Taiwan Communiqué No. 95, February 2001

To link or not to link?

The "three links" dilemma

Investment hare
Taiwan's business hare in China's investment mine field

During the past few months, the DPP authorities in Taipei have been agonizing over what to do on the issue of the "three links": whether to allow direct postal links, trade, and ship and air transportation between Taiwan and China. This against the background that China is still threatening Taiwan militarily, and has stated it is prepared to invade the island.

The pressure for the "three links" comes primarily from business interests which want to set up operations along the Chinese coast and make use of cheap Chinese labor there. During the past decade, labor costs in Taiwan have increased as the society became more well-off.

The trade and investment in China by Taiwanese businessmen took place in spite of the "Be patient, go slow" policy of the previous Lee Teng-hui administration. Mr. Lee himself is report to have stated during a recent interview with a Japanese publication that Taiwanese investment in China is "suicide."

Officially, China is also in favor of opening up the links with the island-nation, because this will enable it to gradually entangle the island nation in its web, making the task of absorbing it easier. However, it has maintained that any negotiations on the issue can only be held if the Taiwan government agrees to the so-called "One China principle." Below, we expand on that issue.

For Taiwan, there are significant dangers in the links, because it risks become too reliant on its trade with China, giving Beijing the chance to keep Taiwan in an economic stranglehold, and blackmail the Taipei leaders if they don't give in to Beijing's demands.

A second danger is the reduced warning time in case of a military attack: under the guise of civilian sea or air transport, China could send in military planes or ships to attack the island.

Thirdly, increased economic contacts will enable China to send in more spies and conduct Fifth Column-type of activities on the island. Already, Taiwan's intelligence agencies are warning that China has several thousand spies in place on the island.

"Mini three links"

Well aware of the dangers inherent in opening up too much too China, the administration of newly-elected DPP President Chen Shui-bian has pushed for implementation of the "mini three links", a relaxation of movement of people and goods between the two Taiwan-held islands Kinmen and Matsu and the adjacent Chinese province of Fukien.

Over the past decade, as the tension between Taiwan and China had subsided, local fishermen and inhabitants of the islands increasingly engaged in smuggling of various goods, such as fish and vegetables. Implementation of these "mini three links" _ which went into effect on 1 January 2001 — effectively decriminalizes such activities.

To the Taiwan authorities, the effort represents an attempt to try out on a small scale how to deal with the movement of good between China and Taiwan, and to develop procedures for visas and visiting permits, custom inspection, immigration etc.

For the time being, these "mini three links" are a unilateral policy from the Taiwan side: no negotiations took place, they apply only to Taiwan vessels from the two islands to China, and trade is restricted to people who have lived on the islands for at least six months. Also, no trans-shipment of the traded goods to Taiwan itself is permitted.

In fact, the Chinese authorities only grudgingly allowed the first visits _ three ferries from the two islands _ to take place, fearing that they would represent a publicity coup for the Chen Shui-bian Administration. They also denied several dozen Taiwanese reporters permission to come on the first trip. One high-level Beijing official downplayed the opening, saying "… the mini three links have no substantial meaning, so China can't get excited about it."

A couple of days after the opening, another Chinese official termed it "utterly inadequate" and "discriminatory." In general, however, most Chinese news media all but ignored the opening and didn't cover the arrival of the Taiwan ships in Xiamen's harbor. Presumably, they didn't know how to handle the fact that Taiwan had taken the initiative in the cross-Strait dialogue.

KMT and New Party "visit" Beijing in droves

In the beginning of January 2001, two more delegations from pro-unificationist groupings in Taiwan landed in China, where they were welcomed to a red-carpet treatment and were received by high Communist leaders. The first delegation was a 29-member Kuomintang group, led by KMT legislator Ho Chi-hui, and the second one a 17-member delegation from the pro-unificationist extremist New Party, led by legislator Fung Fu-hsiang (see "Who is Elmer Fung" in Taiwan Communiqué no. 92).

The visit of these two groups is part of a drove of visits by pro-unification groups in Taiwan, and are designed to undermine the strategy of the Chen Administration aimed at keeping Taiwan free, democratic and independent. The people who make up these groups used to constitute the conservative anti-Communist mainlander hard core of the old Kuomintang, which in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s strenuously opposed democratization on the island and the increase of participation of the native Taiwanese in the political system.

During the transformation to a democratic political system and the gradual "Taiwanization" of the Kuomintang under former President Lee Teng-hui, the old hardliners were increasingly sidelined, with one group splitting off in 1994 to form the New Party, and another allying itself with James Soong, when he split off in 1998-99.

While the Kuomintang was still in power, these elements were held in check by the "Mainstream" within the KMT, which was controlled by President Lee's "Taiwan First" forces. However, after the election of DPP president Chen Shui-bian the old anti-Communists have gone all out to thwart Chen's policies, and have allied themselves with the rulers in Beijing, forming a de facto Fifth Column on the island.

The Criminal China connection

On 31 December 2000, the Washington Post reported on another element in the pro-unification cast: the criminal connection of the old triads. It described how Mr. Chang An-lo, the leader of the 15,000-strong Bamboo Union Gang, lives unfettered in Shenzhen on the Chinese coast. Mr. Chang is on the most-wanted list in Taiwan for his organized crime activities, and has served seven years in US jails for heroin trafficking.

In the mid-1980s, Mr. Chang was also implicated in the murder of Chinese-American writer Henry Liu, who had written an unflattering biography of then-President Chiang Ching-kuo. The murder was traced to the Bamboo Union and the Kuomintang's secret police.

In addition to his daily underworld activities, Mr. Chang is reportedly an active proponent of Taiwan's "reunification" with China. In the Washington Post article, he was shown with combined ROC/PRC flag on his desk ("The China connection, once again crime and politics intersect", Washington Post, 31 December 2000).

Kuomintang to split apart?

Lee Teng-hui engine tossed overboard
The KMT tossing overboard its "Lee Teng-hui engine"

The resurgence of the old hard liners within the Kuomintang has dismayed many prominent supporters of former President Lee Teng-hui, who feel that under Lien Chan, the party is drifting away from its "Taiwan First" line, and back to bad old self of the period prior to democratization.

At the end of December 2000, the former head of finances of the KMT, Mr. Liu Tai-ying, was reportedly talking openly about establishing a new party, and mentioned former Prime Minister Vincent Wan-chang Siew as its leader. Two other former high officials in the Kuomintang, Minister of Interior Huang Chu-wen and Cultural Works Director Huang Hui-chen also indicated they would let their KMT memberships lapse.

In the meantime, several of the old pro-unificationists, who left the Kuomintang in 1995-96 to run against president Lee Teng-hui in the March 1996 presidential elections, are now returning to the KMT-fold. Messrs. Chen Li-an, Lin Yang-kang and hardline former general/prime minister Hao Pei-tsun have recently announced they would rejoin the KMT "...to save Taiwan."

In the 1996 elections, Mr. Lin Yang-kang ran with Mr. Hao as his vice-presidential running mate for the New Party. They received 14.9 percent of the vote. Mr. Chen Li-an ran on an independent ticket and received less than ten percent of the vote.

Should Lien Chan go to China ?

According to a press report in the Washington Post ("Taiwan Nationalists hint at China trip", 25 November 2000), KMT Vice Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung agreed during his recent trip to Beijing to establish formal ties between the think tanks of the Chinese Communist Party and the KMT. Since KMT Chairman Lien Chan also happens to be chairman of several of the KMT think tanks, this seems to suggest that Mr. Lien Chan might be laying the groundwork for a visit to China.

First, we need to assess Mr. Lien's status in Taiwan. We may recall that he ran in the March 2000 Presidential elections and came in a distant third, with only 23.1% of the vote. According to recent popularity ratings, only some 13% of the respondents approve of his views and actions, in particular after he initiated the recall campaign against President Chen Shui-bian.

Mr. Lien Chan is thus hardly in a position to initiate such a contact, particularly in view of the sensitivity of cross Strait relations. It is clear that the majority of the populace in Taiwan do not agree with the KMT and its policies. That was the reason Mr. Lien Chan was not elected in March and his party was booted out of office after its 55 years of monopoly on power.

Secondly, there is no consensus in Taiwan yet on how to approach China. In September 2000, President Chen instituted an Advisory Group on cross Strait relations, headed by Academia Sinica President and Nobel prize winner Professor Lee Yuan-tseh. However, Mr. Lien's Kuomintang as well as the pro-unification Peoples First Party and tiny New Party boycotted this initiative to come to a national consensus. It would be prudent and responsible of Mr. Lien Chan's KMT _ and the other two parties as well — to (re)join the Advisory Group and participate in the debate on relations with China. Unilateral actions such as a visit to China would be reckless and irresponsible.

Thirdly, Mr. Lien Chan should realize that he will be used by China. History shows that Beijing is quite adept at manipulating others to its own advantage. Once Mr. Lien Chan has served the purposes of the Chinese Communist leaders, he will be discarded and dropped by the wayside.

Fourthly, Mr. Lien has a responsibility to the people of Taiwan. A trip to China under the present circumstances would undermine Taiwan's future as a free and democratic nation. Is this what he wants? We suggest that Mr. Lien focus on improving Taiwan's economy and international relations, instead of playing poker with our future.

During his visit to China, Mr. Wu Po-hsiung was also so presumptuous to tell his Chinese hosts that Taiwan independence "…does not enjoy popular support in Taiwan." The fact of the matter is that during the past years pro-independence has gained significantly, and is generally seen to have the support of 42 to 48 % of the respondents, with a slightly smaller percentage opting for the status quo.

Since most people on Taiwan consider the present status quo to be a form of independence (as "Republic of China on Taiwan"), one could even argue that in total more than 85% support some kind of independence. In contrast, Mr. Wu Po-hsiung's pro-unification sentiment is shared by only some 12-14% of the population.

It is thus clear that the large majority of the people of Taiwan want to be accepted by the international community as a full and equal member in the family of nations, and reject "unification" with a repressive Communist regime.

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Copyright © 2001 Taiwan Communiqué