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Taiwan News

Taipei, 15 February 2000

Chinese threats and Taiwan’s elections

The latest series of threats and intimidation by China against Taiwan should give some food for thought for the upcoming presidential elections.

On 28 January 2000, during a pré lunar new year speech, Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen reportedly stated that "..those who want independence for Taiwan should not play with fire," and that "Taiwan independence absolutely will not mean peace but war."

A week later, at a security conference in Munich, the Chinese vice-minister for Foreign Affairs, Wang Guangya, warned his mostly Western audience that "…the world should accept (China’s) goal of absorbing Taiwan along the lines of its unification with Hong Kong and Macau – or else risking consequences "you don’t want to see."

The week in between the two statements saw two diametrically-opposed related developments: the very welcome passage of the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act (TSEA) by an overwhelming majority in the US House of Representatives, and the passage through the Taiwan Strait of the new Sovremenny destroyer, which China purchased from Russia.

Adding up these statements and developments, what is the right response ?

First, we should focus on the response from the Western nations, and in particular the Clinton Administration, to the two statements: as far as we know, there were none. Isn’t this peculiar? We thought that the West – and certainly the US – subscribed to the principles of democracy and self-determination. These principles should lead to the conclusion that if the people of Taiwan want to remain a free, democratic and independent nation, they should be free to do so.

The Chinese statements by Messrs. Qian and Wang are a grave threat to peace and stability in East Asia, and it would behoove the West to wake up to that fact. Perhaps it is ironic that Mr. Wang’s statement was made in Munich, the city where pré World War II British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met with Hitler in 1938, and declared that by "engaging" Hitler, he had "…achieved peace in our time."

The US and other Western nations should thus inform China that it should accept Taiwan as a friendly neighboring state, and that any threat will lead to a major crisis in China’s relations with the West, and will preclude China’s accession to the WTO.

The TSEA is a welcome first step in firming up the US position vis-à-vis Taiwan and China. We urge the Senate to pass it, and suggest that the Clinton Administration drop its surrealistic opposition to the Act: it helps to restore some balance across the Taiwan Strait, and will increase the prospect for a constructive dialogue between Taiwan and China. Without, it, Taiwan has its back against the wall, and is in no position to negotiate.

What is the right response in Taiwan itself: a cool head, and a firm position. Regrettably, there are still too many people here who let themselves be pressured and intimidated into what the Taipei Times in an editorial on 31 January 2000 called "universal timidity".

People in Taiwan need to stand up for their future, and emphasize that China has no right to meddle, threaten or intimidate Taiwan. It also means that we need to point out clearly who is "provocative": the Chinese bully who is threatening his Taiwanese neighbor, or the Taiwanese neighbor who is being threatened. We believe the answer is clear, but there are still too many people who let themselves be pushed into a position that they "shouldn’t rock the boat."

What does all this mean in the run-up to the upcoming Presidential elections in Taiwan? The Chinese have said on a number of occasions that James Soong and Lien Chan would be acceptable to them, but that Mr. Chen Shui-bian would not. This is a peculiar position, since Messrs. Soong and Lien Chan are exponents of the Kuomintang, with which the Chinese had their Civil War more than 50 years ago, and have competed for legitimacy ever since. Mr. Chen is the leader of the democratic opposition of the DPP, which didn’t even exist 50 years ago.

This animosity by China is thus misplaced: the best chance for a breakthrough in the decades-old conflict is in the election of Mr. Chen Shui-bian. He and the DPP do not carry the anachronistic "One China" baggage of the KMT. Most Taiwanese also feel that Mr. Chen can be trusted not to sell Taiwan out. However, Mr. Chen will have to show that he is worth this trust by keeping a steadier keel than he has done until now. His "seven-point" plan of the end of January 2000 is too much of a zig-zag political move.

Thus, instead of falling over themselves to appear accommodating to China, Taiwan’s future leaders should lay out a crystal clear vision of Taiwan as a full and equal member of the international community, and emphasize unambiguously that tension can only be reduced if China reduces its vocal and military threats.