Statue of Liberty ?
The election of President Chen Shui-bian in Taiwan and the first-ever transfer of power from the ruling Kuomintang to the democratic opposition of the DPP should prompt a re-thinking of international relations with Taiwan. Until now, the United States and the rest of the Western world have been faced with a "One China" dilemma, imposed on them in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s by two repressive regimes, the Chinese Nationalists and the Chinese Communists.
However, people are waking up to the fact that Taiwan is to be regarded in its own right. The people on the island were not part of the Chinese Civil War, but their fate became entangled in it, when the United States and Western Allies allowed Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalists to occupy the Japan-held island after World War II.
Chiang and his Nationalists perpetuated the "Republic of China" myth, vowing to "recover China", while in the meantime ruling Taiwan with iron fist for more than four decades. The democratization, the increase in political participation by the native Taiwanese (85% of the population), and the subsequent rise to power of Chen Shui-bian and his DPP have now created a fundamentally new situation.
President Chen has emphasized that the island and its people have their own Taiwanese history, culture and identity, and is gradually dismantling the old framework and moving towards a new, fully-democratic, entity and identity as "Taiwan." The international community should take a more active role in bringing about a peaceful resolution by moving towards dual recognition of both Taiwan and China.
In fact, dual recognition is a pre-condition for a peaceful settlement of the conflict across the Taiwan Strait: as long as Taiwan is isolated and being pushed with its back against the wall by China, no resolution that adheres to the basic principles of democracy, human rights and self-determination can be attained.
As long as Taiwan is being isolated by the international community, it will always remain in an unequal negotiation position vis-à-vis China. It is therefore essential for the US and the rest of the Western world to normalize relations with Taiwan, so it can negotiate on a level playing field.
Many observers and commentators, and in particular the Clinton Administration, have a habit of urging Taiwan and China to "start talking" and "resume a cross-Strait dialogue."
While we agree it is always better to have a dialogue than missile firings, talks will not result in positive results if some basic pre-conditions have not been met. In fact, going into talks with unrealistic expectations might lead to a more dangerous situation.
We thus suggest that the three following conditions should be met before fruitful negotiations can even start:
1. China needs to cease its military threats and intimidation, and needs to make it clear that it is committed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Otherwise Taiwan will be in a situation that it is talking with a gun pointed at its head;
2. Taiwan itself needs to arrive at a national consensus on the direction in which it is going. For the time being, the views within the island on Taiwan's ultimate status are still too far apart. More time is needed for a consensus to develop. President Chen has initiated a cross-Strait Task Force to work towards this purpose (see article on page 20).
3. In order to have a fruitful dialogue, a Taiwan and China will have to sit at the negotiating table on equal footing. This point was emphasized by former President Lee Teng-hui in his "state-to-state" declaration in July 1999, and has been reiterated frequently by President Chen Shui-bian.
There is an argument going around in policy circles in Washington that says that "the US should not be dragged into a conflict between Taiwan and China." To the Taiwanese this argument sounds highly peculiar, because a brief analysis of history shows that it was the United States which dragged Taiwan into a conflict-situation with China.
It all started in 1943, at the Cairo Conference, when President Roosevelt allowed Chiang Kai-shek to claim that after World War II Taiwan was to be "returned" to Nationalist-ruled China. Taiwan was a Japanese colony at that time, which had been ceded to Japan in perpetuity at the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki.
Chiang and his "Republic of China" were at the time holed up in Chungking in China, halfheartedly fighting the Japanese, but at the same time being more concerned about the Communists behind his back in Yunan.
So, without consulting any Taiwanese, Mr. Roosevelt tried to pacify Chiang by agreeing to his demands. Mr. Truman didn't do any better: in 1945, he condoned the actual transfer of Taiwan to the control of Chiang repressive regime _ again without any consultation with the Taiwanese themselves.
Another point often disregarded by policy analysts in Washington is the fact that at the 1951-52 San Francisco Peace Treaty, Japan ceded its sovereignty over Taiwan, but no beneficiary was named. According to the conclusions of the conference, this was "..to be determined in due course, in accordance with the purposes and principles as laid down in the Charter of the United Nations."
In the subsequent years, when nation after nation in Asia and Africa got their independence under the smiling approval of the US and the UN, the Chinese Nationalists strengthened their grip on the island through repression and intimidation. Taipei became the "temporary capital" of Chiang's Nationalist regime, which paraded around as "pro-Western" but at the same time remained intent on "recovering" China from the even more repressive Chinese Communist regime.
From the 1940s through the early 1980s, the US _ and the rest of the West for that matter _ paid scant attention to the plight of the native Taiwanese (85% of the people on the island). It wasn't until the democratic opposition of the tangwai started to clamor for human rights and democracy, culminating in the peaceful transfer of power to President Chen and the DPP in the Spring of 2000, that the US paid heed.
Thus, since the US played such a key role in getting Taiwan involved in the Chinese Civil War, it has a distinct responsibility in preserving Taiwan's freedom, democracy, and independence, for which the Taiwanese have worked so hard during the past five decades.
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