A Pragmatic Strategy for China's Peaceful Reunification
The Prime Minister of the Republic of China, Premier Lien Chan, said if Beijing's leaders are sincere about pursuing reunification, they must adopt a strategy that strengthens understanding between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
Lien said both sides must increase exchanges, boosting the idea of parallel benefits in business, trade, and investment, creating a win win situation.
In an article contributed to 'Foreign Affairs,' published in New York, Lien was optimistic about peaceful resolution of the cross Taiwan Strait tension, given that Taiwan and mainland China had weathered similar crises before.
The following is the full text of his statement.
World attention was drawn to relations between the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China in dramatic fashion during July and August of 1995 by two sets of highly publicized missile tests conducted by mainland Chinese military forces close to the northern coast of Taiwan. Beijing's escalation of tension across the Taiwan Straits was widely perceived as a response to a visit in June by ROC President Lee Teng hui to Cornell University, his alma mater.
Although the president's trip was in a private capacity, Beijing further signaled its displeasure by shutting down the non governmental channel of negotiation that since 1993 had met periodically to discuss practical issues concerning the growing trade,investment, and cultural contacts between Taiwan and mainland China. The Taipei based Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), established in February, 1991 as a private, non profit organization, first met formally in Singapore with its mainland counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), during April, 1993. Since then, the organizations have held nearly a dozen meetings to discuss economic, technical, legal, and other practical cross straits issues. Although these talks carefully avoided direct governmental contacts, they broke decades of mutual isolation between the two sides and helped build greater mutual understanding and cooperation.
To many people, the missile tests and break in SEF ARATS meetings indicated that a genuine crisis had arisen in cross straits relations, one with unsettling implications for the Asia Pacific region and for other nations around the world as well. But Taiwan and mainland China have weathered previous crises successfully. One only need recall the shelling of Quemoy by the Chinese communists in 1954 and 1958, which prompted the United States to send the 7th Fleet to monitor the situation. In the more than 30 years since then, the tension in the Taiwan Straits has gradually slackened.1 It should be remembered that the Chinese term for 'crisis' contains the characters for 'danger' and 'opportunity' -- implying that 'in danger, there is also opportunity.' Thus, despite last summer's tensions, the ROC government has strengthened its resolve to continue pursuing the trade, investment, cultural, and other contacts that have been building since late 1987. Such contacts are seen as productive means to build greater trust between the two sides and, ultimately, to achieve a shared goal: the peaceful reunification of China.
While Beijing has yet to reciprocate by renouncing the possible use of military force against Taiwan, the ROC government is committed to pursuing a peaceful strategy that fosters mutual respect between the two sides. When I became Premier in February, 1993, I made improvement of cross straits ties a high priority in hopes of moving both sides away from the 'zero sum' approach to relations, where one side's gain is at the other's expense, in favor of finding 'win win' solutions that could resolve the problems between us in a mutually beneficial way.
It is clearly counterproductive for both sides to advocate the eventual reunification of China and at the same time indulge in unnecessary diplomatic skirmishes and waste precious resources on military preparations. Why not channel our resources into more productive ways to benefit all our people and advance the cause of peaceful reunification? Thus, I have repeatedly stated my support for increased exchanges in economics and trade, culture and art, technology and news dissemination between the two sides as means to bridge the chasm of misunderstanding that still exists between us. The ROC government's pragmatic strategy for peaceful reunification is to keep building positive cross strait relations through a gradually expanding set of exchanges, thereby introducing an era of negotiation. During the first half of last year, it was beginning to look as if a framework for indirect, high level dialogue between the two sides might eventually result from the six point proposal2 offered by President Lee Teng hui on April 8 in an address to the ROC National Unification Council as a response to an eight point proposal3 regarding cross strait ties announced by Mr. Jiang Zemin, Secretary General of the Chinese Communist Party, on January 30, 1995. Regrettably, this positive development was not the only casualty of Beijing's gestures of displeasure last summer, for the mainland authorities then proceeded to shut down the ongoing administrative level talks between the SEF and ARATS. In our view, this non governmental channel of communication, set up after so much painstaking effort in order to resolve disputes between both sides, should be reopened. Such a channel is all the more important during any period of intensified tension between Taipei and Beijing, because it helps prevent the unfortunate results of miscalculation or misunderstanding.
One example of such misunderstanding is the persistent complaint by Beijing that efforts of the ROC government to gain its rightful international status are an expression of 'Taiwan independence.' Such a stance fails to reflect reality and also ignores our long term efforts to improve cross strait ties and promote the reunification of China. In November, 1987, when the ROC government announced that people in Taiwan could visit their relatives on the Chinese mainland, nearly 40 years of cross strait alienation was terminated. This landmark change in ROC policy has resulted in more than 8.5 million trips to the Chinese mainland as of mid 1995. Moreover, aggregate cross strait trade by the end of1994 exceeded US$70 billion, with US$17.8 billion in 1994 alone. At the same time, we have witnessed growing cultural and academic contacts. Fourteen thousand mainland professionals have visited Taiwan in the past eight years on such exchanges. Such positive momentum on many fronts needs to be continued.
The Basis for a Peaceful And Positive Future
In spirit and direction, the ROC's strategy for peaceful reunification derives from the 1991 Guidelines for National Unification. They delineate three phases for achieving China's reunification: a short term phase of exchanges and reciprocity, a medium term phase of mutual trust and cooperation, and a long term phase of consultation and reunification. There is no fixed time frame for each stage, for it is difficult to predict how long it will take for the two sides to bring their divergent social, political, and economic systems into greater harmony.
As cross strait circumstances have changed, the ROC government has abandoned outdated ideological conflict and has made pragmatic efforts to recast relations in a positive mode. In the past, we hoped to exploit the vast differences between the economic systems of each side of the Taiwan Strait to demonstrate the superiority of our free market system; we now hope to offer the advantages of our system as a model to promote trade and economic growth in mainland China and to decrease cross strait economic disparities as a step toward eventual reunification. Formerly, we saw unrest and upheaval on the mainland as an opportunity to precipitate the rise of freedom and democracy; we now want to see evolutionary, instead of revolutionary, change in this direction. Previously, we sought to limit interaction between the people in our area of effective jurisdiction and those on the mainland; today, we encourage interaction and do not even rule out the possibility of future government to government contacts.
Internationally, we have shelved our dispute with mainland China over the issue of 'China's representation' in the United Nations. We maintain that the most concrete step the international community can take to acknowledge the reality that China is divided and ruled by separate and autonomous governments is to ensure that both sides have satisfactory representation not only in the United Nations, but indeed in all international organizations. Only then can both sides begin to find solutions to the issues that divide them. For this reason, Taiwan and mainland China have to accept the reality of divided rule, not deny each other as equal political entities, and actively nurture favorable conditions for China's eventual reunification. In this way, both sides can gradually move toward national fusion based on democracy, freedom, and prosperity.
We have always tried to clearly state and remain focused on the substantive issues that divide the two sides over how to achieve national reunification. I have personally felt for some time that Taipei and Beijing have no quarrel over the issue of 'nationalism,' or min tsu chu yi which Beijing continually invokes when discussing the issue. The Chinese term min tsu chu yi evokes a sense of common ethnic identity, and nearly all Chinese on Taiwan trace their ancestry back to the Chinese mainland at some point in the past. Min tsu chu yi is also part of Dr. Sun Yat sen's Three Principles of the People, which contains a concept more germane to the issue of national reunification, namely, min ch'uan chu yi. This latter term is sometimes translated as the 'Rights of the People,' but really is another way, in my opinion, of defining 'democracy.' In other words, what matters now in the process of achieving national reunification are differences over the enormous gap in political systems under which our two societies currently operate, not issues of common ethnic identification. Rather than needlessly debating in the international arena whether a particular act is an expression of 'one China, one Taiwan,' 'two Chinas,' or 'Taiwan independence,' the real question the two sides must resolve, as stated before, is how to promote peaceful national reunification according to the principles of democracy, freedom and prosperity.
Obstacles to the Reunification Process
Many of the obstacles that lie in the path to peaceful reunification are based on reluctance in Beijing to relinquish past, outdated policies. For instance, Beijing's position that increased international recognition of Taiwan would encourage sentiment for 'Taiwan independence' is groundless. 'Taiwan independence' is explicitly counter to ROC policy. The ROC government advocates a 'one China' position while simultaneously stressing the undeniable reality that this 'one China' is currently divided and has been ruled by separate, autonomous governments for more than 40 years. Thus, neither the ROC nor the PRC can at present claim to represent the entire Chinese nation.
Beijing also maintains a 'one China' stance, but its version sees the PRC as the sole representative government of China; and Taiwan, being part of China, as a part of the PRC. However, there is no substance to the PRC's claim of sovereignty over Taiwan; it has no right to represent the people of Taiwan. The Chinese communists are trying to achieve by specious rhetoric what they did not achieve by force of arms in 1949. Although it is true that when the ROC government moved to Taiwan in 1949 the population and territory it could effectively administer decreased substantially, the ROC remains an independent sovereign entity -- one that in subsequent years has had outstanding political and economic success. As historical fact and international law attest, the PRC has never exercised any administrative power over Taiwan, and so it has no right to represent our 21 million residents in any international organization or activity.
Given the ROC's political and economic strength, it is only natural for our people to demand an international status commensurate with the reality of Taiwan's role in the world. The result of Beijing's effort to oppose and isolate the ROC in the international community is that, despite being welcome as tourists and businessmen in countries around the world, our citizens are subject to awkward and cumbersome procedures for obtaining visas. Our athletic teams in international competitions cannot even wear the name of their country on their uniforms. And in spite of consistent expressions of willingness and undoubted financial ability to help, the ROC remains unable to join such political organizations as WHO, UNESCO, and even the International Red Cross.
Beijing continues to miss opportunities to build upon the positive momentum of cross strait relations. Old ideas, such as the mainland's 'one country, two systems' formula for resolving the reunification issue are unworkable. The 'one country' Beijing insists on in this transitional arrangement would presumably be the 'People's Republic of China,' and the ultimate system would thus be communist autocracy. Beijing's proposal therefore amounts to reducing the ROC to the status of a local government, while forcing the people of Taiwan to accept Chinese communist rule and to forsake the democracy, freedom, and prosperity they enjoy today. In recent years, the mainland authorities have repeatedly called for 'peaceful reunification,' yet have also refused to renounce the use of force to achieve it. By continually threatening Taiwan, the mainland authorities are pursuing a policy that only widens the psychological gap between the two sides. This is hardly conducive to facilitating the process of reunification.
How to Improve Cross Strait Relations
First, if Beijing's leaders are sincere about pursuing reunification, they must adopt a strategy that strengthens understanding between the two sides. This should include attempts to comprehend the reasons for Taiwan's social, political, and economic development. Popular will in Taiwan, expressed in a free wheeling, multifaceted democratic society, is playing an increasingly important role in guiding the island's development. Thus, any cross strait measure that deviates from the popular will is unacceptable in Taiwan. The mainland authorities simply cannot ignore the views of the Taiwan people. If mainland China's leaders can more vigorously pursue democratic policies and the rule of law, leading to a fair and open society, they will certainly help bring the two sides closer together. And only in this way will they be acting in accordance with the cardinal principles of nationalism which they so strongly advocate.
Second, cross strait relations can be improved by accepting 'parallel benefits' as a common goal. In other words, both sides should strive for a 'win win' approach. Taiwan's people know that cross strait reunification is currently precluded by the great differences between the two sides in terms of political and economic systems and standards of living, rather than 'foreign interference' or the 'advocacy of Taiwan independence by people within Taiwan,' as Beijing has alleged. In recent years, Taipei has consistently expressed its willingness to use Taiwan's economic strength to assist the Chinese mainland. Although the island's development has not been without problems, much of this experience can nevertheless be of considerable value to the mainland.
Third, both sides need to increase exchanges, thereby boosting the idea of parallel benefits in business, trade, and investment. In February 1995, I pointed out in my administrative report to the ROC Legislature that cross strait relations should at present focus on trade and economic issues so that both sides might enjoy the benefits of a market economy. The ROC government has, in accordance with this policy, greatly relaxed its restrictions on cross strait investment and trade, and recently formulated a plan to establish offshore trans shipment centers to allow direct cross strait transportation of cargo. We proposed this plan to nurture conditions that will make it eventually possible to establish postal, trade, and transportation links across the Taiwan Strait. To date, an agreement has been made to allow flights between Taiwan and Macao, some of which could be extended to certain cities in the Chinese mainland after a stopover in Macao and a change of flight number.
We also encourage extensive exchanges in arts, culture, education, literature, science and technology, and hope that future exchanges will not be limited to mere visits or conferences, but will expand to include long term joint research, technological seminars, and academic exchange programs. The ROC government has already eased restrictions on visits by its officials to the Chinese mainland and has relaxed entry procedures for visits by Chinese Communist Party and government officials.
Fourth, we need to implement more pragmatic consultation. After the first SEF ARATS talks in 1993, the two organizations began to provide a consultation channel to deal with problems related to cross strait exchanges. Although matters did not go smoothly at first because consensus could not be easily achieved on such issues as fishery disputes, we were headed in the right direction. I still believe that it is in the interests of both sides to minimize our political differences and resume our dialogue as soon as possible.
All these suggestions are made in a spirit of cooperation and are inspired by a desire to build confidence and trust. They fully accord with our Guidelines for National Unification, which call for fostering an environment of reason, peace, parity and reciprocity in which both sides can jointly pursue the cause of national reunification. Although relations across the Taiwan Strait have been chilled by recent setbacks, we are confident that this situation is only temporary and that peace remains our common aspiration. Progress in cross strait relations has been steady in recent years, and the economic momentum in particular is unlikely to be lost. But we must also look to other issues as well: greater military transparency, increased understanding of political processes on both sides, strengthened cultural exchanges, and wider mutual reporting in the mass media of the changes taking place in both our societies.
In coming years, as now, tension across the Taiwan Strait may occasionally seem to reach crisis proportions. During such times, both sides must have the will to find mutually beneficial solutions and the mechanisms to help carry them out. Each success will bring both sides closer to our shared goal: China's peaceful reunification.
1After 1949, when the Chinese Communists took over the mainland and the ROC government moved to Taiwan, the two sides at first engaged in sporadic military conflict. By the late 1970s, they had shifted to relatively peaceful confrontation. On November 2, 1987, the ROC government took a major step to help bring the two sides closer together by lifting the ban on visits to mainland China by ROC citizens. This, for the first time, officially sanctioned private exchanges between the two sides. On May 1, 1991, the ROC government announced the termination of the Period of National Mobilization for Suppression of the Communist Rebellion and abolished the Temporary Provisions to the ROC Constitution that were effective during this period, formally indicating that the ROC policy was to seek peaceful solutions to cross strait issues
2President Lee called on the mainland authorities to pursue reunification based on the reality that the two sides are governed respectively by two governments. In addition, he called for strengthening bilateral cultural exchanges, enhancing mutually beneficial trade relations, ensuring that both sides participate in international organizations on an equal footing, resolving all disputes by peaceful means, and jointly safeguarding prosperity and promoting democracy in Hong Kong and Macao.
3Mr. Jiang's proposals: adhere to the principle of one China, oppose Taiwan's activities in expanding its international living space, jointly safeguard China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, declare that 'Chinese should not fight fellow Chinese,' affirm the economic advantages of economic exchanges and cooperation between the two sides, single out Chinese culture as an important basis for the peaceful reunification of the motherland, exchange views with all parties and personages from all circles in Taiwan, and welcome visits by leaders of the Taiwan authorities.