US-CHINA: QUEST FOR
Part 8: Avoiding another no-win
Henry C.K. Liu><>
Part 1: Two
nations, worlds apart
Part 2: Cold
War links Korea, Taiwan>
Part 3: Korea: Wrong war, wrong place, wrong enemy
38th Parallel leads straight to Taiwan
Part 5: History of the Taiwan time bomb
Part 6: Forget reunification - nothing to reunite
The referendum question
This article appeared in AToL on February 10, 2004
nowadays take more than a million trips to the mainland annually, out of a
population of 22 million, conducting business, visiting relatives and touring,
as well as undertaking scholarly, cultural, and sports exchanges. More than 10
million visits have been made to the mainland by residents of Taiwan since
cross-Strait contact was first permitted a decade ago.
Until a Taiwanese
so identifies him/herself, there is no other way to distinguish him/her from
As of 2003, the United States exported US$20 billion
worth of goods to Taiwan, and imported $30 billion. Taiwan is a world leader in
several key information-technology areas, such as notebook computers, liquid
crystal displays (LCDs) and associated technologies. Taiwan is also positioning
itself to be a player in emerging fields such as bio-technology and
nano-technology. Taiwan is playing a key role in the emergence of a high-tech
sector in the mainland economy. According to Taiwan's official statistics,
Taiwanese private investment on the mainland exceeds $5 billion annually.
According to China, Taiwanese investment exceeds $20 billion. The discrepancy
has to do with Taiwanese funds flowing through Hong Kong and even through the US
to the mainland. Funds directly from Taiwan amount to 8 percent of total foreign
investment on the mainland, second only to Hong Kong's 60 percent and ahead of
investment from both Japan and the US.
Trade between the mainland and
Taiwan was in excess of $50 billion in 2003, up 25 percent from the previous
year. The number of cross-Strait phone calls has passed 180 million annually.
That is almost nine calls per capita for Taiwan and is still increasing at a
phenomenal rate as China enters the communication age. The number of trips made
annually by mainlanders to Taiwan for cultural and educational activities
exceeds 13,000, and is expected to jump exponentially as soon as the political
problem is resolved and tourism from mainlanders opens up, as it did recently
for Hong Kong.
To facilitate cross-Strait consultation, the Republic of
China (ROC) government established in February 1991 the quasi-official Straits
Exchange Foundation (SEF). The SEF acts on behalf of the ROC government in
dealing with cross-Strait affairs that the government cannot handle directly
because of mutual non-recognition between the ROC and the People's Republic of
China (PRC), but which require public authority. Ten months later, the PRC
established an SEF counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan
Strait (ARATS). These two organizations held in neutral Singapore the historic
Koo-Wang talks of April 1993, out of which four agreements were signed, and
issues stemming from cross-Strait exchanges continued to be discussed during
another eight rounds of pragmatic talks.
Lee Teng-hui's visit to the
United States in June 1995 in his official capacity as president of the ROC
violated the "one China" principle, causing Beijing to suspend all cross-Strait
discussions. In response, Taipei adopted a more restrictive approach toward
private investment on the mainland. Taipei currently does not allow direct
transportation links between Taiwan and China except for a few strictly limited
exceptions. This imposes substantial additional costs on Taiwanese travelers
between Taipei and Shanghai, where several hundred thousand business people from
Taiwan reside, because they cannot fly directly but must first stop over in Hong
Kong, adding hours to the trip and inflating the cost. Lien Chan, the Guomindang
(GMD, known on Taiwan as the Kuomintang or KMT) candidate for president, has
said that if elected, his government will move immediately to implement the
"three links" - direct cross-Strait trade, transportation and postal service.
Nevertheless, cross-Strait interactions by the private sector continue to
increase in areas that do not require government approval.
long maintained that if Taiwan accepts the premise of being part of China, then,
as the 2000 second PRC White Paper on Taiwan puts it, "any matter can be
negotiated". Conversely, in Beijing's view, if Taiwan rejects this prerequisite
premise, there is nothing to discuss. Hence, China again suspended
quasi-official cross-Strait negotiations over Lee Teng-hui's 1999 remark that
Taiwan and China have a "special state-to-state relationship" that Beijing
asserted was tantamount to a rejection of the one-China principle. After the
election of Chen Shui-bian as president in 2000, Beijing demanded that he
reaffirm the one-China principle as a precondition for resuming cross-Strait
talks. Chen's government refused, saying this would fatally compromise Taiwan's
sovereignty and security.
Taiwan small in size but strong
Taiwan has a land area of only 36,260 square kilometers as
compared with 9.6 million square kilometers on the mainland, which amounts to
one-fifteenth of the world's land mass. Taiwan has a population of just 22
million, compared with 1.3 billion on the mainland. Despite its small land area,
high population density and lack of natural resources, Taiwan has created an
economic miracle with $220 billion a year in trade, an annual per capita income
of more than $12,000, and one of the world's highest foreign-exchange reserves.
This accomplishment owes much to its stable political environment,
leading to steady progress in local democratization. Over the past four decades,
Taiwan has seldom faced riots. Large-scale group activities were rare before the
Emergency Decree was lifted. Well-maintained public order, a stable government
and political climate all combined to make Taiwan a low-political-risk area for
investment, thereby encouraging international investors to go to Taiwan.
Similarly, economic prosperity created public confidence and enthusiasm for
participation in public affairs. People began to express their political stance
and opinions directly (through participation in elections) and indirectly
(through party affiliation), thereby leading to continuous political progress in
tandem with economic growth.
Taiwan has exploited the rise of US moral
imperialism to cement the US commitment to help defend a democratic and
capitalistic Taiwan in the event that its political offensive toward perpetual
de facto separation, or worse, formal independence, should provoke military
conflict with the mainland. Officially, there is no such US commitment, but
Taipei banks on post-Cold War US hegemony to carry out Taiwan's own pursuit of
separatist objectives that the US may not officially endorse, but that tacitly
also does not disapprove as long as it serves US geopolitical interests.
The Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), Public Law 96-8 of April 10, 1979, which
passes as a counterweight to normalization with the PRC, is a US domestic law
designed to appease right-wing intransigence toward China in US domestic
politics. As a US law, it carries a legal authority exceeding the three
diplomatic communiques, which are diplomatic expressions of understanding
between states with no legal authority - only diplomatic obligations. Successive
US administrations have recognized that US policies on China and Taiwan are
based on the three communiques - the Shanghai Communique of 1972, the
Normalization Communique of 1978 and the August 17, 1982, Communique.
The TRA, with a legal guarantee of future arms sales to Taiwan, was
passed by a veto-proof margin by both houses of Congress. The language on the
defense of Taiwan contradicts US positions declared in the three communiques.
The TRA mandates in a legal framework a much closer security relationship with
Taiwan than is contemplated by the three communiques. The TRA establishes a
continuing relationship between the United States and Taiwan on an unofficial
basis in order to "preserve and promote extensive close and friendly commercial,
cultural and other relations" - short of official recognition.
Taiwan Act challenges China's sovereignty
It also states that the US
considers that "any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than
peaceful means including boycotts and embargoes is a threat to the peace and
security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States".
However, domestic laws are not applicable beyond US jurisdiction. To China, the
TRA is a US law that illegally imposes extra-territoriality on Chinese territory
and a direct challenge to Chinese sovereignty. It is as unreasonable as the
National People's Congress passing a Chinese domestic law that "views with grave
concern" president Dwight D Eisenhower sending federal troops to Little Rock,
Arkansas, to enforce school segregation.
The Taiwan Enhanced Security
Act (TESA), passed on February 1, 2000, by a bipartisan veto-proof vote of
341-70 in the House of Representatives, which legitimized increased US military
assistance and sales to Taiwan, threatened to rupture US-China relations. The
Senate subsequently narrowly defeated the measure. But the arms-sales contents
of the legislation have been largely fulfilled, unofficially by administrative
China can rationally calculate that the United States will not
actually intervene directly in the Taiwan Strait or come to Taiwan's defense
with US troops in the event of armed conflict, if such intervention involves
risks of heavy losses of American lives. Despite the TRA, and the defeated TESA,
the US is still prevented by its own laws and by international law from legally
intervening in Chinese internal affairs. Only extremists in the US will dispute
that Taiwan is a Chinese internal-affairs matter.
But the US has
historically shown a pattern of undeclared wars that managed to skirt both
legality and constitutionality. The US performance in the first Iraq war and in
conflicts in Bosnia, Somalia and Kosovo demonstrated a lack of ultimate resolve
to risk American lives in distant conflicts. The post-September 11, 2001,
invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq with overwhelming force have, to some extent,
changed this, albeit with problematic consequences in domestic politics. The
invasions were declared operational successes by the executive branch. It was
the peace that was supposed to follow the invasions that has been an undeniable
In the US presidential campaign of 2000, both candidates in the
first debate asserted that each would only send US troops into combat if a
determination of a quick victory by overwhelming force were assured. That
precondition, which has come to be known as the (US Secretary of State Colin)
Powell Doctrine, does not exist in the Taiwan Strait.
sacrifice lives for Taiwan - US won't
While Taiwan is a vital interest of
China and China has explicitly stated it will bear any sacrifice, including
millions of lives and even entire cities to regain it, Taiwan is not a
comparable vital interest for the United States. That is especially so if normal
US-China relations hang in the balance at a time when the US geopolitical need
for Chinese cooperation in the fight against terrorism is on the rise. Nor is
the US prepared to make sacrifices comparable to China's over the Taiwan issue.
Chinese strategy thus may well aim at deterring US intervention on
Taiwan by making clear that such intervention would entail exceedingly high
costs in terms of American lives and in terms of diplomatic friction. Indeed,
the conflict may not be confinable to only the Taiwan Strait. China will not
initiate any preemptive strike against US forces, as history has shown that a
Pearl Harbor-type attack would serve only to consolidate US resolve for total
war. But to avoid any miscalculation on the part of the United States, China
will have to leave no doubt about the prospect of high US casualties if the US
chooses to intervene unprovoked in a limited armed conflict over Taiwan.
Strategically, the US has yet to understand that lack of progress in the
Taiwan issue is preventing further normalization in US-China relations, a
sine quo non for world peace. The lingering Taiwan problem also prevents
domestic Chinese politics from focusing fully on China's development needs, by
distorting China's national priorities and in its allocation of scarce resources
toward military expenditure. A runaway escalation of the Taiwan issue will
radicalize Chinese politics and that could have long-term spillover effects on
the stability of the whole region. It complicates or may even derail developing
Moreover, the US position on Taiwan will
further isolate the United States from its residual Cold War allies with whom it
has been having difficulties, over Iraq specifically and and over hegemonic US
unilateralism generally. Most Asian governments are beginning to tilt toward
China economically and diplomatically. The Europeans are not at all sympathetic
to US interference in the Taiwan issue, as indicated by the success of the
just-concluded visit to France by Chinese President Hu Jintao. French President
Jacques Chirac on January 26 discussed bilateral relations and major
international issues of common concern with the visiting Chinese president,
reaching broad consensus.
Chirac, in a strong show of support for his
visiting counterpart, warned Taiwan that it would be committing a "grave error"
that could destabilize that region by holding a referendum in March. At a state
dinner to honor the Chinese president, Chirac added his weight to China's
opposition to the referendum plans of Taiwanese "President" Chen Shui-bian.
"Breaking the status quo with a unilateral destabilizing initiative, whatever it
is, including a referendum, would favor division over unity," Chirac said. "It
would be a grave error. It would carry a heavy responsibility." Speaking later,
Hu thanked Chirac for his "clear position of principle ... against the moves by
the Taiwanese authorities that tend toward the independence of Taiwan through a
referendum ... We firmly oppose the independence of Taiwan and will not let
anyone separate Taiwan from the rest of China in one way or another."