In our previous Taiwan Communiqué (issue no. 102, pp. 16-20), we reported on the debate in Taiwan on direct trade and travel links with China, pitting many in the pro-link business community against the con-link in the political and security community.
During the past month, the DPP-government and the military have made the case that the three links should not be pursued as long as China threatens Taiwan with some 400 missiles along its coast. There have also been a number of commentaries indicating that the increasing economic instability in China (30-40 percent unemployment in some areas) make any investment from the Taiwan side _ or from any other direction for that matter highly questionable.
This editorial first appeared in the Taipei Times on 1 November 2002. Reprinted with permission.
President Chen Shui-bian and his government have been under pressure to open direct links since taking office. The pressure intensified recently after statements from Beijing hinting of a new Chinese approach toward transportation links.
Legislators from the pan-blue camp want to amend the Statute Governing the Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, focusing on transport links. Taiwanese investors in China and media pundits are warning that if direct links aren't opened within three years, it will be too late. Faced with these pressures, the government should take the initiative and have the Straits Exchange Foundation inform its Chinese counterpart that Taipei is ready to discuss the issue at any time.
But the big question remains of who will lead such negotiations. There have been a variety of suggestions, but the commercial negotiation mechanism used for cross-strait negotiations under the WTO agreement seems to be the best approach. Using this mechanism would elevate the links issue to the level of international commercial relations. It would also comply with the government's view of the Chinese market as a key part in Taiwan's internationalization efforts.
The SEF and China's Association for Relations Accross the Taiwan Strait have conducted negotiations in the past. No new negotiation channels would have to be established if they were used as would be the case if private companies or associations negotiated directly with their counterparts. The transportation question involves many issues that require authorization and certification from public institutions and this would cause lengthy delays in the negotiations. Remember how drawn out the Taiwan-Hong Kong aviation pact negotiations were?
In fact, to talk about opening direct links is a bit of a misnomer, since both postal and business links have basically been open for a while. Transportation links remain the sole sticking point.
Although China said that it now views direct links from a cross-strait perspective instead of a domestic one, it still wants to restrict participation to transport companies from the two sides of the Strait and bar international companies. This is tantamount to viewing the Strait as a domestic waterway and navigation rights as domestic in nature.
The international community should make sure its voice is heard. The Strait is an international waterway and restricting access to it, even if just for traffic between China and Taiwan, is not acceptable. Taiwan has long been a busy international transfer center. Even if Taipei and Beijing were to privately reach such an agreement, the international business community would be unlikely to accept it.
The opening of direct transport links would be a significant milestone in cross-strait reconciliation efforts. But that doesn't mean the connection will be an easy one to implement or maintain. Many in Taiwan question the sincerity of Chinese officials, feeling that the "honey-mouthed and dagger-hearted" Beijing government is simply launching another propaganda campaign. After all, at the annual Beidaihe conference in September, Chinese leaders said that using business to pursue unification is more effective than politics or missiles.
If China wishes to push reconciliation forward, it could start by changing its attitude and its approach. Removing the hundreds of missiles deployed along its coastline targeted at Taiwan would go a long way toward erasing the doubts and fears people here have about Beijing.
After all, in view of the cross-strait arms race, opening direct links so that aircraft and missiles could fly together and cargo ships and warships sail side-by-side is contradictory and incomprehensible .
On 26 September 2002, the US Senate passed the Resolution on Taiwan's future, which was introduced at the end of June 2002 (see Taiwan Communiqué no. 102, pp. 22-23) by including its language in the final conference report of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act (HR1646). In it, Congress declares its support for Taiwan as "a mature democracy that fully respects human rights" and reiterates that "it is the policy of the United States that any resolution of the Taiwan Strait issue must be peaceful and include the assent of the people of Taiwan".
The conference report also included approval of:
* recognition of Taiwan as a major non-NATO ally for the purpose of transferring defensive articles and services
* the authorization of the sale of four Kidd Class Destroyers to the Taiwanese authorities, and
* flying the American flag at the American Institute in Taiwan office in Taipei.
The results of the 5 November 2002 mid-term Congressional elections in the US are on the balance rather good for Taiwan. Although some of Taiwan's staunchest congressional supporters -- including Benjamin Gilman, Jesse Helms, Frank Murkowski and Robert Torricelli -- retired or didn't seek re-election, others -- in particular the four co-chairmen of the Taiwan Caucus (Bob Wexler, Steve Chabot, Sherrod Brown and Dana Rohrabacher) won their re-election bids. Also, Nancy Pelosi (D-California), who has shown strong support for Taiwan, rose to prominence as Democratic Leader in the House of Representatives.
In the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Richard Lugar is expected to be named chairman, replacing Joseph Biden, who was traditionally rather stand-offish to Taiwan. Another person in the Senate who will give strong support to Taiwan is Elizabeth Dole, who succeeds Jesse Helms of North Carolina.
Taiwan Communiqué comment: A more even support from Congress will help the Bush Administration in its quest to enhance relations with Taiwan. Three important issues are: 1) negotiation on a free trade agreement, 2) increase pressure on China to remove the some 400 ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan and end its military threat against the island, and 3) speed up the acquisition of defensive weapons such as Kidd-class destroyers, submarines and AEGIS-equipped warships, as well as expand military cooperation and intelligence exchange with the US.
There has also been an increasing number of voices calling for making the Taiwan Relations Act the central piece of legislation in the relations between US, Taiwan and China, and to relegate the "One China" dictum and the three Sino-US communiqués to history. The latter are outdated leftovers from the Cold War period, and do not take account of the fact that democracy has come about on Taiwan. The consent of the people in Taiwan, peaceful resolution, and normalization of relations should be the cornerstones of the ties between the three countries.
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