Go TO Content

Relations Across The Taiwan Straits 4. Domestic and External Factors Affecting Cross-Strait Relations

  • Date:1994-07-29

1. International Factors

The Various factors influencing relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait may be roughly divided into three categories: international factors, factors originating in mainland China, and factors within Taiwan itself. As far as international factors are concerned, the international community may be said to have entered a new era in the 1990s. After an experiment lashing more than seventy years, communism proved itself to be ultimately unacceptable. This was because the communist countries had long used the "dictatorship of the proletariat" to suppress freedom and democracy, thus provokin dissatisfaction and resistance from all strata of society, while the system of socialist public ownership and the planned economy had resulted in economic stagnation, making it impossible to raise living standard. These were the chief reasons for the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe In the post-Cold War situation, the PRC's role as a strategic ally of the West underwent a change; the Western countries began to pay more attention to the suppression of human rights in mainland China, and the international community began to take a more reasonable attitude toward the division of China under two separate governments on either side of the Taiwan Strait. Other countries also realized that the Republic of China could play a role in the mainland's reform and opening up process, and recognized the importance of security in the Taiwan Strait to the stability of Asia and the economic development of the Asia-Pacific region.

In addition, the growing importance of economic interdependence in international relations has also been beneficial to cross-Strait detente. In 1991, Taiwan, mainland China, and Hong Kong all joined the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, and the two sides of the Strait are expected to be joining the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in the near future. The increased prosperity that economic liberalization is bringing to the Asia-Pacific region will encourage Peking to speed up the pace of reform and opening up, which will benefit cross-Strait relations and narrow the gap between the two sides, thus creating conditions advantageous to the peaceful unification of China.

International trends toward integration and division are also having an impact on relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. During the Cold War period when ideology was all-important, the unification policies of divided countries were usually influenced by bloc policies and as a result tended to be uncompromising. Unification was necessarily carried out by force. Since the end of the Cold War, the reemergence of the idea of integration has encouraged divided countries to start once again on the path to unification. One example is the way that the East German people's desire for a free and democratic political and economic system and the national sentiments of the people of West Germany brought about the democratic unification of Germany in October 1990. Another example is how North and South Korea, on the basis of peace and parity, signed a non-aggression and reconciliation pact in December 1991. These examples of divided countries being encouraged to progress toward detente and unification by changes in the world political and economic order are characteristic of the post-Cold War period.

Also since the end of the Cold War, some long-repressed ethnic groups have experienced a revival of nationalism which has engendered notable separatist demands.

The Soviet Union, for example, has split into fifteen separate countries, while the two ethnic groups making up Czecgiskivajua agreed by common consent to divide into two separate states: the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Yugoslavia was also influenced by separatism and has disintegrated as a result.

These two trends of integration and separatism have had an impact on Taiwan too.

In Taiwan, the passing of the "Guidelines for National Unification" was an affirmation of the trend toward integration, while on the other hand, proposals for Taiwan independence have been stimulated by the separatist trend. The ROC government believes that the unification of China is the common aspiration of Chinese people at home and abroad in their quest for a strong and prosperous country and the long-term development of the Chinese nation. We want to encourage the realization of this goal.

However, we have to admit that Taiwan is a democratic society, with complete freedom of speech and thought, which has inevitably been influenced by both integrationist and separatist ideas. Subjectively speaking, the ROC government believes that we should work toward integration, but in objective terms, the degree of acceptance which these two trends enjoy among the people of Taiwan will depend on the future development of relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. If cross-Strait relations do not develop favorably, the shadow of separatism is not likely to be dispelled and may indeed grow darker still in Taiwan. On the other hand, if there is friendly interaction between the two sides, the development of separatism will be hindered.

2. Factors within Mainland China

The situation within mainland China and the CCP regime's policy toward Taiwan constitute another set of factors influencing cross-Strait relations. The goal of the Republic of China's mainland policy is to establish a political and economic system and a way of life conducive to the survival and development of the entire Chinese people. We are pleased that Peking has speeded up the pace of its economic reform and opening up. However, we also notice that although the Peking authorities have decided to establish a "Chinese-style socialist market economy" to promote economic development and improve the people's standard of living, and also to serve as a basis for the continuation of their regime, politically they are still upholding the so-called "four cardinal principles" (the socialist road, the people's democratic dictatorship, the leadership of the Communist Party, and Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung thought) which underpin their one-party dictatorship. This policy of political "leftism" and economic "rightism" is riddled with inconsistencies. The unending economic and financial crises that mainland China has suffered in recent years, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the appearance of all kinds of social problems are all results of this policy. If the Chinese Communists do not undertake political reforms they will find it difficult to break out of the economic vicious circle they have been trapped in for so long, with its periodic loosening and tightening of restrictions. Domestic political trends in mainland China will have an impact on the Taiwan people's attitude to unification. Whenever the Taiwan people are asked in public opinion polls whether they prefer unification or Taiwan independence, a far higher proportion opt for the former rather than the latter when the condition is that mainland China is a liberal democracy. In contrast, when the condition is that Peking remains a one-party dictatorship, the proportion of respondents who prefer unification falls abruptly, while support for independence rises. From this it is obvious that the degree of democracy or dictatorship on the mainland will have a deep impact on the Taiwan people's views on unification.

Peking's Taiwan policy also has an impact on the Taiwan public's feelings about unification. The CCP leaders have never relinquished the threat of using force against Taiwan. In addition, Peking has always sought to prevent the Republic of China from participating in international activities and tried to have it removed from various international organizations or its status downgraded. Peking has also done its utmost to sabotage the Republic of China's relations with its friends, hindering it from developing aviation rights, purchasing arms and military equipment necessary for its defense, and exchanging high-level official visits and developing normal contacts with other countries. Hostile actions such as these naturally make Chinese people in Taiwan wonder why their own brethren should seek to harm them.

The Chinese Communists have enforced this diplomatic blockade for many years, seemingly without realizing that it contains the following inconsistencies. Firstly, Peking is making use of international forces to besiege Taiwan, while at the same time opposing the "internationalization" of the so-called Taiwan question; secondly, it claims that when Taiwan opens air links with foreign countries this is a "political issue with an impact on sovereignty," while at the same time claiming that the question of direct flights between Taiwan and the mainland is purely an economic issue; and thirdly, it is trying to restrict the international activities of the people of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu, on which their prosperity depends, while simultaneously harping on about "national sentiment." If Peking does not wake up to the fact that its actions do not correspond to its words, and if it continues to use high-pressure tactics to elbow the Republic of China out of the international community, it will not only fail in its task, it may also stir up more hatred for its regime in Taiwan and obstruct progress toward national unification.

To tell the truth, in some areas of international relations the interests of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait already run parallel to each other. It is a pity that the Chinese Communists have not taken this into consideration and had instead allowed the two sides to waste their precious resources and energies on a diplomatic struggle. If the two sides could only coexist in the international community, both would have more room to maneuver on the world stage; the Chinese people would have a louder voice in international affairs and would no longer cancel each other out. Not only that, this multifaceted learning process would be conducive to reasonable contacts between the two sides, foster brotherly feeling interaction between them, and increase the likelihood of eventual unification. As for the Republic of China's bid to join the United Nations, if we could successfully participate in all UN organizations and activities and use the experiences accumulated over the past four decades or more to make a contribution to the international community, winning even more international respect for the Chinese people, the CCP regime would have no reason for trying to stop us, as long as this was done on condition that the two sides of the Strait declare publicly that they are seeking a united China. The experience of East and West Germany shows us that joint participation by the two halves of a divided nation in the international community by no means damages the prospects for unification--indeed, it can have the effect of easing tension and creating conditions favorable to unification as well as safeguarding the interests of the entire people. Not so long ago, North and South Korea adopted a similar course of action. We believe that in this era of detente, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait should think of some way to dispel their hostility. The ROC government has already taken a big step forward in this direction, and if Peking can understand this and make a response, we are confident that this will facilitate the development of cross-Strait relations toward unification.

3. Factors Arising from Developments within Taiwan

Another factor influencing relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait is the future political and economic development of Taiwan. It might be said that the Republic of China on Taiwan has undergone a quiet revolution in recent years. Economically, it has become the world's fourteenth largest trading nation, and the world's seventh largest foreign investor. It is also ranked twentieth in the world in terms of average per capita income, and the government's foreign exchange reserves are almost without equal. Politically speaking, the Republic of China has established the first democracy in China's history, according respect for human rights and the rule of law.

After this accumulation of economic strength and social  and cultural vitality had found its release through democratization and liberalization, it had an impact in two directions: toward the outside world in the shape of the ROC's "pragmatic diplomacy," and toward mainland China where it has acted as an important catalyst for the expansion of all kinds of people-to-people exchanges. Thus, recent developments in cross-Strait relations may be seen as originating to a large extent in Taiwan's economic growth and political democratization.

It is a pity that the Peking authorities have not only failed to understand this cause and effect relationship, but actually ridicule or attack Taiwan's democratization process, and accuse us of pursuing a "two Chinas" or "one China, one Taiwan" policy in the name of pragmatic diplomacy. They unreasonably interfere with the Republic of China's external relations and scheme to reduce the scope of its international activities.

At the same time, Peking is attempting to "use trade and investment for political ends and to use the people to pressure the government" in an effort to expand its influence over Taiwan and force the ROC government to accept its "one country, two systems" arrangement. This combination of persuasion and pressure fails to take into account political and economic development trends in Taiwan in recent years and pays no regard whatsoever to the real wishes and welfare of the people of Taiwan. If it continues, it will inevitably have a negative impact on the unification of China and normal exchanges between the two sides of the Strait.

Since the lifting of martial law and the ban on the formation of new political parties in 1987, the rights of assembly and association and freedom of speech granted by the Constitution have been completely guaranteed in Taiwan. A consensus has gradually been formed among the people of  Taiwan that we are "all in the same boat" and that Taiwan is a gemeinschaft, or community. This belief in a Taiwan community does not by any means imply that Taiwan's 21 million people are indifferent to Chinese history or that they have abandoned the ideal of a unified China, it simply means that their future welfare and security are closely bound up with the fate of Taiwan. Another manifestation of this feeling of community is the way in which public opinion plays a guiding role in government policy-making. In the course of formulating its mainland policy, the ROC government must periodically consult a wide range of public opinion. As democracy matures in Taiwan, public opinion will necessarily become the government's most important reference for formulating mainland policy.

Taiwan is already a democratic, pluralistic society. Opposition members occupy a considerable number of seats in the Legislative Yuan, and their opinions inevitably have an influence on the government's mainland policy. Where national identity and cross- Strait relations are concerned, the ruling party and the opposition differ quite considerably. But although the various parties may have different opinions concerning mainland policy, their ultimate purpose is to consider the welfare of the people of Taiwan. They always have to give careful consideration as to the impact of their proposals on the security and welfare of Taiwan's 21 million people. Furthermore, what the ROC government and the Peking authorities should be struggling for is the long-term well- being of the entire Chinese people. In this struggle, any rash proposals or distortions of national identity will go against the interests of all Chinese people.