Taiwan Communiqué No. 84, December 1998

A Tale of three visits

Much ado about Koo-Wang

From 14 through 19 October 1998, for Mr. Koo Chen-fu, chairman of Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation, visited China. There he met with his China counterpart Wang Dao-han and with Chinese president Jiang Zemin.

Many people in Taiwan distrust Mr. Koo, not only because of his unificationist leanings, but also because of his family's history: in 1895 his grandfather played a prominent role in selling out the newly-founded Taiwan Republic and in welcoming the Japanese after the Ch'ing Imperial government had ceded Taiwan in perpetuity to Japan at the Shimonoseki Treaty.

There was much ado about the visit: it was heralded as a "melting of the ice", and 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.

Mr. Koo Chen-fu's "kung-fu" negotiating style stems from the ice-age

During months prior to the October meeting, the Chinese had been pressuring Taiwan to open a "political dialogue" designed to force it into negotiations on so-called "reunification". The Kuomintang authorities in Taiwan, on the other hand, stated that they wanted 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.

During the visit, Mr. Koo told the Chinese that the Kuomintang authorities would contemplate unification when China begins democratizing. And secondly, that his government will discuss unification with China only if China treats Taiwan as an equal.

Taiwan Communiqué comment: Of course Mr. Koo should have told the Chinese that the Taiwanese do not want unification at all. Like his ideas, Mr. Koo is an anachronistic fossil, which should be retired as soon as possible.

With regard to the talks themselves: like most Taiwanese, we are not against talks per sé, but a prior condition for any talks should be that China renounces the use of force against Taiwan. If this indeed occurs, 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. A welcome beginning was made in during the recent election campaign: a plebiscite question was put on the ballot whether the people of the city of Tainan wanted to be ruled by China. the answer was an overwhelming "No".

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 has seriously inhibited the Taiwanese from expressing themselves on political issues, and
  2. China's campaign of threats and intimidation, which is equivalent to holding a gun to the head of the Taiwanese people.

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-day new Taiwan is totally different from the old so-called "Republic of China" of the Chinese Nationalists, with which China 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.

Bill Richardson in Taipei

The second, slightly more significant, visit was the early November 1998 trip of US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson to Taipei, where he attended a US-Taiwan Economic meeting.

The visit was presumably an effort by the Clinton Administration to "make up" to Taiwan following Mr. Clinton's ill-fated "Three No" remarks during his disastrous visit to China in June / July 1998. While Mr. Clinton's remarks were subsequently rejected by Congress and repudiated by almost unanimous votes in both House and Senate, his Administration still has to rescind the statements.

Mr. Richardson's remarks in Taiwan focused mainly on economic and energy-related issues. He made one important remark in that the US supports Taiwan's entry into the World Trade Organization on its own merits. There has been a lengthy discussion, stoked by China, which wants to enter the WTO before Taiwan does.

Mr. Richardson tried to emphasize the "strong bonds" between the people of Taiwan and the United States, and US commitment to the defense of Taiwan. However, he could not take away the anxiety caused by Mr. Clinton's irresponsible remarks in Beijing and Shanghai.

Jiang stumbles in Tokyo

In the third week of November 1998, a third visit took place in which Taiwan's international status played a role: Chinese president Jiang Zemin went to Tokyo in an attempt to shore up China's fragile relations with Japan.

Prior to the visit, China put a great deal of pressure on Japan to agree to a statement similar to Mr. Clinton's "Three no's." However, the Japanese displayed more backbone than Mr. Clinton and refused to succumb to the Chinese pressure. The Japanese merely stated that it "...continues to maintain its stand on the Taiwan issue which was set forth in the Joint Communiqué of the Government of Japan and the Government of the People's Republic of China and reiterates its understanding that there is one China. Japan will continue to maintain its exchanges of private and regional nature with Taiwan."

The Chinese also put strong pressure on Japan to exclude Taiwan from coverage under the newly established US-Japanese security arrangement, but the Japanese also refused to budge.

Mr. Jiang also shot himself in the foot when he refused to accept Japan's Premier Obuchi's statement of "deep remorse and a heartfelt apology" for Japan's wartime role in China. The disagreement led to hours of diplomatic wrangling and an impasse on the issuing of a joint declaration at the end of the meeting between Mr. Jiang and Mr. Obuchi. In the end the document was just issued without the customary signature by the two leaders.

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