protected so the people can determine their own future. Second, Taiwan wants to live in peace with its neighbors. This also means that these neighbors need to respect Taiwan’s sovereignty. Third, Taiwan aspires to be an equal member of the international community and asks to be accepted as such. Fourth, relations with China need to be transparent, conducted on an equal footing, and without the threat or use of force.
Nat Bellocchi served as chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan from 1990 to 1995. The views expressed in this article are his own.
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