President Lee is no troublemaker  

(Taipei Times, July 20, 1999)

Lo Chih-Cheng and Bo Tedards

@The recent announcement by Pres. Lee and the government that cross-strait
relations are "state-to-state" in nature has sparked a wave of discussions,
both in the domestic and interantional media, and among policy-makers in
Taiwan, China, and third powers, especially the United States. However, we
feel that the propaganda war that is now well under way has not produced a
clearly articulated explanation and interpretation of both the timing and
the meaing of this announcement. To help to redress this imbalance, we
would like to try to set out what we feel are the main points that ought to
be taken into account.

    First, Lee's remarks have not, in themselves, altered any of the subtance
of the status quo between the two sides of the strait -- no declaration of
independence by Taiwan and no use of force by China. All he has done is to
alter the terminology that the government here will use to describe it;
thus, what he is offering is a redefinition, not a revision, of the status

@Similarly, the new terminology serves only to clarify Taiwan's policy
toward China, but does not change its content. The most striking example of
this is the Mainland Affairs Council's clear statement that its position on
talks with China has not changed. In fact, the only change that can so far
be identified is that the scope of such talks could be expanded: the new
conceptual framework appears to have allowed our government to consider,
for the first time, the possibility of direct political talks with China.

@Third, in the past, Beijing has always reacted to serious disagreements
with Taipei by shutting down the channels for talks or other communication.
Taiwan is now saying, more clearly than ever, what we have felt to be true
for a long time, which is that increased disagreements create an urgent
need for increased talks, not reduced ones. Thus, everyone has strongly,
and apparently sincerely, urged Wang Daohan not to cancel his visit.
Instead of "exchanging views" through the press and third parties, we would
prefer to express our views directly to the other side.

@Fourth, in addition to domestic factors, it must be acknowledged that Lee's
statement is a result of external pressures. On the one hand, China has
stepped up its big power tactics against Taiwan, forging as many
partnership agreements as possible to free its hands to compel Taiwan to
come to the negotiatins table under Beijing's "one China" principle. On the
other hand, China has been pushing Taiwan's potential friends, notably the
US and Japan, to accept the new "three nos" formula. This policy is
apparently yielding results, swinging the world position against Taiwan.
The most notable example has been the sudden willingness of the US to
entertain the "interim agreements" idea. Until very recently, the US had
consistently refused to be drawn into the substance of any cross-strait
talks, but with leading figures such as Joe Nye -- with his "one country,
three systems" proposal -- weighing in on Beijing's side, the US seems to
be modifying its policy, in a way that puts significant new pressures on

@Fifth, so far the government has taken pains to emphasize, by explicit
references to the German experience of "one nation, two states," that Lee's
statement has not closed the door on future reunification. Indeed, many in
the government have even asserted that it should help the process, by
building trust on a foundation of equality. Whether or not it will have
this effect, of course, depends on many factors and, no matter what, will
take a considerable length of time.

    Sixth, it is a simple fact that any and all agreements or arrangements or
even adjustments to the cross-strait status quo must receive the consent of
Taiwan's people; if not, they will be illegitimate and unsustainable.
Despite the difficulty in polling in Taiwan, it is clear that a majority of
Taiwanese agree with Lee's definition. All policy-makers, whether in
Taipei, Beijing, or Washington, must take this fact into account. It is
worrying that some in Washington are only paying lip service to this idea,
expressing confidence that Taiwanese voters will choose "responsibly" (ie,
conveniently for them) while appearing to be spooked by any other

@Finally, we would like to point out that Lee's comments, whatever else they
might be, are not reckless or radical. In fact, many supporters of Taiwan
independence reject his compromise formulation of "one nation," and their
numbers are increasing steadily. If Lee was trying to "push the envelope,"
he could easily have made that conceptual leap, but he did not.
Furthermore, as far as the domestic political environment is concerned,
this statement could have been made at least as early as 1997, if not
before. By waiting until now, Lee has displayed more conservatism and
consideration for international opinion than rashness and disregard. We
hope that the international community will not overreact themselves, but
honestly sit down and evaluate the true state of affairs.