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Tuesday, May 30th, 2000


Editorial: Avoiding the `one China' trap

President Chen Shui-bian's () inaugural speech was a deft exercise in wordcraft. It was both conciliatory in tone and was generally well-received, in the end buying Chen some breathing space from China's threats. But the "one China" issue still haunts Taiwan, and Beijing is using all the methods at its disposal to force its poison on Taiwan.

If China listened carefully to Chen's speech, however, it would have heard some hidden messages. For instance, the phrase "Taiwan stands up" was stressed three times in the speech and was obviously an echo of Mao Zedong's (AF) speech in Tiananmen Square in 1949, announcing the overthrow of the old regime and the birth of a new state.

"Formosa," which was used many times in the speech, has long been something of a code word for independence in Taiwan. Chen also called Taiwan "our eternal mother," and shouted out, "Long live the people of Taiwan," while only wishing for the well-being of the Republic of China. Chen gave the impression he was stressing his identification with Taiwan.

Chen also made reference to China and Taiwan's common history of colonial domination, but only to underscore the different historical trajectories of the two countries that can be traced back more than 300 years.

Furthermore, many strategic positions in the new administration -- including mainland and foreign affairs, education, culture and even the National Palace Museum -- were given to people with a strong Taiwanese identity. Several important figures in Taiwan's independence movement were also appointed as presidential advisors.

Deeds are always more powerful than mere words and Beijing's mistrust of Chen will not be solved with just one speech. Beijing will continue to pressure Chen to accept the "one China" principle, even if it has been unable so far to find Taiwan's pressure point. One reason Beijing still lacks such leverage is because Chen's inaugural speech was highly acclaimed internationally, denying China any excuse to act against Taiwan.

China has been unable to reach a consensus on how to deal with Taiwan and it appears that the leadership will remain divided, at least until after the Communist government's annual meetings in Beidaihe (_e) in July. The US election campaign will start up soon after and China is unlikely to make any move against Taiwan during that time. Taiwan should be able to dodge the specter of war as long as it keeps a cool head and a low profile.

Beijing continues to stress its "one country, two systems" policy and contends that the PRC is the only legal Chinese government. Taiwan would therefore be at a serious disadvantage during future negotiations if it accepted the "one China" formula.

But Beijing would not be satisfied even if Taiwan did accept the "one China" formula. Taiwan would be writing China a blank check, turning Taiwan into China's debtor. Moreover, an acceptance of the "one China" principle would merely whet the appetite of hardliners in China, encouraging them to demand more from Taiwan.

Chen tried to chart a carefully plotted middle course. But he would be sacrificing Taiwan's sovereignty if he admitted to the "one China" principle. None of his challengers in the March elections would have accepted the formula. What would be the point if they wanted to continue to serve as president? Moreover, the voters of Taiwan will not agree to the "one China" principle. Otherwise, why bother electing their own leader?


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