Taipei Times: The relationship between Taiwan, the US and China is said to have entered a new stage. The White House maintains that its cross-strait policy has been consistent, while the governments of Taiwan and China are continually seeking clarification on the US position. How significant is this mix of clarity and ambiguity?
Ruan Ming (阮銘): To answer this question, one should take into account the development of relations between the three nations. Comparatively speaking, the Bush administration has been America's friendliest toward Taiwan. No other US president has said, "we will be there" for Taiwan.
Now some people say that the Bush administration has made a 180-degree turn and opposed Taiwan's movement toward democracy. But in fact, the administration is just being clearer on its stance opposing unilateral change, no matter if it's China that wants that change or Taiwan. The real question is: Is this clarification beneficial to Taiwan or not?
PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES
It is obvious which side would benefit from clarity -- the side that doesn't want to change the status quo. This is because pursuit of unification is the only stance that requires change. Taiwan doesn't need to change the status quo.
It's amusing when you think about it. Seeking independence implies trying to detach oneself from a governing body. The KMT [Chinese Nationalist Party] was a foreign regime, and so there was a movement in Taiwan seeking independence from this foreign power. But who can Taiwan be independent of now?
Power is in the hands of Taiwan's 23 million people. So what is there to be independent of? The country's name, anthem and flag are issues of form rather than substance and are difficult to change.
So what is the point of opposing the US for the sake of something's form? What the US supports is the substance of democracy, not the form.
TT: Some thought President Chen Shui-bian's (
Ruan: The US thinks the referendum will be absolutely ineffectual. Chen is holding a referendum for the sake of holding a referendum. But there are many other ways of expressing concern over security.
I think the White House is even more concerned with Taiwan's security than Taiwan itself. It is not just an issue of Taiwan's security; it involves the stability of the entire Asia-Pacific region. The US government feels it has the responsibility to maintain peace in the region.
As far as I can see, there is only a need to hold a referendum if you want unification. Taiwan is already independent. That's why the US sees a referendum on independence or joining the World Health Organization (WHO) as pointless. It's obvious what the outcomes of those referendums are going to be. Nor is a referendum necessarily an effective means to an end.
TT: What do you think about criticism that the US government has double standards on democracy?
Ruan: It's silly to ask why the US attacked Iraq, and not China, which has weapons of mass destruction. China is a big country. It has 1.3 billion people. How do you attack such a country? The US hopes for a harmonious relationship with China, and is hopeful that China will be democratic one day. Bush also mentioned during Wen's visit that freedom was indivisible, and he pressed for social, political and religious freedom to follow economic freedom.
TT: Some academics say that among Chinese leaders there are "doves" and "hawks." The doves have recently been actively participating in China's international diplomacy. How does this shift in diplomatic strategy change policy toward Taiwan?
Ruan: China's leaders have changed. Wen Jiabao is a practical person. They have 1.3 billion people to deal with. The tiniest problem with a single person can be multiplied by 1.3 billion. All resources they have need to be divided by 1.3 billion, which boils down to very little. Wen knows that it is going to take dozens of generations before China can catch up with developed countries.
It is also obvious that Wen doesn't consider absorbing Taiwan to be his top priority. Developing China and solving domestic problems are. Because China is on equal terms with the US, or is a "partner in diplomacy" as Bush said, its strategy is to "be friends with the US, divide Taiwan," (和美裂台) not "unite with the US, suppress Taiwan,"(聯美壓台).
The Taiwan-US relationship does not depend on the US-China relationship. The two are parallel. Taiwan is a free and independent country which the US respects, but Taiwan has to respect itself first.
Wen agrees with US policy on keeping the cross-strait status quo. Its friendly stance is, no doubt, pleasing to the US. Taiwan should therefore "unite with the US, make peace with China." (
There is no need to oppose China. "Oppose China, defy the US" (反中抗美) will not bring full democracy to Taiwan. It is obvious that China is concentrating on dealing with domestic problems. As is the US with terrorism and the economy. This really is the ideal situation for Taiwan in proceeding toward independence. There is no need to hinder US and Chinese affairs. Taiwan should know itself better and be more confident in itself. It shouldn't feel threatened by improved China-US ties. Taiwan's diplomatic environment is at its optimum at the moment. China's leaders want to deal with domestic issues, and will do so as long as Taiwan's leaders don't do anything to threaten their power. There is no need to go around provoking China or blaming the US.
Taiwan's basic problem is domestic. This election campaign is a mess. It used to be that two parties competed to see who could be the worst. Now the two parties compete to see who can be the most idiotic.
TT: You said that the referendum on WHO membership is pointless. What should Taiwan do to make its presence felt in the international arena?
Ruan: Some of Taiwan's diplomatic problems have been inherited from a former era and cannot be solved at present. What is more important is that Taiwan should strengthen its capabilities. That is the substance in entering an organization. The WTO, for example, is not a organization of states, but if China had been capable of preventing Taiwan from entering, then it would have done so. China couldn't do this because it was thought that Taiwan would have a valued presence in the WTO.
Taiwan might be different from other countries in that it has to prove its value to an organization before it can join. But this is not necessarily a bad thing -- it can push Taiwan to improve itself. Economically, Taiwan is respected for its achievements. But Taiwan needs to better publicize its other facets, such as education, technology, culture and tourism.
I think the WTO is more important than the UN. Once you enter an international organization, however, you need to make use of yourself, exert your presence. That is to say, help the organization function better. But Taiwan hasn't made enough of an effort in the WTO. The WTO is not doing so well now, but Taiwan has merely attempted to compete with China in terms of free trade agreements, rather than finding its own path.
Taiwan should also strengthen its international perspective. This is not only done through learning English, because English is just a vehicle for communication, not an inherent capability to think in the international community's frame of mind. When you represent a country and explain your proposals to other nations, you need to be able to understand how they think in order to make your arguments convincing.
Taiwan should not think it shameful to be unable to join international committees, but rather think it shameful for those committees not to have Taiwan on board.
TT: You mentioned Taiwan's economic strength. But now that the Chinese market has been opened up, a number of international and Taiwanese companies have left to exploit that market, emptying Taiwan of its financial resources.
Ruan: But Taiwan should not be discouraged by the flow of manufacturers to China. Water flows downwards. People climb upwards. By the time the water downstream has run dry, people can still draw water upstream. Taiwan should learn from this experience, and strengthen its advantages, utilize what it has and focus on developing other technology, for example.
TT: What should Taiwan do to develop a more democratic country?
Ruan: I think a referendum on the Constitution is a must after the presidential election. The US Constitution is a mere 4,300 words, but it specifies the necessary division of power: judicial, executive and legislative, while the rest are just procedural articles. Taiwan's Referendum Law (
Taiwan's politicians lack an understanding of democracy. Taiwan is by far the most media-conscious nation in the world, with so many newspapers, news stations and call-in TV programs on such a tiny island. Yet, despite all the chaos, it's not necessarily a bad thing. At the very least, all the public concern is likely to evolve into something better.
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