Taiwan Communiqué No. 87, August 1999

"Nation-to-nation" relations

President Lee states the obvious

President Lee Teng-hui

In an interview with German Deutsche Welle radio on Friday 9 July 1999, Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui defined the island's relations with China as "nation-to-nation relations." While the fact that Taiwan and China are two distinct nations has been obvious to most keen observers for some time, it evoked xenophobic and hysteric reactions from China, which threatened Taiwan with military attack, and lambasted Mr. Lee for everything evil under the sun.

While China's temper tantrums were to be expected, the American reaction was a mixture of confusion and a reiteration of the now-demised "One China" concept. In addition, Clinton Administration officials from Mrs. Albright on down berated Mr. Lee in terms varying from "unhelpful" to unprintable. Mr. Clinton should of course realize that he himself was the cause of Taiwan's anxiety, when he started his slide towards Beijing with his "Three No" pronouncements in Shanghai in July 1998.

The Clinton tilt towards Beijing is exemplified even further by the fact that during the past three years, the dictatorial rulers from Beijing have been red-carpeted and feted at the White House several times. Meanwhile, the democratically-elected President of Taiwan can't even set foot in the United States without causing a major ruckus. Doesn't this strike anyone as odd ?

Mr. Clinton would do well to redress the situation, and come up with a real policy, which treats democratic Taiwan at least as well as communist China. This new policy should also enunciate that the people of Taiwan have the right to determine their own future, and state clearly that Taiwan should be accepted as a full and equal member of the international family of nations.

Anything less would be a betrayal of the basic democratic principles on which the US was founded, and would place Mr. Clinton on the wrong side of history.

China's xenophobia and hysteria

Right after President Lee's remarks, the Chinese authorities started a xenophobic and hysteric campaign against Taiwan, and against Mr. Lee in particular. Chinese official spokesmen accused Taiwan of steering towards a "monumental disaster", and let a plethora of insulting remarks rain down on Mr. Lee.

In addition, a few days after mid-July, China announced it had developed the neutron bomb ("Is China waving the bomb at Taiwan?", New York Times, 16 July 1999), and on 2 August 1999, it announced it had tested a long-range Dong-fang 31 long-range ballistic missile, aimed at deterring the United States.

Soon, China also spread rumors about military exercises and submarine deployment through the Hong Kong press intended to intimidate Taiwan. By mid-August reports of a planned military attack on some of the Taiwan-held islands were starting to circulate, presumably to take place soon after the 1st October 1999 celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the PRC.

However, a different picture emerges from talking to people on the street in China. In a report filed from Beijing on 2 August 1999, Associated Press reported that concerns over national sovereignty are for some Chinese overshadowed by problems closer to home, notably China's slowing economic growth and layoffs at bankrupt state factories that are shedding millions of workers. Some quotes:

"Of course we're concerned but we can't get too concerned," said a medicine factory worker who would give only her surname, Zhao. "We've got to watch out for ourselves — layoffs, trying to find work, getting our kid to school."

The government says it wants Taiwan to peacefully reunite with the mainland, along the same lines as Hong Kong, the former British colony that has largely run itself since it reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

But some Chinese question whether Taiwanese would want to give up their separate status. "They are very happy,'' said Ma, the engineer who was preparing to take a cooling dip in a Beijing lake.

Others point to the wide gap between Taiwan, with its strong economy and feisty democracy, and China, with its one-party rule and still widespread poverty, as an obstacle to reunification.

"We have a lot of respect for Taiwan people. Taiwan people are polite and well-educated, not like us Chinese," said a woman who makes her living giving head and shoulder massages in a Beijing park.

"Taiwan has developed well," said the woman, who identified herself as Mrs. Jiang. "We're not qualified to get it back."

Who is "provocative"?

After Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui's statement to Deutsche Welle, there were some commentaries in the American press and by some US academics (see next article) that Mr. Lee's statements were "provocative."

To the contrary: President Lee simply stated the clear and basic fact that Taiwan and China are two distinct nations, and that they should live in peace next to each other. As the Boston Herald said in an editorial on 14 July 1999: "There is nothing provocative in a recognition of reality." Some more "sound-bites" from President Lee's interview:

"In the face of cross-strait developments, we will continue to prudently advance cross-strait exchanges and actively promote dialogue and consultations."

"We believe that consolidating mutual trust through exchanges and fostering stable relations through mutual trust is the most effective way to resolve a crisis."

"All issues between the two sides of the Strait should be resolved by peaceful means."

"Our hope is that both sides will achieve beneficial interaction through exchanges and consultations, promote bilateral relations and thus ensure the security and peace of both sides and the region."

On the other hand, we see that China has let a rain of insulting remarks come down on Mr. Lee, has tested a long-range missile, has announced it has developed the neutron bomb, has spread rumors through the Hong Kong press intended to intimidate Taiwan, and is reportedly planning a military attack on some of the Taiwan-held islands.

We leave it to our readers to decide who is rational and reasonable, and who is "provocative" in this case.

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