To talk or not to talk ?

Taipei, 29 September 1998

From 14 through 19 October 1998, a visit to China is being planned for Mr. Koo Chen-fu, chairman of Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation. The visit is hosted by Mr. Wang Daohan, the chairman of China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS), and will reportedly include a meeting with China's President Jiang Zemin.

The meeting is being heralded as a "reopening" of the dialogue between Taiwan and China. Messrs. Koo and Wang last met in Singapore in 1993. The exchanges were suspended in 1995, when China aggressively launched provocative military exercises and missile firings after Taiwan president Lee's visit to his alma mater Cornell in June 1995.

During the past months, the Chinese have been pressuring Taiwan to open a "political dialogue" designed to force it into negotiations on so-called "reunification", while the Kuomintang authorities in Taiwan have stated that they want to restrict the discussions to "technical matters", such as resolution of fishing disputes, protection of the investment of Taiwanese businessmen in China, and repatriation of hijackers.

In preparation for the meeting, Mr. Wang has floated some fuzzy-sounding suggestions, such as "shared sovereignty", and according to a pro-China American academic would even "...consider a new flag and would change the national anthem if that would help persuade Taiwan to become part of a single China."

The reported suggestions are totally preposterous. Nobody is his right mind can believe that China will change its name, flag or anthem. They are just a smokescreen, designed to confuse the outside world in an attempt to make China's position sound reasonable.

If China does indeed renounce the use of force, then "technical discussions" could be held on a range of practical issues, which would function as a confidence-building exercise, and would show whether China would keep its words on those issues. However, any "political discussions" will have to wait until the people of Taiwan have been able to express their views on the future of the island in a fully open and democratic process.

In the present situation, there are still two major reasons why the real views of the Taiwanese have not been fully heard yet:

  1. the after-effects of Kuomintang's long history of repression, which seriously inhibited the Taiwanese from expressing themselves on political issues, and
  2. China's campaign of threats and intimidations, which is equivalent to a gun to the head of the Taiwanese.

If China is serious in its resolve to end its dispute with Taiwan, it should thus first renounce the use of force, and then acknowledge that the present Taiwan is totally different from the old so-called "Republic of China" of the Chinese Nationalists, with which it fought its Civil War. The next step would be to come to an accommodation with this new Taiwan, accept it as a friendly neighbor, and establish diplomatic relations with this neighbor.

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