TAIWAN: by Jeffry Babb News Weekly
Cross-strait issue a delicate balance
, November 6, 2004
The three parties involved in the cross-Taiwan Strait status quo - mainland China, Taiwan and the United States - have to perform a delicate balancing act.
The recent call for a return to the 1992 Hong Kong discussions is an attempt by Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian to "agree to disagree" on Taiwan's status and return to negotiations on practical issues.
As for mainland China, they laid down the terms for their participation in the May 17, 2004 statements, just before President Chen's May 20 inauguration address - in other words, the bottom line is that Taiwan must recognise the "one China" policy as the basis of negotiations.
For Beijing, Chen's offer of a return to the 1992 Hong Kong discussions is pretending the past 12 years did not happen - this is something the decision-makers in Beijing would find hard to accept.
However, President Hu Jin-tao has only recently become the undisputed leader in Beijing, with the assumption of the post of chairman of the Central Military Committee - in other words, his Taiwan policy has yet to be revealed and probably will not be made clear until the first half of 2005 - meaning that Beijing is unlikely to respond positively to Chen's policy concerns, unless he has a major change of heart.
Like it or not, the mainland and Taiwan are becoming more and more intertwined economically - Taiwan investment in mainland China is up 30 per cent this year.
Taiwan's decision-makers must take this into account, but President Chen is constrained by his own party in how far he can go in accommodating Beijing. Taiwan independence could be described as a fundamental political doctrine for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) - in other words, it is the glue that holds the disparate and highly fractured party together.
Despite this, President Chen will want to make his mark - and a breakthrough in the cross-Taiwan Strait relationship would cement his place in history.
The impetus for a breakthrough, however, is likely to come from Beijing.
Chen's hand would be strengthened by a victory in the Legislative Yuan elections in December. A victory by the ruling DPP would strengthen Chen's mandate to act with regard to the mainland - but a genuine breakthrough would require a change of heart in the Beijing leadership.
According to Dr Philip Yang, professor of political science at National Taiwan University and director of the Taiwan Security Research Centre, the situation between Taiwan and mainland China is not as bad as it would appear from outside Taiwan, but neither is it as benign as some Taiwan policy-makers think.Complicated
The cross-strait relationship, however, is complicated by the fact that, for the US, the China relationship is probably going to be the world's most important bilateral relationship over the next century.
The basis of the US-PRC relationship changed dramatically after the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center. The Bush Administration found it could work quite successfully with China on a variety of international, regional and bilateral issues.
On the international level, China has become involved in restricting the flow of missile technology to politically hostile third parties and, regionally, it has cooperated in the six-party talks on North Korea.
On bilateral issues, the trade relationship is sparking concerns in the US. Human rights issues also can complicate the situation, but are unlikely to derail the overall relationship.
In the cross-strait relationship, the US must act as a balancer and promoter. It must assist Taiwan by maintaining a parity of power in the Taiwan Strait, for example, by supplying Taiwan with defensive weapons, as it is obliged to do under the Taiwan Relations Act, and as a promoter of the bilateral cross-strait relationship.
As for the military situation across the Taiwan Strait, the US, as a balancer, is keen for Taipei to accept its offer of arms - the three main components of which are PAC3 missile defences, anti-submarine warfare planes along with submarines.
Taiwan has demonstrated its goodwill, developing the cross-strait relationship, and President Chen is concerned with building a legacy of Taiwan as a free and prosperous society.
His task is made more difficult by the left of his party and the former President Lee Teng-hui, who, for public consumption at least, describes Beijing as a "paper tiger."
While it is unlikely that Beijing has a timetable for unification, it would be unwise to pull the tail of this particular tiger too hard.
But some demonstration of practical goodwill by Beijing would go a long way to building a foundation for closer cross-strait ties with the people of Taiwan.