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Vice Chairman Dr. Chong-Pin Lin's Speech:Goodwill And Proactive Exchange Policy

  • Date:2001-03-26


How Taipei Manages the Cross-strait Relations

Chong-Pin Lin

March 26, 2001

The USA, Taiwan, and the PRC: Security and Strategy after the Elections of 2000

The 28th Sino-Japanese Conference on Mainland China

Tokyo, Japan

The Keio Plaza Hotel-Downtown

Last July, US Secretary of Defense William Cohen visited Beijing. He came away impressed that the leaders had mellowed up regarding the cross-strait situation, because they told him that they had no intent to use force against Taiwan, although they reserved the right to do so. “I think it was quite a significant difference in both the tone and content of the message”, remarked Cohen on January 2, 2001 at Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Up to and beyond the time of Cohen’s trip to Beijing, opinion leaders in Taiwan visiting there were given the opposite message. “The cross-strait situation is precarious, and bordering on the eruption of a military conflict .” That is what they conveyed to the audience at home upon their return. Some of them even accused the new administration for not telling the public the truth as they did.

Why is the discrepancy in perceptions? The short answer, if I may, is Beijing’s two-pronged campaign on Taiwan, which began in late June 2000. In order to elaborate that point and follow up on it, we should step back and look at the big picture. How does Taipei perceive and manage the cross-strait relationship? In this context, Sherlock Holm’s magnifying glass may mislead while Ansel Adam’s wide-angle lens seems preferrable.

I. Current Cross-strait Relations: compounded uncertainties

II. Beijing’s Cross-strait Policy: two-pronged campaign

III. Taipei’s Cross-strait Policy: constructive relationship

I. CURRENT CROSS-STRAIT RELATIONS: compounded uncertainties

The actual tension that broke out between Beijing and Taipei in the fall of 1999 has hence dissipated at least atmospherically, though some still perceive a potentially dangerous cross-strait situation. Since the mid-2000, the cross-strait relationship has evolved into a mixture of four elements: (1) lingering though less confrontational political stalemate; (2) growing and even accelerating economic exchanges; (3) rapidly expanding social interactions; and (4) heightened military competition. Meanwhile, dynamic developments within both the Mainland and Taiwan have compounded the uncertainties looming across the Taiwan Strait. A wide range of scenarios on cross-strait relations--from dramatic improvement to drastic deterioration--has appeared in the realm of possibility.

On the Mainland, the Beijing leadership is facing multiple domestic uncertainties. The rebound of GNP growth since January 2000, following a seven-year slide, seems to promise boundless economic opportunities. On the other hand, continuously growing social unrest partly caused by rampant corruptions and partly by the state-owned enterprise overhaul is seriously threatening the stability of the Communist regime. The 2002 leadership succession remains far from settled, not to mention recent signs of intensified political power strife. All we know is this: By 2003, for the first time in the history of the Chinese Communist Party, a non-Moscow-trained national leader will emerge. The forthcoming accession to WTO will deepen the momentous socio-economic changes already set in motion and perhaps even past the point of no return. The ambitious military modernization signifies greater challenges for Beijing’s relations with regional neighbors.

In Taiwan, the completion of a quiet and bloodless revolution unfurled a full-fledged phase of democracy. Now a minority government is learning to cope with almost simultaneous outburst of complications in the state and society that have long roots in the past. Ahead of all of us in Taiwan indeed lie great challenges and opportunities both internally and externally. Our cross-strait policy must start from the reality and go forward. One important reality is, of course, how Beijing deals with us.

II. BEIJING’S CROSS-STRAIT POLICY: two-pronged campaign

Beijing’s Taiwan policy has been remarkably consistent at the strategic level. Its basic tenets such as “one country two systems”, “peaceful unification” and non-renunciation of using force against Taiwan have remained unchanged for more than two decades. At the tactical level, however, Beijing has periodically adjusted its approaches. Since July 1999, four distinct periods have marked Beijing’s tactical operations toward Taiwan.

A. Military Intimidations and Verbal Threats (July 9-September 21, 1999)

After the former Republic of China President Lee Teng-hui remarked that the “special state-to-state relationship” best described the status across the Taiwan Strait on July 9,1999, Beijing reacted strongly with military maneuvers posturing an invasion of off-shore islands. Such saber-rattling was accompanied with vitriolic accusations against Lee and ominous warnings to Taiwanese.

B. Verbal Threats (September 21, 1999-March 18, 2000)

A devastating earthquake that struck Taiwan on September 21 notably reduced Beijing’s militant behavior across the Strait. Some say the natural tragedy provided an exit for Beijing as negative international responses to Beijing’s military intimidations on Taiwan exceeded Beijing’s expectation. Others argue that Beijing did not want to hurt the feelings of “Taiwanese compatriots” suffering a horrendous natural disaster. However, Beijing’s verbal threats against Taiwanese independence continued during the forthcoming presidential election. A few days before the event on March 18, 2000, Beijing’s threats culminated in Premier Zhu Rongji acting Marlon Brando in “Godfather I”. Some say that it helped candidate Chen to become President Chen with a 2.4% margin in total votes.

C. Passive Observation (March 18-June 20, 2000)

The victory of Chen who had advocated Taiwanese independence apparently embarrassed Beijing. Instead of launching an “immediate war” as previously threatened by its semi-official scholars, Beijing reacted in a low-key and passive manner. “We are watching the deeds and listening to the words of Chen” was Beijing’s standard statement during a three-month period of extensive fault-finding reviews and intensive operational planning.

D. Two-Pronged Campaign (June 20, 2000- Present)

Starting on June 20, 2000 when PRC Deputy Premier Qian Qichen went public with a less restrictive definition of “one China”, Beijing began a well-coordinated, full-scaled two-pronged campaign on Taiwan. One soft prong aims at winning “the hearts of Taiwanese people”, and one hard prong seeks to put “appropriate(read indirect) pressure” on Taipei to accept Beijing’s precondition on resumption of cross-strait talks, and eventually Beijing’s terms on unification.

The soft prong includes the following elements:

<Softening of rhetoric without concrete change of behavior( so far);

<Escalated efforts to invite opinion leaders in Taiwan such as legislators (parliamentarians), former high-ranking officials (mostly from the now opposition party KMT), elected local officials (some even belonging to the current ruling party DPP), scholars, and media luminaries;

<Mentioning and partially implementing preferential treatments for Taiwanese investors on the Mainland; and

<Allowing dramatically increased number of Mainland visitors to Taiwan since July 2000.

Meanwhile, the hard prong includes the following elements:

<Continuing to conduct military exercises with no reduction of frequency, size, or degree of sophistication. These exercises have been held, however away from the sensitive areas of the Taiwan Strait, and announced by Beijing officially in a low-key manner with selectivity rather than, as previously practiced, through the notoriously sensationalizing Hong Kong Media;

<Continuing strangulation of Taipei’s international living-space with a new twist: launching a diplomatic war on Africa, the bastion of Taipei’s full diplomatic recognitions;

<Mobilizing Chinese overseas globally by forming organizations and staging conferences under the banner of “opposing independence and promoting unification”; and

<Escalating Beijing’s pressure on Washington not to include Taiwan in the theater missile defense program, and not to transfer arms to Taiwan. Beijing is linking more than ever the last issue with Washington’s frequent complaint on Beijing’s arms proliferation to Pakistan and the Middle East.

So far, Beijing seems to believe that its two-pronged maneuver is working, and shows no signs of altering it.

III. TAIPEI’S CROSS-STRAIT POLICY: constructive relationship

After the May 20, 2000 inauguration of President Chen Shui-bian, the new administration has adopted much continuity in its cross-strait policy from the previous one. A number of principles and practices, however, have received greater emphasis.

<We seek a structured and constructive cross-strait relationship. It should be a relationship with regularized communications and institutionalized interactions. It will be a mutually beneficial relationship, because a win-win relationship to us is not merely desirable but also doable.

<We hold no precondition for the resumption of cross-strait talks. Neither do we demand any preset agenda for cross-strait consultations. This attitude of ours contrasts distinctly with Beijing’s insistence, before cross-strait talks can begin, on our acceptance of the “one China principle” as however defined by Beijing.

<We continue to express maximum goodwill. In his New Year TV address, President Chen said that “both sides of the Strait are of the same family” and the two sides should start with “the integration of our economies, trade, and culture” to gradually “build a new framework of permanent peace and political integration” . This is the newest extension of the basic tone set in his inauguration speech, in which he pledged, among others, that during his term, he will not declare independence, or amend the constitution, or hold a plebiscite. One should appreciate such endeavor of President Chen given the lack of consensus on these issues within our society, and even within the ruling party.

<We exercise absolute restraint on avoiding being seen as provocative. We are cautious not to give even the slightest impression that our words sound critical to Beijing, or our behavior can be construed as “trouble-making”.

<We take a pro-active approach on promoting socio-economic exchanges across the Taiwan Strait. In early last June, only the second weekend into her new job, the Chairwoman of Mainland Affairs Council Dr. Ing-wen Tsai went to inspect the offshore islands Kimen and Matsu. That launched the process for policy formulation on the “mini-three links”—postal, trade, and traveling exchanges—between the offshore islands and the adjacent Mainland province. As of January 1 this year, initial portions of the policy were implemented as scheduled. Some other policies governing cross-strait social and economic exchanges have been under review for possible relaxation in the future.

In this regard, the administration has undertaken a series of mainland policy initiatives:

<Granting permission to Mainland journalists for temporary stay in Taiwan effective November 2000;

<Reviewing the “major three links” between Taiwan island proper and the Chinese Mainland, taking account of the forthcoming WTO memberships for both sides across the Taiwan Strait;

<Reviewing the cross-strait investment policies;

<Planning to allow Mainland tourists to visit Taiwan around mid-2001;

<Building internal consensus, which includes the establishment of the President’s Advisory Group on Cross-strait Relations led by the Nobel-laureate Dr.Yuan Tseh Lee.

Toward the mid-term future, we will seek to establish a framework for the discussion of political issues, which may cover the so-called “the question of a future one China”.

We cannot sacrifice the national security of Taiwan while relaxing our exchange policy with the Mainland. We strive to be pragmatic and creative in restructuring our relationship with the Mainland, socially, economically, and politically.

Across the Taiwan Strait, we look forward to seeing reciprocity of goodwill in concrete terms from Beijing in the near future. In the long run, we hope that deepened reforms on the Mainland, not only in the economy but also in the society and the polity, will usher the beginning of a new age, that of democracy and freedom for the people thereon, as well as sustained prosperity and peace across the Taiwan Strait.

Thank you.

Dr. Chong-Pin Lin is the Vice Chairman of the Executive Yuan’s Mainland Affairs Council, a ministerial-level agency in the government of the Republic of China.