ASIA: by Jeffry Babb News Weekly
How many missiles are needed to make one China?
, November 30, 2002
How many Chinas are there? This seemingly simple question is at the base of negotiations for direct links across the Taiwan Strait. It might only be just over an hour from Taipei to Shanghai by plane, but it's a lot longer journey if you go via the politicians who rule cross-strait affairs.
The momentum to opening up the "three links" - direct postal, air and shipping links between Taiwan and mainland China - is seemingly irresistible. Recently, prominent Kuomintang (KMT) lawmaker John Chang, supported by over 100 other legislators, called for direct flights from Shanghai to Taipei to bring back some of the estimated 300,000 people from Taiwan who are now based on the mainland in the greater Shanghai region alone for Chinese New Year.Dialogue
But things are rarely that simple. Jiang Zemin, retiring Chinese president, called for renewed dialogue with Taiwan in his swansong to the Communist Party's 16th National Congress in the Great Hall of the People.
Although Jiang did not waver from the "one China" line, he was more conciliatory than usual for a Chinese leader.
"Here we reiterate our appeal: On the basis of the one China principle, let us shelve now certain political disputes and resume the cross-start dialogue and negotiations as soon as possible," Jiang told several thousand assembled party members filling up the seats.
Jiang, despite calling for negotiations, refused to rule out the use of force against Taiwan, saying the threat was aimed at interfering "foreign forces."
More ominously, he added, "The Taiwan question must not be allowed to drag on indefinitely."
President Chen, Taiwan's first non-KMT president from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), made his position clear earlier, when he said to an independence leaning group in Tokyo via a satellite link that there were "two countries on each side of the Taiwan Strait."
Although this had the potential to derail the cross-strait dialogue as had his KMT predecessor Lee Teng-hui's "state to state" theory, it's so far been largely ignored by Beijing - but not by Chen's DPP. The DPP line is two entities exist across the strait, with the future of the DPP's pro-independence push to be decided sometime later at a more opportune time by a referendum of all the people of Taiwan.
Replying to Jiang, the DPP's Trong Chai said, "Since there is only one China, so Taiwan and mainland China are two countries on each side of the Taiwan Strait," adding that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the mainland does not cover Taiwan.
Trong also said that on the basis of "equal sovereignty," both sides should put aside political disputes and resume cross-strait dialogue and negotiations, adding that "we would like to exchange views with China's party, political and military officials and all others, on the development of cross-strait negotiations and the promotion of peaceful exchanges."
All this does not make the seemingly simple flights for businessmen coming home to Taiwan for the Chinese New Year - the most important family festival in Taiwan and in China - any closer.
Although the mainland Chinese have made a big concession, in that they called for dealing with the cross-strait issue as an internal affair, President Chen has said that negotiations cannot simply be between "private parties", as was the case in the recent conclusion of Taiwan-Hong Kong air links, but that it must be at a "government to government" level.
Taiwan's National Security Council has said it will come up with a report on direct links "by the end of the month", but foresees technical issues pushing back any cross strait air links by "three to five years" due to lengthy "technical and political factors."
While Jiang is in theory going into retirement, he will still be pulling the strings for some time yet, and his aim is to have a solution to the Taiwan "problem" as part of his legacy. Thus, while sounding conciliatory, China still has some four hundred missiles aimed ominously at Taiwan from across the 150 kilometre-wide Taiwan Strait.
This fact has been exercising the minds of Taiwan's policy makers, who quite logically question the peaceful intent of China if the number of missiles aimed at Taiwan continues to increase.
These ballistic missiles are a clear and present threat to Taiwan, and are the not too subtle hint to Taiwan's leaders that the patience of big brother across the water is not endless - as Jiang made clear.
The clear implication is that if the mainland's "united front of businessmen" does not work against Taiwan, it will always consider other measures. Even if it these missiles are only aimed at "foreign elements" and "independence" advocates, the question of how many Chinas there are suddenly becomes a very important question for Taiwan - and the peace of the world.