China, Taiwan, and the U.S. since 9/11: Old Problems, New Opportunities
A Symposium with UCLA Center for Chinese Studies Visiting Fellows from China, Taiwan, and the U.S.
On May 7, the UCLA Center for Chinese Studies presented a public symposium, featuring the Center’s Visiting Fellows for spring 2003, as part of a “Track II” type conversation that may hopefully lead to a reconceptualization of the relations among the China, Taiwan, and the United States and, ultimately, to new policy alternatives.
The View from China
After a brief presentation of the historical background by Richard Baum, Director of the Center for Chinese Studies, Jiemian Yang (Vice President of the Shanghai Institute for International Studies and Director of its Department of American Studies) began the discussion with an analysis of the recent evolution of Chinese policy on Taiwan, in particular with three recent notable developments.
First, a new definition of “one China” has emerged. The position of the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has consistently been that there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of China. Many Taiwanese have been reluctant to accept this formulation since it may imply that “China” is coterminous with the “PRC,” and that any reunification between the mainland and Taiwan will involve Taiwan being absorbed by the PRC. However, about two years ago Wang Daohan — a former mayor of Shanghai and for many years chairman of ARATS (Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits – the PRC body responsible for negotiations with Taiwan) — declared that “one China” does not necessarily mean the PRC nor the ROC (Republic of China, on Taiwan). Then, about a year later, Qian Qichen, China’s Vice Premier and one of the mainland’s top policymakers on the issue of Taiwan, repeated this formulation. Finally, in November of last year, the Sixteenth National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, in its working report, enshrined this position.
Second, in his report to the Sixteenth Party Congress, Jiang Zemin, then the General Secretary of the CCP and the President of China, declared that when it comes to relations between the mainland and Taiwan “all issues can be discussed.” In particular, Jiang stressed three points that are open to discussion: first, “international space in which the Taiwan region may conduct economic, cultural, and social activities,” second, the “political status” of Taiwan, and third, the role of Taiwanese political parties.
Professor Yang went on to discuss in particular the question of international space for Taiwan, a matter upon which Taiwanese have placed great importance. There are, Professor Yang pointed out, several models of models of Taiwanese participation in international activities that the PRC finds acceptable. One such model is Taiwan’s participation in the Asian Development Bank, a multilateral institution dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia, which extends back to the 1980s. Another is the APEC (the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum) model, where Taiwan is not merely a member but may participate in ministerial-level meetings. Taiwan also is a member of the WTO (World Trade Organization). Finally, just last week the PRC did not object to a delegation from WHO (the World Health Organization) visiting Taiwan as part of its gathering of information on the SARS epidemic.
Regarding China’s position of the so-called three links (direct communications and transportation between Taiwan and the mainland), Professor Yang pointed out that the PRC has modified its position. For instance, Beijing initially insisted that flights between the mainland and Taiwan must be considered “domestic” flights. Later it accept that this link be considered “special flights.” Now the position is that these are “cross-Strait flights.” Moreover, the PRC has recently given Taiwanese airlines overflight rights, thus increasing the convenience and safety of passengers flying to and from Taiwan.
The point is, Professor Yang emphasized, that so long as all parties concerned accept “strategic ambiguity” (where policy is sufficient imprecise to leave leeway for interpretation), a way can be found to solve specific problems.
As far as the PRC is concerned, the major issue is not whether the U.S. intervenes in the issue of relations between the mainland and Taiwan, but whether the U.S. follows a positive policy.
In sum, Professor Yang portrayed China’s policy as evolutionary and flexible. In accessing the sources of China’s flexibility, Professor Yang pointed out: First, the leaders of the PRC are increasingly self-confident. This arises primarily from China’s growing prosperity and strength. Second, economic and social interaction between China and Taiwan have steadily increased. For instance, today about one million Taiwanese reside on the mainland. Further ties of this sort can be expected. Finally, the policymakers in Beijing are putting their hopes on the younger generation in Taiwan. Younger Taiwanese increasingly see that the mainland as the best place to further their careers. Rather than fearing the mainland, they see it as a place of opportunity.
The View from Taiwan
Chien-min Chao (Professor, and former Director, of the Sun Yat-sen Graduate Institute of Social Sciences and Humanities at National Chengchi University, Taipei) began his presentation by noting that although Taiwan has the world’s seventeenth largest economy, it is a small island — roughly the size of Connecticut — and only seven percent of its land is arable. Such a small country cannot be held responsible for whatever issues divide the United States and China. Rather, it is systemic factors inherent in China and the U.S., and in their bilateral relations, that account for this division.
Second, as to the question of “why not reunification now?” it needs to be recognized that the large majority of Taiwanese are not ready for reunification, nor are Taiwan and China today compatible. For instance, there is a huge economic gap: per capita income on the mainland is only one tenth that of Taiwan.
The sentiment for Taiwanese independence, Professor Chao argued, has grown out of the particular history of Taiwan and out of Taiwanese reactions to the history of the PRC. For more than a century, Taiwan has been separated from the mainland. For roughly fifty years, it was a colony of Japan. Then, in 1945, when the Nationalist government reasserted Chinese control over Taiwan, it did so violently and oppressively. Taiwanese discontent with mainlanders must be understood with this background in mind. Furthermore, when Taiwanese look at what happened across the strait in the mainland since 1949 — the suffering and death during the Great Leap Forward, the violence of the Cultural Revolution, and so on — they have further reason to reject China. Thus, it is not surprising that the majority of the people on Taiwan do not want to see a change in the he status quo.
Regarding the mainland’s “one China” policy, Professor Chao argued that “China” was invented by the Nationalists. Before Sun Yat-sen and others established the Republic of China, there existed only the dynasties, and the people identified with the ruling dynasty. It is strange therefore that the PRC will not tolerate Taiwanese identify themselves by using the words “Republic of China” or “China” in the international arena. Instead, the PRC has forced international organizations to use far-fetched terms in lieu of “Republic of China” or “China.” Thus such strange locutions as “Chinese Taipei” are imposed by the International Olympic Committee, and the Committee prohibits the display of the ROC flag and the playing of the ROC national anthem. These impositions and denials, Professor Chao pointed out, are painful to the people of Taiwan and drive a wedge between Taiwan and the mainland, rather than bring them together.
A more positive and productive approach, Professor Chao argued, would be of the two sides to formally recognize each others. East and West Germany, he pointed out, recognized each other, and now they are united. North and South Korea also recognize each other and, in Professor Chao’s estimation, their reunification is foreseeable.
Regarding developments since September 11, 2001, Professor Chao said that the cooperation between China and the U.S. that has emerged is positive, and is supported by Taiwan. Taiwan would like to see China fully engaged internationally: this will help mellow China.
Finally, Professor Chao maintained that it is fully possible for the U.S. to maintain, and indeed to expand, good relations with both China and Taiwan.
The View from the U.S.
Allen Whiting (Regents Professor Emeritus, University of Arizona) began by noting that U.S. relations with China have improved since 9/11 and have now reached a point equal to the highest level in the past. Evidence of this can be seen, most notably perhaps, in cooperation over the management of the North Korean Crisis (North Korean, China, and the U.S. recently completed a series of talks in Beijing) and in the struggle for protection against terrorism. Relations have become so good that China seems to have acquiesced to the U.S. establishing military bases in Central Asia, something that it would almost certainly have vociferously opposed before 9/11.
Similarly, although China opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in principle, its rhetoric has been subdued. Its rhetoric over Taiwan has been more low-key than in the 1990s. And symbolically, last fall then-Chinese-President Jiang Zemin visited with President Bush at the ranch in Crawford. It is reported — but it has not yet been confirmed — that Jiang proposed to Bush a number of confidence-building measures.
If one moves beyond the rhetoric, to look at the substance of policy, then it becomes clear that there has been no substantive change in China’s policy. For instance, the retaking of Taiwan, which has been an idée fixe in Beijing since 1949, remains so. China’s military is constantly working on plans to seize Taiwan. It has been a constant feature of Chinese strategic thinking that when a window of opportunity is closing, military action may be warranted. This was the case, for example, in the decision to invade Vietnam in 1979, which came after months of exchanges between Chinese and Vietnamese authorities over the “illegal” occupation of border areas and after Vietnam signed a military alliance with the Soviet Union.
Various developments suggest that the Chinese military may perceive a window of opportunity is now closing, or will soon begin to close. The question of any possible future attempt to retake Taiwan by force will depend on the will of the people of Taiwan to resist. The installation of a theater missile defense system that includes Taiwan could signal to Beijing the closing a window of opportunity. If TMD system is credible, it could make the cost of invading Taiwan too high, and reduce the incentive of Taiwan to negotiate with the mainland.
Of course, the crucial factor in the possible outcome of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan must be the United States. The idée fixe in Washington mirrors the obsession in Beijing: The U.S. cannot – in this view – let a democracy (Taiwan) be taken over by force.
In short, relations between the U.S. and China have their ups and downs. At the moment, relations are good, but the potential for armed conflict remains.
Chien-min Chao (Ph.D., Southern Illinois University) is Professor (and former Director) of the Sun Yat-sen Graduate Institute of Social Sciences and Humanities at National Chengchi University, Taipei, and a noted analyst of politics in Taiwan and relations between Taiwan and the mainland. His publications include Taiwan and Mainland China: Relations and Foreign Competition (1992), Authoritarian Politics (1994), An Analysis to Contemporary Chinese Politics (1997), and Cross-strait Relations and Taiwan’s Foreign Policies (2000).
Allen Whiting is Regents Professor Emeritus, University of Arizona. Professor Whiting is highly regarded as an interpreter of Asian – and particularly Chinese – politics and foreign policy. He served in several capacities in the U.S. Department of State and was an advisor on China to several U.S. administrations. Among his many publications is China Crosses the Yalu: The Decision to Enter the Korean War (Macmillan, 1960), a classic in its field, and The Chinese Calculus of Deterrence: India and Vietnam (Michigan, 1975; 2nd ed. 2001)..
Jiemian Yang is Vice President of the Shanghai Institute of International Studies — an influential think tank — and Director of its Department of American Studies. He received an MA from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy. Professor Yang has published many papers and books on international relations and American foreign policy as well as interpretive articles and editorials in the press, both in China and in the U.S.
Published: Thursday, May 08, 2003