On 3 August 2002, in a telecast to the annual conference of the World Federation of Taiwanese Associations meeting in Tokyo, Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian called for a referendum on Taiwan's future. Mr. Chen stated that holding a referendum was a basic human right of the Taiwanese that cannot be deprived or restricted, and said, "Taiwan's future and destiny can only be decided by the 23 million people living on the island."
President Chen told the conference that it needs to be clear that " with Taiwan and China on each side of the Taiwan Strait, each side is a country." He added: "Our Taiwan is not something that belongs to someone else, Our Taiwan is not someone else's local government. Our Taiwan is not someone else's province."
Mr. Chen's remarks reflect the more self-assured policy of his Administration, which was also apparent from statements he made earlier: on 21 July 2002, on the occasion of his inauguration as 10th DPP chairman, he stated that Taiwan should go its own way, "down our own Taiwanese road."
Mr. Chen's comments, which were in native Taiwanese as opposed to the Mandarin dialect brought over from China by Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists were warmly welcomed by many in Taiwan, who feel that Mr. Chen has been too soft towards China, extending olive branches without getting anything in return.
As expected, the remarks drew fire from Beijing, which increased its intimidation and threatened to take "military action" against the democratic island ("China Warns Taiwan Military Action Possible", Washington Post, 7 August 2002).
President Chen's statements were also attacked by Taiwan's own mainlander-dominated, pro-unificationist opposition parties -- the Kuomintang and James Soong's People's First Party _ and by several of the largely pro-unificationist publications such as the China Times and United Daily News.
Below we first present our own comment, then an OpEd by ourselves, published in the Taipei Times, followed by an editorial from the Taipei Times itself.
Taiwan Communiqué: President Chen's comments and their aftermath show the dilemma into which both the West and Taiwan have worked themselves: any sensible statement which emphasizes the basic principles of democracy and self-determination for the people of Taiwan will draw an angry, irrational response and military threats from Beijing. In order to "keep the peace" and "cool things down" Washington and Taipei subsequently add nuances or retreat to anachronistic "One China" pronouncements.
Isn't it time to pull the collective head out of the sand, and end this Chaimberlain-esque behavior by clearly telling Beijing that Taiwan is not a piece of unfinished business of its Civil War against Chiang Kai-shek, but a new and friendly (and democratic) neighbor which requires respects and recognition. Mr. Bush made a good start last year when he stated that the US would do "whatever it takes" to help defend Taiwan.
The US _ and other nations _ should now emphasize that peace in the region is best served if the Taiwanese people can make their own free decision on the future of the island, without any outside interference from China. The proper -- and probably only -- way to do this is through a referendum.
Statements like White House National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack's 9 August 2002 blind reiteration of "One China" and "we do not support Taiwan independence" are thus totally out of place and incompatible with the principle of democracy and US policy to support freedom around the world.
By Gerrit van der Wees, editor of Taiwan Communiqué. This article first appeared in the Taipei Times on 6 August 2002. Reprinted with permission.
President Chen Shui-bian's statement in a telecast to the annual conference of the World Federation of Taiwanese Associations meeting in Tokyo on Saturday should be supported and applauded by the US and Western Europe, as well as by the people of Taiwan itself.
While his statements are common sense to anyone who supports democracy and human rights, they are bound to raise the ire of the repressive rulers in Beijing, and may lead to misunderstanding by those who don't understand or don't want to understand where "Taiwan is coming from."
A basic fact that is often overlooked is that Taiwan was not part of the Chinese Civil War in the 1940s. It became an unhappy party to that conflict when the losing side Chiang Kai-shek's KMT moved to the island, which had been occupied by the KMT in 1945 on behalf of the Allied Forces after the defeat of Japan.
The contention that Taiwan split from China in 1949 made erroneously and all too often by newswires such as Reuters and the Associated Press is therefore simply false. It was not part of China in the first place, but officially still under Japanese sovereignty. On the occasion of the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, Japan formally ceded sovereignty over the island, but its ultimate status was to be the subject of a future decision, "taking the wishes of the Formosan population into consideration."
From the 1950s through the early 1990s, the KMT perpetuated the myth that it was the rightful ruler of all of China, shutting out all opposing views of the native Taiwanese, who wanted their island to become a free, democratic and independent nation and a full and equal member of the international family of nations.
During the same period, China went through a series of upheavals such as the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square massacre, and in response to the KMT's narrow-minded pursuit of "recovery of the mainland" increasingly saw "reunification of Taiwan with the motherland" as the last piece of unfinished business in its civil war against Chiang.
The problem with that policy is that for the large majority of the people in Taiwan their island was not part of communist China in the first place, so "unification" is perceived about as welcome as Hitler Germany's occupation of The Netherlands, Poland or Czechoslovakia in the beginning of World War II.
Since the early 1990s, Taiwan became increasingly democratic, first under former president Lee Teng-hui, who increasingly pushed the envelope with the "Taiwanization" of the nation's political system and by increasing the nation's room for maneuvering in the international arena.
In the spring of 2000, the transfer of power to the DPP signaled a new stage in Taiwan's quest for international recognition. Chen moved cautiously, extending olive branch after olive branch in the direction of Beijing. In response, however, Beijing increasingly tightened the noose, refusing to deal with the new government, increasing military pressure on the nation by deploying some 350 missiles along the coast facing Taiwan and increasing its weapons purchases specifically geared towards attack on the democratic nation.
Against this historical background, the US and Western Europe must take the following steps.
First, affirm that the people of Taiwan have the right to determine their own future under the principle of self-determination as enshrined in the UN Charter.
Second, urge China to renounce the use of force and accept Taiwan as a friendly neighboring state instead of perpetuating the hostility and rivalry dating from the Chinese Civil War fought against the KMT five decades ago. In particular, it needs to be emphasized to China that the new Taiwan is not the old rival from the days of the Chinese Civil War, but a new neighbor, which wants to live in peace with all its neighbors, including the big brother across the Strait.
Third, accept Taiwan as a full and equal member of the international family of nations, including the UN.
The time has come for the future decision on Taiwan's status referred to in the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty. President Chen's referendum is all about "...taking the wishes of the Formosan population into consideration." Only if that happens, can Taiwan truly "go its own [democratic] way."
This editorial first appeared in the Taipei Times on 5 August 2002. Reprinted with permission.
Saturday's speech to the World Federation of Taiwanese Associations in which President Chen Shui-bian set out something akin to former president Lee Teng-hui's "state-to-state" conception of Taiwan-China relations was the first time in two years, after our hopes were crushed with the contemptible "five no's" of Chen's inauguration speech, that we have cause to be optimistic about the government's China policy.
Of course we realize that among Taiwan's pundit-ocracy we are in the minority. The chorus of nay-sayers yesterday was overwhelming. But that chorus was made up of the usual suspects: KMT Chairman Lien Chan and PFP Chairman James Soong the two festering boils on the backside of Taiwan's body politic and the pro-China press. They are, of course, livid that a Taiwan president should dare to state the reality of the cross-strait situa tion. Anything that punctures the composure, that disturbs the fantasies of imperial aggrandizement of the butchers of Beijing is shocking lese majesty to the scum that constitutes the "pan-blue" camp.
It is always interesting for those of us who were raised with a certain standard of honorable behavior, which includes the idea that you should resist threat and intimidation to the best of your ability, to look at the ways in which the bizarre psychopathology of the "pan-blue" camp reveals itself.
First there was bluster about the threat of war from China, never, notice any denunciation of China for its threat of war. Then there was the twisting of what was actually said into something more easy to attack. This time the target has been Chen's remarks on a referendum. The "pan-blue" camp followers are saying that Chen has backtracked on his inaugural promise not to hold a referendum on Taiwan independence. Actually he has done nothing of the sort. What he said was not that a referendum should be held, but that if the time ever came to make a decision a referendum was the only acceptable way to do so and with this in mind, legislation should be passed to legitimize the procedure.
This, of course, is exactly what the KMT does not want; it has never supported a referendum on the most important decision that Taiwan might ever have to make. Even the PFP has better democratic credentials here. We can only attribute this to Lien's desire to trade Taiwan's sovereignty to Beijing in return for the KMT's appointment as the permanent government of Taiwan, in the manner of the Tung Chee-hwa clique in Hong Kong.
President Chen, as Mainland Affairs Council Vice Chairman Chen Ming-tong said, simply told the truth on Saturday, no matter how many people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait refuse to countenance it. But we have to wonder about timing. Taiwan's relationship with the US is crucial to its preservation of independence against possible Chinese aggression. But Washington has a rather compelling set of other concerns right now and it is hard to imagine that it would look happily on increased tension in the Strait.
It is also likely that Chen's statement will give more power to the hardliners in China's coming power transfer; it will be much harder in the short- to mid-term for voices advocating accommodation and negotiation with Taiwan to get a hearing. But perhaps the president whose intelligence sources are better than ours has decided that the chances of any faction coming to power prepared to deal with Taiwan on the only terms that make sense as an equal and without military intimidation are in any case next to nothing. The protection of Taiwan's sovereignty by swinging the public behind the popular "state-to state" policy against "pan-blue" camp efforts to destroy it has to take priority.
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