Editorial
Referendum as a deterrence
2002-08-14 / Taiwan News /

The "one country on each side" dictum is nothing more than a reiteration of the "cross-Strait status quo;" and "giving serious consideration to the urgency of a referendum" is an imperative step in averting the deterioration of the status quo in China's favor.

President Chen Shui-bian's characterization of the relationship between the Republic of China on Taiwan and the People's Republic of China as being one of two separate countries one on either side of the Taiwan Strait -- summed up in the dictum "one country on each side" -- immediately elicited a number of varying interpretations at home and abroad. Some commentators are of the opinion that this represented an intentional aggravation of a sore spot in cross-Strait relations, while leaders of this country's opposition parties have hysterically castigated him for precipitating a crisis situation. Yet, after subsequent opinion polls confirmed that the majority of Taiwan's people support his "one country on each side" statement, their verbal barrage drastically changed its tune, criticizing him for imprudent timing and employing the referendum issue to incite passions and boost personal political support.

Surveying developments in cross-Strait relations over the past two years since the Chen Administration took office, we must emphasize that clarification of our nation's international political status as well as the necessity for a plebiscite allowing the public to express its collective will are matters of paramount importance demanding timely action. This is absolutely critical to the safeguarding of peace between Taiwan and China and of Taiwan's sovereignty.

Looking at the matter from the standpoint of practical reality, the two sides of the Strait are indeed two separate countries. As unambiguously stated in the "Resolution on Taiwan's Future" amendment to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Charter, Taiwan, formally known as The Republic of China, is in fact a sovereign, independent nation, and any alteration of that status quo can be decided upon only by the Taiwan people as a whole by means of formal referendum. Furthermore, as revealed by an August 7 poll taken by the DPP, nearly 65% of Taiwan's people presently concur with that statement. It cannot be overstress that the DPP's understanding of Taiwan's political status as described in the aforementioned resolution, and majority of Taiwanese' concurrence with it, constitutes an affirmation of "status quo" reality -- not of mere hopes for Taiwan's future. Meanwhile, successive public opinion polls sponsored by the Mainland Affairs Council have shown that the huge majority of Taiwanese -- about 80% -- support maintaining the status quo. Simply put, then, the safeguarding of Taiwan's established independence and sovereignty represents the mainstream will of the people, whose importance no responsible politician can dismiss in good conscience.

The cruel reality, however, is that, in the course of interaction between the two sides of the Strait, understanding of what the so-called "status quo" in fact consists of has not been a clear and unchanging one. From conditions surrounding the breaking of diplomatic ties between Taiwan and the Marshall Islands, the Solomon Islands and Nauru, it is clear that, far from softening its efforts to suppress Taiwan internationally, China has redoubled such efforts. Furthermore, China's ongoing military build-up and its continually escalating missile threat toward Taiwan, have upset the balance of military forces in the Straits region, supporting the conclusion of the U.S. Department of Defense, that China is giving increased priority to preparations for possible armed action against Taiwan. Such developments, viewed together with the Taiwanese economy's increasing dependence on China, presage the erosion of the present, relatively even and stable balance of strengths in cross-Strait relations in the direction of an increasingly unfavorable position for Taiwan.

Hence, in view of China's relentless, ever-intensifying diplomatic, military and economic strangulation of Taiwan, it is indeed incumbent upon us to take measures to avert the undermining of the present, peaceful status quo, while at the same time heightening public awareness both at home and in the international community of this objective need. In this context, it should be understood by all that President Chen's "one country on each side" dictum is nothing more than a reiteration of the "cross-Strait status quo." His urging the Taiwan people to "give serious consideration to the urgency of a referendum" is an imperative step for averting the deterioration of the status quo in China's favor, serving as an added deterrence to further destabilization of the balance of strengths in cross-Strait relations.

Put simply, President Chen's proposition is in its nature, a reactive one rather than a provocative one, constituting defense rather than offensive behavior. It behooves all parties, both those at home and in the international community, to realize this fact and to encourage continuing efforts on our government's part to shore up the peaceful status quo.