FOREIGN AFFAIRS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Taiwan faces continuing threats from Beijing
, September 11, 2004
The communist regime in Beijing is waging a war of nerves against Taiwan, while attempting to enlist international support for its sabre-rattling.
During a recent visit to Taiwan, I was impressed by the fact that the island-state is a free-wheeling democracy, with a free press. However, the Chinese Communist Party which rules the mainland has never been able to reconcile itself to the fact that Taiwan is a democracy like Australia, where people are free to speak their own minds.
During my stay, threatening comments from various spokesmen from Beijing were published warning that Taiwan was "a threat to peace", accusing overseas Chinese of "spying for Taiwan", and the like.
The idea of Taiwan threatening anyone is laughable. In fact, Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian has carefully walked a tightrope in asserting that Taiwan has de facto
independence from Beijing - an obvious fact, as Taiwan has been separated from the mainland since 1949.
However, he has consistently reaffirmed that he would not move to assert de jure
independence, in order to avoid provoking a crisis with Beijing.
He has pursued this approach since his election in 2000, most recently stating it in his inauguration speech last May, when he was re-elected President of the Republic of China.
He said, "We can understand why the government on the other side of the Strait, in light of historical complexities and ethnic sentiments, cannot relinquish the insistence on the 'One China Principle'.
"By the same token," he added, "the Beijing authorities must understand the deep conviction held by the people of Taiwan to strive for democracy, to love peace, to pursue their dreams free from threat, and to embrace progress. But if the other side continues to threaten Taiwan with military force, if it persists in isolating Taiwan diplomatically, if it keeps up irrational efforts to blockade Taiwan's rightful participation in the international arena, this will only serve to drive the hearts of the Taiwanese people further away and widen the divide in the Strait."
President Chen added, "History has given rise to the development of two very different political systems as well as two dissimilar ways of life on either side of the Taiwan Strait. However ... we would not exclude any possibility, so long as there is the consent of the 23 million people of Taiwan."
The Chinese Government in Beijing has, however, rejected the olive branch, and continues to threaten to reunify Taiwan with China by force.Statement
The statement by Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, during his recent visit to Beijing that countries like Australia would be willing to abandon Taiwan if war occurred across the Taiwan Strait, and that Australia would not stand by the US in the event of conflict, must have been music to the ears of the hard-liners in Beijing.
It is impossible to believe that Mr Downer believes this. In my view, he was faced with insistent demands from Beijing to make a public statement declaring Taiwanese independence to be a threat to peace in North Asia.
Mr Downer apparently made the calculation that appeasing Beijing would assist both diplomatic and trade ties, with Australia now seeking a Free Trade Agreement with China, having recently agreed to a $25 billion deal to supply natural gas to Guangdong province, in China.
When Australia snubbed Taiwan, it turned its back on a country which is a powerhouse of the world economy, and arguably, an entry point to the mainland itself. Currently, around 50 per cent of Taiwan's foreign investment is going to the mainland.
Taiwan has huge advantages in investment on the mainland, compared with most other countries. These include a common language, thorough knowledge of English, and access to technology from Japan and America.
China needs Taiwan's investment to continue to increase its GDP, and to soak up its huge unemployment, arising from the drift from the countryside to the cities.
At the same time, Beijing has deep hostility towards President Chen, whose Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is predominantly Taiwanese, and has entrenched democracy in Taiwan.
Beijing has continually attempted to isolate Taiwan internationally, including excluding it from the World Health Organisation, the UN and its agencies, and other measures.
In my view, long-term normalisation of relations across the Taiwan Strait depends on change in leadership on the mainland. The "old guard" leadership of Jiang Zemin is particularly hostile to President Chen and the DPP.
Australia must support democracy in Taiwan, while maintaining the need for a peaceful resolution of differences between Taiwan and Beijing.