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10/22/2009

The Future of Taiwan

A few weeks ago I read a piece by Lawrence Chung of the South China Morning Post that discusses a critical issue between China and Taiwan, that being reunification. Following are some excerpts. 

---
 
Lawrence Chung

It’s daybreak on March 17, 2012 – election day in Taiwan. 

In the northern coastal town of Tamsui, 35 minutes outside Taipei, old men head out into the cool, clear morning to do their exercises, while delivery vans make their rounds through the empty streets. 

Outside the town’s polling centers, election workers lay out tables and plug in the electronic voting machines, and prepare to open up for people looking to cast their votes before they go to work. 

Suddenly, a series of massive explosions shatter the calm. Windows smash, huge fireballs shoot upwards, smoke fills the sky. “The Patriot II anti-missile battery was hit,” panicked resident cry. 

A few minutes later, the shrieks and screams are drowned out by hundreds of fighter jets ripping through the sky in perfect formation, dropping bomb after bomb. Then a wave of carrier aircraft roar over the town, unleashing tens of thousands of airborne troops who quickly move to seize a string of important military installations and communications points around Taipei. Stunned Tamsui residents look out to sea, and through the smoke and morning haze, what they see is unmistakable – a flotilla of landing craft hurtling at full speed towards the town and the surrounding beaches. 

Within days, all major military sites in the north of the island are either controlled by paratroopers or destroyed. The election is postponed, and the leadership bunkered down at the Heng Shan Military Command Center in Taipei have no choice but to announce that they have agreed to hand over the island to the mainland. 

On March 30, an ebullient President Hu Jintao announces the completion of the historic mission of returning Taiwan to the motherland as he passes the baton to his successor, Xi Jinping, during his farewell speech. 

This all sounds like something out of a movie, but according to experts in cross-straits relations, the scenario is not impossible. 

“2012 is a crucial year,” said Lai I-chung, executive member of Taiwan Think Tank. “It is a year important to Taiwan’s survival.” 

Peacefully bringing Hong Kong and Macau back into the fold was one of the mainland’s greatest triumphs, but Taiwan has proven to be an altogether more elusive task. While maintaining the current status quo – no independence and no reunification – has remained the mainstream thinking in Taiwan, the mainland may not share the same patience. Lai said Beijing might want to expedite the reunification process, with Hu eager to leave a historic legacy and set the course for his successor before stepping down in 2012…. 

Another potential trigger for a dramatic denouement would be a deterioration in the mainland’s economy, prompting an attempt to divert public attention…. 

[Ed. I have always thought a strike at Taiwan could come about because of this last one, due to the resultant internal strife.] 

While the mainland might attack the island to force cross-strait reunification, there is also the potential of Taiwan declaring de jure independence – most likely as a result of mainland aggression…. 

Stephen Lee Sheng-hsiung, former secretary-general of the Taiwan Independence Party, said it was necessary for Taiwan to declare independence as soon as possible…. 

To do this, Lee said, Taiwan must first abolish the “1992 consensus, one China principle,” under which the KMT government reached a tacit understanding with the mainland at a meeting in Hong Kong to allow each side to have its own interpretation of what “one China” stands for. To Taipei, it stands for the Republic of China, and to Beijing, it means the People’s Republic of China. 

Lee said Taiwan should immediately recognize Beijing as the sole representative of China and that Taiwan is not a part of the mainland. Before long, it must rename itself “Republic of Taiwan.” The island should also draft a new constitution and join the United Nations as well as other international organizations whose memberships require statehood. He said once the island did all this, the U.S. and other countries concerned by Chinese regional hegemony would not sit idly by if Beijing attacked. 

But George Tsai Wei, political science professor at Chinese Cultural University in Taipei, dismissed the idea of declaring independence as naïve. He said not only did it fail to take into account the consequences of war, it also did not consider the attitudes of neighboring countries like Japan and South Korea that would not want to upset Beijing. 

At the same time, Tsai said it was “highly unlikely” that Taiwan would accept the “one country, two systems” co-existence concept. 

“For Taiwan to accept that formula, it would mean giving up its sovereignty and recognizing its status as the same as Hong Kong and Macau, even though Beijing might offer more privileges and powers for Taipei,” Tsai said. 

Were Taiwan to accept that formula, mainland-friendly (President) Ma would be designated as the first chief executive of Taiwan and would be free from worrying about economic doldrums on the island. Beijing would probably help Taipei under some sort of Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement like the one it signed with Hong Kong…. 

But in return, Tsai said, the Taiwanese would lose the democracy they fought for, judging from what had happened in Hong Kong and Macau, where direct elections of leaders were no longer possible and the freedom of the press was checked…. 

The most recent poll conducted by the Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan’s top mainland policy planning body, in April showed that 84.7 percent…supported maintaining the status quo. Just 1.2 percent of these respondents backed immediate reunification, as opposed to 6.7 percent who favored immediate independence. 

Analysts agreed that it was impossible for the mainland to wait indefinitely. Something must be done to keep in check the hardline faction which pushes for the use of force, while allowing cross-strait unification to be achieved in a gradual, but natural way. Confederation or some other form of political and economic integration could be a way out. 

Hot Spots returns next week.
 
Brian Trumbore


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-10/22/2009-      
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Hot Spots

10/22/2009

The Future of Taiwan

A few weeks ago I read a piece by Lawrence Chung of the South China Morning Post that discusses a critical issue between China and Taiwan, that being reunification. Following are some excerpts. 

---
 
Lawrence Chung

It’s daybreak on March 17, 2012 – election day in Taiwan. 

In the northern coastal town of Tamsui, 35 minutes outside Taipei, old men head out into the cool, clear morning to do their exercises, while delivery vans make their rounds through the empty streets. 

Outside the town’s polling centers, election workers lay out tables and plug in the electronic voting machines, and prepare to open up for people looking to cast their votes before they go to work. 

Suddenly, a series of massive explosions shatter the calm. Windows smash, huge fireballs shoot upwards, smoke fills the sky. “The Patriot II anti-missile battery was hit,” panicked resident cry. 

A few minutes later, the shrieks and screams are drowned out by hundreds of fighter jets ripping through the sky in perfect formation, dropping bomb after bomb. Then a wave of carrier aircraft roar over the town, unleashing tens of thousands of airborne troops who quickly move to seize a string of important military installations and communications points around Taipei. Stunned Tamsui residents look out to sea, and through the smoke and morning haze, what they see is unmistakable – a flotilla of landing craft hurtling at full speed towards the town and the surrounding beaches. 

Within days, all major military sites in the north of the island are either controlled by paratroopers or destroyed. The election is postponed, and the leadership bunkered down at the Heng Shan Military Command Center in Taipei have no choice but to announce that they have agreed to hand over the island to the mainland. 

On March 30, an ebullient President Hu Jintao announces the completion of the historic mission of returning Taiwan to the motherland as he passes the baton to his successor, Xi Jinping, during his farewell speech. 

This all sounds like something out of a movie, but according to experts in cross-straits relations, the scenario is not impossible. 

“2012 is a crucial year,” said Lai I-chung, executive member of Taiwan Think Tank. “It is a year important to Taiwan’s survival.” 

Peacefully bringing Hong Kong and Macau back into the fold was one of the mainland’s greatest triumphs, but Taiwan has proven to be an altogether more elusive task. While maintaining the current status quo – no independence and no reunification – has remained the mainstream thinking in Taiwan, the mainland may not share the same patience. Lai said Beijing might want to expedite the reunification process, with Hu eager to leave a historic legacy and set the course for his successor before stepping down in 2012…. 

Another potential trigger for a dramatic denouement would be a deterioration in the mainland’s economy, prompting an attempt to divert public attention…. 

[Ed. I have always thought a strike at Taiwan could come about because of this last one, due to the resultant internal strife.] 

While the mainland might attack the island to force cross-strait reunification, there is also the potential of Taiwan declaring de jure independence – most likely as a result of mainland aggression…. 

Stephen Lee Sheng-hsiung, former secretary-general of the Taiwan Independence Party, said it was necessary for Taiwan to declare independence as soon as possible…. 

To do this, Lee said, Taiwan must first abolish the “1992 consensus, one China principle,” under which the KMT government reached a tacit understanding with the mainland at a meeting in Hong Kong to allow each side to have its own interpretation of what “one China” stands for. To Taipei, it stands for the Republic of China, and to Beijing, it means the People’s Republic of China. 

Lee said Taiwan should immediately recognize Beijing as the sole representative of China and that Taiwan is not a part of the mainland. Before long, it must rename itself “Republic of Taiwan.” The island should also draft a new constitution and join the United Nations as well as other international organizations whose memberships require statehood. He said once the island did all this, the U.S. and other countries concerned by Chinese regional hegemony would not sit idly by if Beijing attacked. 

But George Tsai Wei, political science professor at Chinese Cultural University in Taipei, dismissed the idea of declaring independence as naïve. He said not only did it fail to take into account the consequences of war, it also did not consider the attitudes of neighboring countries like Japan and South Korea that would not want to upset Beijing. 

At the same time, Tsai said it was “highly unlikely” that Taiwan would accept the “one country, two systems” co-existence concept. 

“For Taiwan to accept that formula, it would mean giving up its sovereignty and recognizing its status as the same as Hong Kong and Macau, even though Beijing might offer more privileges and powers for Taipei,” Tsai said. 

Were Taiwan to accept that formula, mainland-friendly (President) Ma would be designated as the first chief executive of Taiwan and would be free from worrying about economic doldrums on the island. Beijing would probably help Taipei under some sort of Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement like the one it signed with Hong Kong…. 

But in return, Tsai said, the Taiwanese would lose the democracy they fought for, judging from what had happened in Hong Kong and Macau, where direct elections of leaders were no longer possible and the freedom of the press was checked…. 

The most recent poll conducted by the Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan’s top mainland policy planning body, in April showed that 84.7 percent…supported maintaining the status quo. Just 1.2 percent of these respondents backed immediate reunification, as opposed to 6.7 percent who favored immediate independence. 

Analysts agreed that it was impossible for the mainland to wait indefinitely. Something must be done to keep in check the hardline faction which pushes for the use of force, while allowing cross-strait unification to be achieved in a gradual, but natural way. Confederation or some other form of political and economic integration could be a way out. 

Hot Spots returns next week.
 
Brian Trumbore