Has Chen already failed one China test?

Too many people with conflicting agendas expect too much from Chen Shui-bian's inauguration speech; he can't satisfy everybody and has already hobbled himself by naively making two enormous blunders

By Cao Chang-Ching C
The Taipei Times
Friday, May 5th, 2000

Beijing, Washington and the people of Taiwan are all looking forward to Chen Shui-bian's May 20 inauguration speech as if Chen may somehow magically satisfy everyone.

The expectation itself is a dangerous sign, for Chen is not a magician and cannot conjure magic. It will be very hard to satisfy Beijing's "one China" demand.

What exactly is the "one China" policy? Chinese President Jiang Zemin ( stated very clearly in Seattle in 1993: "There is only one China, that is the People's Republic of China, and Taiwan is a province of the People's Republic of China." The white paper China released in February further clarified that Beijing is the central government seat of the republic and that Taipei is only a local government.

How, then, will Chen satisfy Beijing's "one China" policy?

Chen Shui-bian's two blunders

Chen has made two major mistakes prior to taking office. First, his campaign team spread a rumor during and after the election that Chen might be Taiwan's Nixon, meaning that the most hard-line person may be the one able to take the greatest steps in terms of compromise.

This is a dangerous statement, if not a disgusting one. Nixon went to Beijing almost three decades ago holding in his hand a big gift; a seat in the UN Security Council and the sacrifice of Taiwan. "Opening the door to China," was indeed nothing more than opening the door to the UN and inviting the dictatorship in.

Nixon paid the price of Taiwan in order to bargain with China. But does Chen have such a grand gift to offer Beijing? Even if he wanted to make such sacrifice in order to become Taiwan's Nixon, would Taiwan's voters agree to such a sacrifice?

Almost all polls conducted since 1990 have shown more than 70 percent of Taiwanese oppose the "one country, two system" formula. What's more, research done by the Sino-Europe and Asia Institute in April of 1999 shows that 94 percent of Taiwan's population considers the Republic of China an independent nation.

Does Chen dare oppose such strong public sentiment in a country where he has been popularly elected?

The second blunder Chen made was his repeated promises that he would take no steps toward enshrining President Lee Teng-hui's "two states" promulgation in Taiwan's Constitution; that he would not change the nation's name; and that there would be no referendum on independence.

This furnishes Beijing with more room to fantasize. Chen has, in effect, made a full-fledged retreat even before his rival began pressuring him. What a generous invitation for Beijing to come up with greater threats and demands.

The art of compromise dictates that both parties be willing to make concessions. Chen could well have offered such concessions later on had Beijing first made some themselves. Beijing hasn't had to compromise at all, but Chen has continued to soften his stance and show his weaknesses, leaving his supporters to wonder if he indeed has the ability to lead.

"One China" and dragons are both imaginary

Perhaps Chen hopes to use "soft words" to win Beijing's trust and eventually ease the tension across the Taiwan Strait. If so, it only shows how romantic Taiwan's new president is towards communism.

If Beijing thought President Lee was pro-independence, then it is certainly convinced that Chen, who had once cried "long live Taiwan independence," wants the same. Therefore, no matter what "soft words" Chen is going to use in his inauguration speech, he will not win Beijing's confidence as long as he does not accept its "one China" principle. Trying to win Beijing's trust is both naive and politically suicidal.

Therefore, without accepting Beijing's "one China" principle, no matter how Chen finagles his words, wrangling between the two is only a matter of time. And if China and Taiwan are bound to bicker, why should Taiwan be in such a hurry to make concessions?

Instead of anxiously trying to flatter Beijing, Chen should clearly state Taiwan's bottom line by sticking to President Lee's "two states" remarks.

Lee's remarks that the relationship between Taiwan and China is one between two equal states only pulls Taipei, Beijing and Washington back to reality following years of "one China" hallucination. The so-called "one China" principle is like the dragon so admired by the Chinese -- a completely imaginary creature. In reality, there are two Chinas; a "People's Republic of China" and a "Republic of China."

It was Nixon's political trickery that sacrificed Taiwan. It is an intolerable unfairness in today's world that Taiwan, a democracy and the 18th richest nation in the world, is excluded from the UN. And it is even more intolerable to have a bullying dictatorship dogging its every step towards a more democratic society.

To change this humiliation situation, Taiwan must first cry out against this injustice. Indeed, it was only after Lee mentioned "two states" that Taiwan became the focus of international media and a call for reviewing the "one China" policy became a topic of discussion among pundits and the media in the US.

If Chen himself does not stick to the "two-states" model, but hurries to extinguish the truth, how can Taiwan expect support from the international community, especially the US, for its efforts to join the UN?

Isn't it ironic that Taiwan's new president, whose campaign creed was to fight for more independence and dignity for Taiwan, is retreating from Lee's position to avoid the truth that Taiwan is a sovereign state?

Important choices to make

Some may argue that if Chen does not retreat from his previous position and say a few "soft words," it will provoke Beijing to take action against Taiwan. But a question remains as to just what actions will Beijing be able to take?

Most Western military experts, such as Robert O'Neill, Bates Gill and Michael O'Hanlon, agree that the PRC hasn't the strength to invade Taiwan. Even David Shambaugh, the US expert and well-known Beijing sympathizer, also recently stated in The New York Times that China would be unable to attack Taiwan successfully.

If Taiwan adheres to "two states," the only way Beijing can attack Taiwan is through a war of words, which can only generate more abhorrence of Beijing and more sympathy for Taipei from the international community, thus causing the US to sell more advanced weapons to Taiwan. In other words, the higher the decibel of Beijing's threats the more actual benefits Taipei gains from the US.

Beijing will never stop strengthening its military until it is strong enough to successfully attack Taiwan. Taiwan's compromise may reduce the volume of Beijing's threats for the moment, but won't stop it from developing weapons and trying to bring Taiwan into the Chinese fold.

Taiwan's concessions may have achieved a temporary false stability across the Taiwan Strait, but it may also have lost what it truly needs; advanced weapons from the US and the hope of becoming a UN member. For now, Taiwan's current situation of being an international orphan will only continue.

It is doubtful that Chen is ready to sacrifice principle in exchange for a false sense of stability. If so, his strategy bodes ill for Taiwan's long-term interests and safety and will undoubtedly prevent him from being reelected.

Chen has a wonderful opportunity to become a leader of principle. He also has a choice of becoming Taiwan's Nixon by playing shrewd political schemes. Whatever he chooses will not only affect his own political fate, but also the future of Taiwan.

Cao Chang-Ching is a writer and journalist based in New York.


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