Chance for fresh start on both sides

By Lo Chih-Cheng         ( Taipei Times, Friday, March 31st, 2000)

The presidential election is finally over. The shift in China's attitude from angry threats to rational observation marks a beginning for future cross-strait relations. Whither "one China?" How will the "state-to-state" model evolve? These questions will influence peace across the Taiwan Strait and stability in the Asia-Pacific. 

 In the face of Beijing's hostility, the expectations of the international community and the suspicions and fears of the Taiwanese people, the first major task for Chen's new government will be how to promote pragmatic cross-strait policy to break the deadlock of Taiwan-China confrontation. 

China so far has not taken any drastic actions in response to Chen Shui-bian's (³¯¤ô«ó) victory. Instead, Beijing said it would observe Chen's "words and actions" first before making any move. This is very necessary. 

One of the biggest mistakes that China has made is premature conclusions about Taiwanese political leaders and people, including Lee Teng-hui (§õµn½÷) and the DPP. China also seriously misjudged public opinion in both the 1996 presidential elections and this year's. 

These mistakes can be attributed to the rigid mindset of Beijing's leaders or the erroneous information they collected. 

 In fact, after several critical debates over cross-strait policy, both Chen and the DPP have made significant modifications in their stance and statements on Taiwan's independence. The changes are reflected in their shift from the party's "Taiwan independence charter" to a "referendum charter," from advocating a "nation-state" to recognizing both Taiwan and China as two Chinese countries, from fear and caution toward China to "strengthen Taiwan and go West." 

All the changes have demonstrated the DPP's self-adjustment on its way toward being a ruling party. In the process, it has switched emphasis from ideological dogmatism to a security-first pragmatism. As a result, if China really wants to listen, it has to abandon the stereotyped impression of the DPP and Chen. 

In any event, the ups and downs in relations are determined by both side's actions. If China doesn't want Taiwan to estrange Beijing, it should stop blaming Taiwan for deteriorating relations and instead examine why it has failed to win the Taiwanese people's hearts. 

 China's rigid strategy toward Taiwan is the crux of the cross-strait problem. It's inflexible insistence on "one China" and its precondition of "one China, two systems" has restricted potential cross-strait development and substantial exchanges. 

Taiwan has brought up other models for relations, such as "one China, two states" or "one China, two political entities." However, China remains obstinate on its three-stage "one China" policy, ie, there is only one China; Taiwan is part of China; and the PRC is the only legitimate government. 

 Even though the Taiwan people have made it crystal clear that "one China, two systems" is unacceptable, Beijing has never made any concessions. 

 It is regrettable Beijing has been constrained by its own preconditions for negotiations. In some respects, the "state-to-state" model reflects Taiwan's response to the frustrating fact that its self-adjustments and good will has failed to win a positive response from China. 

The problem is, if we have no alternative choice over the interpretation of "one China" other than the one proposed by China, no presidential candidates will accept "one China," since it means to give away Taiwan's sovereignty and surrender. 

As long as both China and Taiwan are open-minded and start negotiations with sincerity and good will while discarding preconditions, there will be plenty of room for development. 

 Beijing has to realize that a dialogue without preconditions does not mean no consensus can be reached, nor do negotiations without preset conclusions mean that the desired goal can't be achieved. Preconditions and conclusions are meaningless if no negotiations can get started. 

So, when we ask President-elect Chen to show his sincerity and soften his stance, we should not forget to ask China to open its heart to the boundless potential of mutual interests. 

Lo Chih-cheng is director of programs at the Institute for National Policy Research. 

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