In a New Year's Eve speech, president Chen Shui-bian apparently launched a new concept, which in the eyes of some observers might be an opening, leading to an resolution of the conflict between Taiwan and China. He expressed his hope that " economic and cultural integration of China and Taiwan will gradually result in political integration."
However, to his key supporters, the statement was seen as a further softening on the part of the president, while it was picked up immediately as a "good idea" by a host of pro-unificationist commentators on the island.
Below, we first give our own commentary, and then present a more extensive article by Mr. Li Thian-hok, a prominent member of the Taiwanese-American community.
Mr. Chen's attempt at using European integration as a model for Taiwan's relation with China doesn't fly. It is shortsighted and misguided.
The first important point is that European integration started from a position of full sovereignty of all the partners. Each of the nations constituting the European Union are fully-recognized nation states with membership in the United Nations. Such a position of equality is essential if there is to be a fair and equitable process.
The second important point is that the European nations are not giving up their sovereignty in the process, but are sharing resources, harmonizing policies, and reducing barriers to the efficient flow of people and goods. This works well if the partners are more or less equal in size.
A third point is that in the European integration process, there is special attention for the rights of smaller partners and minorities. Nations like The Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal can be sure that their rights and interests are protected.
On all three points, any "balance" between China and Taiwan is sadly lacking. 1) China does not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation, 2) because China's population is some 52 times Taiwan's population, and because Taiwan's per capita income is approx. 25 times that of China, any reduction of the barriers along European lines would immediately result in a total flooding of Taiwan by China's hungry and poor masses, and 3) China doesn't pay any attention to smaller partners and minorities, just witness the repression in Tibet and Turkestan. Could Taiwan expect to fare any better?
Taiwan would do well to gain international recognition as a full and equal member of the international community first. Only if and when that is accepted - by China, the US and other nations in the UN - could one even start thinking whether "integration" is desirable, and whether anything like a fair and equitable integration process is even possible.
By Li Thian-hok. Mr. Li is a prominent member of the Taiwanese-American community who lives in Pennsylvania.
US President-elect George W. Bush gave an important foreign policy speech at the Reagan Library in November 1999, in which he stated: "China is a competitor, not a strategic partner." Bush also said that the US must honor its promise to the people of Taiwan to deny the right of Beijing to impose rule on a free people and to help Taiwan to defend itself.
In its Dec. 18 report to Congress, the Pentagon said that helping Taiwan to maintain a self-defense capability is in the US interest. On Dec. 14, General Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that China may emerge as a new Soviet Union and a threat to regional stability. Writing on the editorial page of the Washington Times ("Defending Taiwan," Jan. 9), Senator Jesse Helms, chairman of the foreign relations committee, urged early implementation of the provisions of the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act to deter a military conflict in the Taiwan Strait.
In April, the Pentagon will decide on Taiwan's request for the purchase of arms. It is likely the new Bush administration will review and adjust US policy towards Taiwan. This is the time for the Taipei government to solidify its friendship with the US by emphasizing the democratic values shared by the two and Taiwan's commitment to defend its freedom.
From this perspective, President Chen Shui-bian's New Year's Eve message was counter-productive. Chen expressed his hope that economic and cultural integration of China and Taiwan will gradually result in political integration. Integration can easily be interpreted as synonymous with unification. Taken together with Chen's plan to relax the "no haste, be patient" policy and his administration's eagerness to implement direct trade, transportation and communications links with China as quickly as possible, the message can be considered a policy of speedy and peaceful unification with China.
Indefinite preservation of the status quo, de facto independence, for example, has seemingly been ruled out. Chen's message is contrary to the will of the people because a vast majority of the Taiwanese reject rule by the repressive Chinese Communist Party. It is also against democratic principles to deny people their right to self-determination by pre-judging their choice. At a time when Taipei needs to build up the people's morale, such a message destroys self-confidence and fans China fever. After all, if the best thing the Taiwanese can hope for is peaceful surrender of their freedom and personal property, then what good is the Chen administration?
Chen's message also cuts down international support for Taiwan by promoting the perception that the Taiwanese lack the courage to defend their freedom. William Kirby, director of the Harvard University Asia Center, says that Taiwan is falling inexorably into the grip of Chinese power. He argues that Taiwan can do little more than descend slowly into that grip.
China will not have the military capability to successfully invade Taiwan for another 4 to 5 years. It is futile to try to placate China with progressively greater concessions. China can be satisfied only with immediate, total surrender of Taiwan's sovereignty. Until there is a clear consensus among an informed citizenry regarding Taiwan's future and until China irrevocably commits itself to the path of democratization so that Beijing's promises become more credible, it is not prudent for the government to rush into a substantive dialog with Beijing. The Chen government's foremost tasks should be to bolster national defense, develop a Taiwan-centric economy and combat "black-gold" politics. It is high time relations with China took a back seat.
This article was first published in the Taipei Times on 16 January 2001. Reprinted with permission.
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