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Relations Across The Taiwan Straits 3. The Development of Cross-Strait Relations

  • Date:1994-07-29

1. The Evolution of Peking's Taiwan Policy

For a long period of time, the Peking regime sought to "liberate" Taiwan by force. In October 1949, Peking launched an amphibious attack on the island of Kinmen (Quemoy), but its forces were heavily defeated. Then in September 1954, the CCP armed forces began their bombardment of Kinmen, sparking off a crisis in the Taiwan Strait. In January 1955, they carried out a bloody attack on Ikiangshan Island and occupied the Tachen Islands. In 1958 came the "August 23 bombardment" of Kinmen, an even that sent shockwaves around the world. One might say that up to the time of the August 23 attack, Peking was seeking to complete the task of unification by force, though it would at the same time occasionally call for the "peaceful liberation of Taiwan."

After the failure of the attempt to take Kinmen by force, mainland China was struck by a series of disasters. First came the natural and man-made calamities that stemmed from the "three red banners" program, then the split with Moscow resulted in the withdrawal of all Soviet aid. With the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, the mainland was brought even nearer to the brink of collapse. In addition, the regime experienced armed border clashes with India and the Soviet Union. Beset by difficulties within and without, Peking lacked the resources to undertake any further military action with regard to Taiwan, apart from calling loudly for "peaceful liberation."

As Peking-Moscow relations deteriorated and the entire communist camp was split, the United States--deeply antagonistic toward the Soviet Union and eager to extricate itself from the Vietnam War--began to align itself with Peking against the Soviets. Strategic considerations brought about an alleviation of tension between Washington and Peking, causing the focus of the conflict between Taiwan and mainland China to shift outward from the Taiwan Strait into the international arena. Now, the competition between the two sides took the form of attempts at international isolation and counter-isolation.

In 1979, the United States established diplomatic relations with the CCP regime and broke off official ties with the Republic of China. No longer afraid that Washington would intervene directly in relations between the two sides of the Strait, Peking made an important change in its strategy toward the ROC. In order to create an impression of peace in the international arena that would facilitate the promotion of its economic reform and opening-up program, Peking launched a "smiling offensive." In propaganda aimed at Taiwan, the CCP dropped references to "liberation, " replacing them with "peaceful unification." On January 1, 1979, the standing committee of mainland China's National People's Congress (NPC) issued a "letter to Taiwan compatriots" which called for the "peaceful unification of the motherland" and the establishment of the "three links and four exchanges." At the same time, Peking stopped its bombardment of Kinmen and Matsu. In September 1981, the chairman of the NPC standing committee, Yeh Chien-ying, issued a nine-point proposal "concerning the return of Taiwan to the motherland and the realization of peaceful unification."

Then in 1984, Teng Hsiao-p'ing put forward the "one country, two systems" unification formula. Though all these declarations were issued in the name of "peaceful unification," to this day the Chinese Communists have refused to give up the option of using force to solve the unification problem.

2. The ROC Government's Efforts to Promote Cross-Strait Relations

The ROC government has always believed that a change of system in mainland China is crucial to solving the China problem. Therefore, at its twelfth national congress in April 1981, the ruling Kuomintang put out a call for the "unification of China under the Three Principles of the People," claiming that the only way to unify China was to implement the Three Principles throughout the entire country. These calls became the central theme of the Republic of China's mainland policy. In other words, the dispute between the two sides of the Strait hinged on whether a free and democratic China or a China under communist dictatorship best fulfilled the aspirations of the Chinese people and served the interests of the world as a whole. The ROC government's chief reason for advocating "unification under the Three Principles of the People" was that the practice of these two contrasting systems over the past three decades or more, both on the two sides of the Strait and in the world at large, had resulted in the utter defeat of Marxism-Leninism, while the Three Principles had proved better suited to the conditions of China and therefore able to solve the "China problem." Political movements launched under the communist system, such as land reform, the "hundred flowers," the "three red banners," and the Cultural Revolution, had cost the Chinese people dearly, and even the CCP itself was now describing them as "catastrophes." In Taiwan, however, the ROC government had implemented Sun Yat-sen's Three Principles of the People and had promoted economic development and political reform in a moderate and gradual manner, creating prosperity and democracy on a scale unprecedented in Chinese history.

In the 1980s, the pace of economic liberalization, social pluralization, and political democratization was stepped up in Taiwan, causing the Republic of China to undergo a rapid transformation. Then, with the lifting of martial law, the government adopted a series of more open policies toward mainland China. On November 2, 1987, President Chiang Ching-kuo, inspired by traditional moral principles and humanitarian considerations, allowed Taiwan residents to visit their relatives on the mainland, ending nearly four decades of estrangement and marking a turning-point in relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. From this time on, cross-Strait relations progressed from a state of complete estrangement toward people-to-people exchanges.

In May 1990, during his inaugural address after he was sworn in as the eighth president of the ROC, President Lee Teng-hui made the following announcement:

If the Chinese communist authorities can recognize the overall world trend and the common hope of all Chinese, implement political democracy and a free economic system, renounce the use of military force in the Taiwan Strait, and not interfere with our development of foreign relations on the basis of a one- China policy, we would be willing, on a basis of equality, to establish channels of communication, and completely open up academic, cultural, economic, trade, scientific, and technological exchange, to lay a foundation of mutual respect, peace, and prosperity.

President Lee also said that he hoped that "the period of mobilization for the suppression of communist rebellion" could be terminated, in accordance with the law, as quickly as possible. These solemn proclamations laid an important foundation for friendly interaction between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.

In an effort to form a national consensus on various problems, the government convened a National Affairs Conference (NAC) in June 1990, during which it was agreed that the governments on the two sides of the Strait were both "political entities with de facto authority." The participants also called for a "relaxation of functional exchanges and an uncompromising attitude toward political negotiations" in relations between the two sides, and for relations to be handled by a special government agency and an authorized private intermediary body. In addition, the NAC recommended that after the termination of "the period of obilization for the suppression of communist rebellion, "the Peking regime should be defined as a "confrontational competitive regime," and it also requested that the government draw up a cross-Strait relations law to regulate exchanges between the two sides.

In October 1990, President Lee invited individuals from the ruling and opposition parties and other figures outside politics to sit on a National Unification Council (NUC), charged with drawing up the "Guidelines for National Unification" which would define the goals for different phases of the ROC's future mainland China policy and constitute a long-range blueprint for national unification. In January 1991, the Executive Yuan (ROC Cabinet) set up the ministry-level Mainland Affairs Council to take charge of planning and handling mainland affairs on behalf of the government. The following month, the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) was established and authorized by the government to handle practical issues arising from cross-Strait relations that touched on government authority. The "Guidelines for National Unification," which serve as the guiding principles for relations across the Taiwan Strait, were passed by the Executive Yuan in March that year. Then on April 30, President Lee announced that the "period of mobilization" would be terminated at midnight on May 1, and in accordance with a resolution passed by the National Assembly, he also announced that the "temporary provisions" of the Constitution in force during the mobilization period would be annulled simultaneously. Constitutionally speaking, this meant that the Peking regime was no longer regarded as a rebel organization. This was the Republic of China's first major gesture of goodwill toward the "Guidelines for National Unification."

This announcement had two important implications for cross-Strait relations. First of all, it demonstrated that the ROC government had formally and unilaterally renounced military force as a means of national unification. Secondly, it showed that the ROC government would no longer compete for the "right to represent China" in the international arena. The government held that there was "only one China," but "Taiwan and the mainland were both parts of China." and "Peking regime was not equivalent to China." Prior to unification, China was ruled by two separate governments which should have the right to participate alongside each other in the international community.

In July 1992, the ROC Legislative Yuan (Parliament) passed the "Statute Governing Relations Between the People of Taiwan and the Mainland Areas," which took effect on September 18 that year. This statute provided a legal basis for the government's handling of cross-Strait relations.

Increasingly frequent exchanges between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait were giving rise to quite a few problems, and the need to establish systematic channels for solving disputes was becoming ever more urgent. In September 1990, the Red Cross organizations on the two sides of the Strait signed the first cross-Strait agreement between non-official bodies--the Kinmen Agreement--which was designed to handle the return of the large numbers of illegal immigrants from mainland China. Originally, the two sides had agreed that the mainland side would fetch the migrants and return them to their places of origin within twenty days of receiving notification from Taiwan. But the mainland side found various excuse for delaying, causing the nearly 30,000 illegal migrants who had crossed the Strait in the past few years to spend an average of 113 days in detention in Taiwan. It was to solve such routine problems arising from cross- Strait exchanges that the SEF and its mainland Chinese counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) , met to exchange opinions on various occasions in Peking and Hong Kong. The two organizations also agreed that in order to establish effective channels for liaison, their respective chairmem would hold talks in Singapore in April 1993. During the talks, Koo Chen-fu and Wang Daohan formally signed four agreements: the "Agreement on Document Authentication, " the "Agreement on Tracing of and Compensation for Lost Registered Mail," the "Agreement on the Establishment of Systematic Liaison and Communication Channels between the SEF and ARATS," and the "Koo-Wang Talks Joint Agreement." These laid a foundation for future talks on routine matters and systematic interactionbetween the two sides of the Strait. In accordance with these agreements, the SEF and ARATS have since held serval rounds of follow-up talks, and continued to discuss problems arising from Cross-Strait exchanges.

3. The ROC Government's Conception of Cross-Strait Relations

Apart from demonstrating that after more than forty years of confrontation the two sides now intend to solve their disputes through negotiation, these talks also show that they mean to use the experience gathered through talks on routine issues to prepare the ground for future contacts and negotiations of a political nature. However, these talks have given rise to a number of disputes, on such subjects as the meaning of the term "one China," and the problem of legal jurisdiction. Problems like these affect the orientation of cross-Strait relations and if they are not solved will influence their development.

That the Republic of China has been an independent sovereign state since its establishment in 1912 is an incontrovertible historical fact. However, relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are not those between two separate countries, neither are they purely domestic in nature. In order to ensure that cross-Strait relations develop toward friendly interaction, the ROC government has formulated the concept of a "political entity" to serve as the basis of interaction between the two sides. The meaning of the term "political entity" is quite broad; it cam be applied to a state, a government, or a political organization. Only when the two sides of the Taiwan Strait set aside the "sovereignty dispute" for the time being will we untangle the knots that have bound us for the past forty years or more and progress smoothly toward unification. The concept of a "political entity" will help us loosen those knots.

The "Guidelines for National Unification" suggest the idea of "one China, two equal political entities" as a way of defining the future development of cross-Strait relations. This idea comprises the following:

1). The existence of the Republic of China is a simple reality that cannot be denied.

2). "One China" refers to China as a historical, geographical, cultural, and racial entity.

3). The division of China under two separate governments on either side of the Taiwan Strait is a temporary, transitional phenomenon in Chinese history, and the joint efforts of the two sides will inevitably put China once again on the road to unification. Therefore, in the process of seeking unification, the two sides may first eradicate mutual hostility through routine people-to-people exchanges and then proceed to create the conditions for unification. The two sides should also respect, rather than exclude, each other in the international arena, and should renounce armed force as a means for achieving unification.

4). Room should be left for future political negotiations. It is precisely because China is divided into two political entities that we must bring about its unification through exchanges and negotiations. The "Guidelines for National Unification" clearly stipulate that in the long-term phase of consultation for unification, the two sides will establish a consultative body and complete the plans for unification through negotiation.

4. The ROC Government's Rejection of "One Country, Two Systems"

The Republic of China's understanding of the current temporary division of China between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait is completely different from Peking's idea of "one country, two systems." We believe that China, as it is traditionally defined, is currently divided into two political entities: mainland China which practices socialism, and a free and democratic Taiwan. In Peking's eyes, the "one country" is the "People's Republic of China," and Taiwan under the jurisdiction of the Republic of China can only be a "special administrative region" under Peking's rule. Although Peking may permit it to enjoy a "high degree of autonomy" within certain limitations, it must not violate the PRC "constitution" or the decrees of the "central government." This takes no account whatsoever of the existence of the Republic of China and indeed amounts' to nothing more than annexing Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu in the name of unifying China. The status of Peking's "two systems" is different too, with socialism as practiced in mainland China acting as the main force and capitalism as practiced in Taiwan only allowed to play a supplementary role, and only permitted to exist during a transitional period. The Peking authorities believe that they alone have the right to define and interpret the content and time-frame of the "two systems." Thus, the "two systems" is an expedient measure deriving from Peking's domination. In essence, the relationship between the two systems is one of principal and subordinate: one system represents the center and the other the local authority. Under this arrangement, Taiwan will be forced to give up its freedom and democracy, and to accept entirely the system prescribed by the CCP regime. It is obvious that the purpose of "one country, two systems" is to make the Republic of China surrender completely to Peking and the people of Taiwan abandon their free and democratic system. For this reason it is both unworkable and absolutely unacceptable to us.

The ROC government believes that from the point of view of political reality, China is at present temporarily divided into two areas under two essentially equal political entities, the government of the Republic of China and the Peking regime. Although these two entities differ in terms of the extent of their jurisdiction, their population, and the systems they implement, they should treat each other equally in the course of their interaction. And in the areas over which they have jurisdiction, each should have exclusive rights; neither entity should be able to exercise its rulein the territory of the other, or hsould one force its will on the other in the name of sovereignty.

5. The ROC Government's Adherence to the Goal of the Unification

The ROC government is firm in its advocacy of "one China," and it is opposed to "two Chinas" or "one China, one Taiwan." But at the same time, given that the division between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait is a historical and political fact, the ROC government also holds that the two sides should be fully aware that each has jurisdiction over its respective territory and that they should coexist as two legal entities in the international arena. As for their relationship with each other, it is that of two separate areas of one China and is therefore "domestic" or "Chinese in nature. This position is extremely pragmatic. These proposals are quite different from either "two Chinas" or "one China, one Taiwan."

By adopting "one China, two equal political entities" as the framework for cross-Strait relations, the ROC government hopes that relations will develop in a peaceful, pragmatic, and rational direction. The Peking authorities should realize that this is the best way to promote the unification of China. In the course of cross-Strait exchanges, Peking should dismiss any misgivings it has concerning the ROC government's determination to achieve unification. What the Peking authorities should give urgent consideration to is how, given the fact the country is divided under two separate governments, we can actively create conditions favorable to unification and gradually bring the two "political entities" together to form "one China." Furthermore, both sides of the Taiwan Strait should adopt moderate unification policies; it is inappropriate to be too impatient as more haste will only mean less speed. As long as both sides are sincere and determined, unification will surely be achieved in the end. Meanwhile, there is no point in the Chinese seeking unification for its own sake, unification should take place under a reasonable and sound political, economic, and social system and way of life. Therefore, we propose that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait should put all their efforts into establishing a united China that is democratic, free, and equitably prosperous. Once the ideological, political, economic, and social gap between the two sides is bridged as a result of our joint efforts, the unification of China will come naturally.

For the time being, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait should intensify their exchanges and resolve conflicts by means of negotiations on functional matters. Only when a certain amount of experience has been accumulated and certain successes achieved through such negotiations will it be possible for the two sides to start political contacts and talks. In other words, as functional negotiations become more frequent, and more and more agreements are signed, there will be more opportunity for political contacts and negotiations. The ROC government is pursuing its mainland policy in an orderly and gradual fashion in accordance with the "Guidelines for National Unification," and we hope that this will evoke a positive and well-intentioned response from the Peking authorities. In that way, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait may achieve friendly interaction which will create conditions favorable to the peaceful and democratic unification of China.

6. The ROC Government's Principles for Handling Cross-Strait Relations

In the period prior to peaceful unification, the Republic of China proposes that cross-Strait relations be handling according to the principles of reason, peace, parity, and reciprocity.

We should always think rationally when we are handling cross-Strait affairs. And for a divided country, the principles of peace, parity, and reciprocity are the best expressions of reason. The unification of Germany, for example, was carried out according to the rational principles of equal treatment, reciprocal contacts, and the peaceful resolution of disputes, while the way in which the European Union has rationally handled its progress from a customs union to a single market, and then to one big European family is another example we could learn from. If national unification is not handled in a rational way, the result will be another round of civil strife and chaos, with people being uprooted from their homes. The painful examples of Vietnam, and recently Yugoslavia, should serve as a warning to the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.

The principle of peace is fundamental to the handling of cross-Strait relations. From what President Lee Teng-hi has said on many occasions, it is clear that he rejects the option of using armed force to resolve the problems of unification. His reasons for doing so are threefold. First of all, the trend in international affairs is toward negotiation rather than confrontation, and all countries should as far as possible avoid recourse to armed force in solving their conflicts. Secondly, cross-Strait interaction is no longer a game which one side can win outright, it is a "win-win" contest in which both sides must be prepared to compromise and both can further their own interests.

Thirdly, the best interests of the Chinese people can only be served by rejecting the option of armed force. Therefore, only when the Peking authorities choose an appropriate moment to announce that they reject the option of unification by force will a friendly atmosphere in which to conduct cross-Strait relations be created. To seek "territorial unification" through armed force is a shallow, parochial distortion of the true meaning of nationalism; an enduring, all-embracing form of nationalism can only be expressed in a "unification of systems" through democracy, freedom, and equitable prosperity. Peking has always used the excuse that the existence of "forces for Taiwan independence" and "foreign interference" prevent it from renouncing the option of using force against Taiwan. But advocates of Taiwan independence represent only a minority of the population, and it is surely senseless to bully the majority which identifies with the Chinese nation and Chinese culture just to attack that minority. And to claim to be resisting "foreign interference" while in reality to be directly threatening the security of the entire population of Taiwan is even more inconsistent.

Our third principle is parity, which means that Chinese people in both Taiwan and the mainland should be able to enjoy the same degree of dignity and respect. The ROC government believes that both the current people-to-people exchanges and future government-to-government talks should be conducted according to the principle of mutual respect for each other's people and government, and neither side should try to humiliate the other. For example, the Peking authorities are opposed to the use of "Republic of China," "ROC government," or "national" by any group from Taiwan visiting the mainland, and they will unilaterally change such titles to "Taiwan." They are also opposed to any government-to-government signing of agreements concerning cross-Strait exchanges, and they refuse to recognize that our government has any legal jurisdiction. In addition, Peking always forces us to change our name to "Chinese Taipei" when we take part in any international organizations or activities, in an attempt downgrade the Republic of China's international standing. Actually, such actions could only have the effect of generating a high tide of separatist feeling in Taiwan.

Reciprocity is the fourth principle underlying our policy toward mainland China. Exchanges between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait should serve the interests of both parties; relations should always be "win-win" rather than "zero sum." Only when exchanges are conducted on a reciprocal basis will we be able to establish mutual trust and mutual understanding, and only then can relations be broad-based and long-lasting, and make steady progress. Reciprocal actions cannot be considered in a one-sided or partial way, they must take into consideration both parties and the situation as a whole. Since the two sides have different conceptions of exchanges, they have different opinions regarding their scope and speed. In economic exchanges and trade, for example, although the Peking authorities claim that no one is trying to "swallow up" anyone else, they have actually adopted a tactic of "the strong devouring the weak," and they hold that economic exchanges should be elevated to a strategic level so as to "tie up Taiwan." The ROC government, on the other hand, holds that cross-Strait economic exchanges should be developed steadily and gradually according to the principles of complementarity and mutual benefit. In other words, Peking hopes to use cross-Strait economic exchanges to achieve its goal of annexing Taiwan as quickly as possible, whereas the ROC government hopes that such exchanges will promote mutual understanding, dispel hostility, and narrow the gap between the people on the two sides of the Strait, so that their relations will become complementary and reciprocal.