Taiwan Communiqué No. 106 January 2004

Taiwan deserves international support

In addition to the articles in the beginning of this issue of Taiwan Communiqué — which dealt with the referendum issue and the run-up towards the March 2004 presidential elections — we would like to highlight three additional, highly relevant, contributions to the debate from the Taipei Times:

  1. an editorial by the Taipei Times itself, mainly focusing on relations with Japan,
  2. an editorial by former AIT Chairman of the Board Nat Bellocchi, focusing on the United States, and
  3. an editorial by Prof. Chen Lung-chu, focusing on Europe.

Allies need to show some spine

This editorial first appeared in the Taipei Times on Thursday, 01 January 2004. Reprinted with permission.

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China, tossing a tin can at Taiwan: "My blind samurai friend will now swing his sword toward the source of the sound."

On Monday, 29 December 2003, Katsuhisa Uchida, the Taipei office chief of the Interchange Association — Japan's de facto embassy in Taiwan — conveyed a message to Presidential Office Secretary-General Chiou I-jen, saying Japan does not want to see Taiwan hold a defensive referendum. The EU has also sent a letter expressing concern. After announcing his plan for a defensive referendum, President Chen Shui-bian seems to have fallen into diplomatic isolation, with the US, Japan and the EU all expressing concern.

The Chinese government has applied pressure on Taiwan via those countries over the defensive referendum. But this does not mean that the US and Japanese governments agree that Beijing's demands are reasonable.

Referendums represent a major democratic change. Of course they will have an impact on Taiwan's politics. A defensive referendum is highly controversial, but there are more domestic election factors than international considerations at play here. The referendum is set to be an expression of the public's will to stand up to aggression and will not involve the sovereignty issue. Given that the content of the referendum question has not yet been finalized, the US, Japan and the EU should not merely listen to China's one-sided opinions and rush to judgment, thereby suppressing the development of democracy in Taiwan.

Chen Chien-jen, Taiwan's top representative in the US, said the US understood Taiwan's stance but would like to know more about the referendum plan. Taiwan's diplomatic corps should immediately start communicating with other countries to dispel any misunderstandings.

As for Japan, former prime minister Yoshiro Mori said during a recent meeting with Chen that he hoped Taiwan would give "discreet consideration" to the referendum issue. More recently, Uchida told Chiou that Japan hopes Taiwan will be able to "discreetly handle" the tensions brought about by the referendum issue. Japan is on the side of "peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the region" and does not want to see Taiwan holding a referendum. In a way, Uchida was making a goodwill gesture to China.

US and Japanese pressure on Taiwan will affect the public's perceptions of the two countries, regardless of whether they are acting at Beijing's request. When the three Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania were seeking independence in 1989, then US president George Bush ignored the Soviet Union's misgivings and suggested that the issue be resolved through referendums. Bush supported the right of these peoples to self-determination. Now his son, US President George W. Bush, wants to restrict the rights of the de facto independent Taiwanese.

George W. Bush has many times praised Taiwan's democratic achievements. We hope he will understand the truth about Taiwan's referendum issue and show some spine in support of Taiwan's democracy in the same way as his father supported referendums in the Baltic countries.

As for Japan, a democratic Taiwan is even more important for its strategic interests in light of the close historic, trade and economic relations between the two countries. Japan should think twice about pressuring Taiwan on behalf of China. Such pressure may improve Sino-Japanese relations in the short term, but will be detrimental to Japan's long-term interests.

The defensive referendum planned for March 20 does not involve the sovereignty issue, nor is it aimed at changing the status quo. Rather, it is aimed at ensuring the status quo by way of direct democracy. The US, Japan and the EU have all been Taiwan's democratic allies and trading partners. How could they act like China's hired guns?

The pillars of US' Taiwan policy

By Nat Bellocchi, former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan. This article first appeared in the Taipei Times on Monday, 29 December 2003. Reprinted with permission.

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US rejoicing at Saddam's capture, while China eats away at Taiwan's democracy.

The present US administration says its policy on cross-strait relations is based on the three communiqués and the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). As a demonstration of how unbalanced US policy was in the past, the current inclusion of the TRA with the three communiqués is a step forward for those of us who suffered its omission for so many years. (The six assurances, one hopes, will one day also be included).

So much for greater clarity. Under that broad cover, the US insists on a peaceful resolution of the cross-strait issue, and encourages dialogue between the two sides of the Strait. It opposes provocations (mostly on the part of Taiwan, it's an easier target), and any movement toward independence (only by Taiwan, but otherwise it is opaque). Most importantly, the US now places greatest emphasis on maintaining the status quo and opposing any unilateral change to it.

Under that cover, clarity becomes somewhat diluted. An insistence on a peaceful resolution, for example, is clear and supported on all sides. That is if we are talking about a military attack. According to press reports, the US has made clear to China that any military attack or coercion will inevitably "involve" the US. Coercion, however, is a bit more complicated and not easily handled by the US.

Encouraging a dialogue between China and Taiwan is a good objective most would agree with. Unfortunately, China does not agree, unless of course results favorable to them are guaranteed. In any event, American efforts to interfere in Taiwan's moves toward a more distinct entity of its own, or in strengthening its democratic political system, even with no more a purpose than to lower tensions, undermines the pressure on China to talk.

Opposition to provocations is normally thought to include both sides of the Strait. Realistically, however, it falls mainly on Taiwan. China defines provocative actions by Taiwan very broadly. Now increasingly this includes domestic political changes in Taiwan that are fundamental to democratic principles. Taiwan just recently began to publicly evoke charges that China's missile deployments are provocative. While Washington sees this mostly as an election campaign gimmick, it also has a purpose in alerting the Taiwanese public to threats they have tended to ignore.

More recently, under pressure from China, the US has stated its opposition to any movements toward independence by Taiwan. This came at a time when Taiwan was legislating the use of referendums.

Aside from this position held by China, trying to judge what constitutes a "movement toward independence" is hardly clear. China, for example, will consider any referendum or changes to Taiwan's constitution as provocative. In principle, that should be unacceptable to the US. It appears to be a policy that could cause problems for the US, and Taiwan as well.

We have been told on several occasions that one of the pillars of US policy regarding the cross-strait issue is that there must be no unilateral change to the status quo.

Status quo, according to the dictionary, means "the existing state or condition" (Random House), or "the state in which anything is" (Webster). The state in which we find the broad issue of cross-strait relations is awesome. Here are some of the elements of today's status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

The sovereignty of Taiwan is claimed by China; that claim is accepted by many countries in the world at China's behest; Japan, which has a critical interest in the Taiwan Strait, avoids addressing the issue; the US is unable to accept China's claim as the Congress would not permit it; a few small countries recognize Taiwan's sovereignty; and many if not most in Taiwan believe Taiwan already has it.

Taiwan is a democracy that has elected leaders which gives them unqualified legitimacy; it is the 14th largest trader in the world; has a foreign exchange reserve that is one of the largest in the world; and has an economy that is internationalized but also one of the largest foreign investors in China. At the same time, China's continuing and vigorous effort to isolate Taiwan results in most international organizations, including financial ones, rejecting Taiwan's membership, even as an observer.

The state of affairs on Taiwan includes a gradual defining of its own identity. Politically, it has not only irreversibly become a democracy, but chosen a direct type of democracy that puts it even further removed from the political system in China.

Then there is the state of Taiwan's capability to defend itself. As China modernizes its military, putting top priority on a credible capability to defeat Taiwan before the US could intervene, Taiwan (and the US to the extent it must implement the Taiwan Relations Act) seeks ways to offset that threat. China keeps open its threat to attack or coerce Taiwan, including among many other things, almost 500 missiles aimed at Taiwan.

So the main pillar of America's policy on cross-strait issues is maintaining the status quo. China supports this, as was demonstrated in Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Washington. Indeed, China has good reason to support this position. Under the status quo, China can continue to expand its missile deployment opposite Taiwan, continue to block Taiwan's participation in international institutions and have its definition of what is provocative accepted.

Taiwan, on the other hand, while it gets critical help from the US in offsetting China's military threat, and some limited support in its effort to participate in the international community, must otherwise largely work alone to strengthen its ability to prevent a unification that the majority of the people do not want. What it can do on its own is to demonstrate its democratic progress and expand its grassroots effort to establish a national identity. China-determined provocations try to undermine this.

America's purpose in maintaining the status quo is to block unilateral efforts to attain either unification or independence from erupting into war. It is seldom put this way, which is unfortunate as it would be better understood. It is the management of the many unresolved issues under that more clearly defined status quo, however, that will continue to be difficult for America, and favor China.

Taiwan and EU's shared interest in Strait peace

By Prof. Chen Lung-chu, chairman of the Taipei-based Taiwan New Century Foundation. This article first appeared in the Taipei Times on 30 December 2003. Reprinted with permission.

In 1989 the EU passed a resolution imposing a ban on arms sales to China to protest the forceful suppression of the Tiananmen democracy movement in the face of international public opinion, thereby imposing sanctions on China for its savage violence.

EU countries had recently discussed whether to abolish this ban, but on Dec. 18, the European Parliament decided against such action with a landslide vote — 373 votes against, 32 in favor and 29 abstentions. On Dec. 19, immediately following the EU resolution, the Dutch parliament also passed a resolution requiring the Dutch government to express its opposition to abolishing the ban.

The European and Dutch parliamentary resolutions in fact highlight the importance the EU places on the Taiwan Strait security issue. Taiwan is not alone in advocating the preservation of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. It is also advocated by advanced democratic countries, and coincides with the interests of EU countries.

To be able to maintain stability in the Taiwan Strait and dissolve the armed threat posed by China's missiles, Taiwan has to work through both military and non-military channels. Militarily speaking, Taiwan has to establish a complete defense system and a healthy public psychological defense to restrict Chinese attempts to invade the country.

From a non-military perspective, Taiwan should concentrate on a preventive referendum in its endeavor to win international understanding and support to ensure its national security.

In other words, Taiwan needs to make the international community understand that the preventive referendum to be held on March 20 next year is a peace referendum aiming at highlighting the seriousness of the Chinese dictatorship's armed threats against democratic Taiwan. The people of Taiwan will use their collective democratic will to demand that China remove its missiles aimed at Taiwan and give up its threats.

The Taiwanese people's quest for peace naturally coincides with the EU countries' interests in the Asian region. Continuing to allow China to freely raise the level of its threats will lead to a military imbalance in the region, and it will also have a negative impact on prospects for peace and stability.

A preventive referendum will demonstrate Taiwan's efforts to realize direct democracy and preserve peace. This coincides with the international community's mainstream values. The reason the relationship between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait has become more tense is not the result of Taiwan's initiating a preventive referendum. The real reason is China's constant threats against Taiwan.

The international community should support peaceful and democratic Taiwan and oppose a communist China endangering regional and international peace. Once China dismantles the missiles aimed at Taiwan and clearly declares that it gives up the option of launching an armed attack on Taiwan, there will no longer be a need to hold a preventive referendum.

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