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(Updated Tuesday, Apr 1, 2008, 05:54:47 PM)

he most pressing Asian foreign policy issue currently faced by the U.S. is the Taiwan question. The email we receive in reaction to our articles relating to this issue suggests that it's an emotional one for many of our readers. Perhaps one reason for the emotion is the fact that the issue isn't amenable to an easy or simple solution.
     The first historical mention of Taiwan appears to have been when Portugese traders found it to be a resting place on their journey to Japan and named it Isla Formosa. Beijing's claim to Taiwan dates back to the 16th century when a Chinese general fought off the Portugese to claim the island for the emperor. In 1895 the expansion-minded Japanese annexed it after defeating China in a war on the Corean peninsula. China briefly reestablished sovereignty over Taiwan following Japan's defeat in August of 1945.
     At the time the official government of China, as recognized by most nations of the world, was under the control of the Kuomingtang headed by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. He was engaged in a desperate war against Mao Tse-tung's peasant army. Despite billions of dollars of aid by the U.S. based mainly on intensely partisan reporting by Henry Luce's Time/Life empire, the spectacularly corrupt Chiang lost that war and fled to Taiwan with 2.5 million followers.
     He established the present government of Taiwan on December 7, 1949 and proclaimed it the sole legitimate government of all China. Mao made the same claim. The claims competed until 1971 when it became clear to most of the world that Mao's was more persuasive. Taiwan was kicked out of the UN. The Beijing government took its place as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a seat given in recognition of China's role in fighting Japan in World War II.
     Mired in its own misguided war in Vietnam, and intensely fearful of anything red, the U.S. was one of the last nations to recognize the legitimacy of Mao's government. In 1972 Richard Nixon made his historic journey to Beijing. In 1976 the U.S. took the next step by recognizing the People's Republic as China's sole legitimate government. It began pursuing the "One China, One Taiwan" policy under which official diplomatic contacts were exclusively with Beijing but continued to sell billions of dollars a year of fighter jets, helicopters, tanks and missiles to Taiwan to help defend against a possible Chinese effort to refunify by force.
     In 1997 President Clinton declared a "strategic partnership" with Beijing over intense Republican objections. It was an astute recognition of the fact that China's 1.2 billion people must be accorded a central place in U.S. foreign policy. But the historic, moral and economic ties that bind the U.S. to Taiwan's 23 million people stand squarely in the way of cutting off arms sales and renouncing the pact under which the U.S. obliged itself to come to Taiwan's defense in the event of attack by China. That U.S. pledge and continuing arms sales continue to inflame Beijing to periodic bursts of violent anti-U.S. rhetoric.
     Taiwan has been a domocracy since 1989 when it legalized opposition parties. It held its first democratic presidential elections in 1990. Lee Teng-hui handily won to keep the presidency which he had originally gained in 1988. Lee won again in 1996. Since 1997 he began efforts to warm up relations with Beijing by agreeing to enter into negotiations under a "One-China" framework with an eye toward eventual reunification. Beijing's leaders continued their highly successful campaign of pressuring diplomatic partners into severing ties with Taiwan. China even raised hell when Lee made a semi-surreptitious trip to New York in 1997. Since then China has scared neighborning nations like the Philippines into not allowing Lee to enter. As of 1999 Taiwan's diplomatic allies number about 18 out of about 220 nations on earth. All are tiny, impoverished Central American, African and Pacific Island nations that appreciate Taiwan's generous aid packages. Pago Pago is considered a major ally.
     Feisty Lee Teng-hui launched his own guerilla offensive in July, 1999 by declaring over German radio that Taiwan was in fact a separate state and would negotiate with Beijing on an equal footing. That sent Beijing into a tizzy. It fired off bombastic threats to take Taiwan by force and to annhilate the U.S. Navy if it intervenes. On October 18 during his British visit Chinese President Jiang Zemin assumed a softer, more relaxed tone in telling a London newspaper that China would be peacefully reunited with Taiwan under a one-nation two-systems formula by the middle of the next century. One might have expected Lee to have been relieved by that statement. Instead, he brushed it aside as "a hoax". China should try instead to set a timetable for its democratization as that was the only way to ensure reunification, sneered Lee's Mainland Affairs Council chairman Su Chi. Most polls show that a clear majority of Taiwanese prefer to maintain the status quo indefinitely rather than moving toward unification.
     Beijing's reunification mandate appears based on the idea that in winning the mainland, the Chinese people had rejected the "criminal" Kuomingtang and its right to rule any part of China. It also sees Taiwan as a galling symbol of the division wrought and preserved by western imperialists -- namely, the U.S. -- seeking to enjoy global hegemony at the expense of Chinese dignity.
     Meanwhile the U.S. remains on the hook to defend Taiwan and sell it arms though doing so keeps its relations with a quarter of humanity rocky and on edge. Under its current policy the U.S. is the asbestos firewall that keeps friction between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait from igniting into war.
     Should the U.S. continue alienating Beijing to help Taiwan protect its independence or improve relations with China by pressuring Taiwan to reunite?

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The US's notion of supporting Taiwan's "independence" is funny. Taiwan is already independent. Mr. Bush has a much clear view on this. Unfortunately, international community yield to Communist China's pressure and choose to play deaf by not noticing the 24 million Taiwanese democractic achievement. Formosan came from China, speak Chinese, share the same culture, and most people in the world think that Taiwanese is Chinese (Nationally as well as ethnically) except some well- educated people who can tell them apart.American speak English but is not Canadian,not Australian and not English.Thwy live peacefully with each other. Internation community needs to support Taiwan and let Taiwan be a member of the world, not part of China. If US is still a leader of the world, it's time to show her trait.
Ongor    Saturday, March 22, 2003 at 04:18:32 (PST)    []
This thread of comments assumes the rise of the PRC into something that is dominant, into a nation that exerts economic and then general hegemony on Asia and then the world.

Clearly its influence is growing, and indeed, and Taiwan manufactures heavily in the mainland.

But consider that the PRC will not become a stable economic center after all. Then your argument would change.

Is there reason to doubt the belief that the PRC will be the "next big thing", that the 21st century will be the century of the dragon?

Yes, China is very unstable. But instead of going into all of the list of instabilty, consider that all the welath of China is foreign investment.

Foreign investment is capital from outside of China, that is brought into China. That is an expenditure of the foreign companies, and a gain, a sale for the PRC.

Show me the money. Where is all the money the Foreign companies are getting? No one can show me the money, it isn't happening, and unless something drastic changes, namely the SOEs get better, and China manages to make its contradictory Capitalist-Command market economy work, which is a huge tangled mess, the messiness of which cannot be understated, then it will only be the next big thing in the disasterous sense.
straight up    Wednesday, February 19, 2003 at 07:19:44 (PST)    []

again, while I think I largely agree with the central idea in your post, the details seem a bit off to me.

As usual, you are a bit harsher on the Taiwan than is necessary, and a bit softer on the PRC than is required.

Of course, one big problem is that Taiwan has been slow to adapt to democratic systems. To be fair, of course, this is not unique to Taiwanese. Few people who have no history of democratic systems adapt without problems. It is very tempting to abuse democratic powers to forward your agenda should you gain power - which the DPP surely have done. When more democratic reforms come to the PRC, I be willing to bet you you will see the same thing. Politicians are the same the world over - they all want to use their power for their own personal gain. It is sad that this will impact people on Taiwan as the bickering between the parties continues.

Second, it is very true that Taiwan are being dumb and shortsighted in not engaging PRC directly. But, again to be fair, who, 20 years ago (with perhaps the exception of the very brilliant such as you) could guess that the PRC would be developing this fast? There is no precedent as far as I know for this level of development from third to second and ultimately first world status. Including Japan - which did so with US help. The fact that Taiwan still refuses to engage is the real stubborn stupidity.

In my opinion, the PRC has done the right steps recently by being the good cop in the good cop bad cop fight. It has made the right diplomatic and commercial moves to show Taiwan's government to be what it is - an aging, stubborn dinosaur. This has not always been the case - bellicosity is not good for business.
Ai Ya    Friday, February 07, 2003 at 11:20:54 (PST)    []
most of what you have said, i find, holds perfect ground and i couldn't have summarise it better myself. however, i think you are missing the essence of my last few posts- taiwan, or rather taiwan under the ddp cannot engage in friendly talks with china because of what the ddp is known to be stand for- independence; thus, it is impossible for chen to warm up to china even if he personally wanted to (that's politics for ya). you have mentioned that only a third of the population supports independence, that is precisely where chen got his votes from. if he suddenly now decides to take a lighter stance towards independence, he and the ddp will lose it all as then there will be not much of a difference between the ddp and the pan-blues. guess we'll just have to wait for the kmt to get back into power then or maybe at least a coalition.

i think it is a very sad and helpless situation now in taiwan as i think eveyone , in their hearts, know that the future now is in china and that the government is actually quite corrupt, but as usual, most of us just sit there and do nothing about it.

i personally think that you have underestimate the power of the wai/benshengren issue. sure, in normal everday life, not that many people care about this anymore but in politics, even a small miniscule matters can be exaggerated into highly controversial subjects.
d of e    Friday, February 07, 2003 at 09:42:35 (PST)    []
d of e,

I don't doubt what you say about the pro-independence supporters who hold ROC passports. However, they are not a clear majority either.

The demographic to ROC has been for quite sometime 1/3 pro-unification, 1/3 status quo, 1/3 independence.

I sympathize with those in the ROC who have fallen on hard times. I employ people on the island, so I have an understanding of the economic situation in the ROC for the past 2 years.

However, I point agian to the ignorance of the masses to believe that China displaced them. I see it more as a lack of foresight and vision in the leadership of ROC to prepare Taiwan for the rise in PRC economonically as quickly as it did.

It is a complex situation on ROC of how the current situation came to be. One factors is the shortsightedness of the DDP party to choose the grass root movement of independence as their only major platform. Another part of the problem lies in the shortsightedness of the KMT not to engage the PRC productively after 1985.

Much of this situation is Taiwan's own trapping. Ignorance, Political self-fishness, and inability to adapt to democratic systems are usual culprit I fault.

If a faction of Taiwan wishes to become poorer by the day in order to retain political autonomy for the less than 1000 people that hold office in Taiwan, their wish is coming true.

The pan-blue and pan-green camps really need to end their petty bickering and adopt a united strategy to engage China pro-actively. Personally I do not think ambiguity is the anser. Since ROC is not the USA and does not have to resources to keep China "guessing."

Waishenren vs. Bendiren. I am a person of both heritage. I know it is an effective card. Since I use it to my advantage when I can. But then again it is a reflection of ignorance on the island. Also in the younger generation, since there are more individuals like myself as time goes on, I rarely see a definitive split of waishenren and bendiren in my generation. So unless you are growing up in the some village in Taiwan, or in exclusive Neihu neighborhood in Taipei. This bendi and waishen issue is becoming less of an issue over time.

"i have a question for you on this then, what are most of the taiwanese to do then, even if they do face the reality of the prc becoming one of the strongest nation economically and politically, in the world?"

In my opinion, Taiwan need to engage the PRC pro-actively. It cannot use the excuse of dignity and equal standing to evade the situation. Without engaging the PRC pro-actively, much of Taiwan's limited man power in government will to wasted on "ambiguity," instead of leading ROC to a prosperous future.

Another aspect of ROC politics that needs to mature is the constant bickering. I you follow ROC politics how much energy is wasted on bickering instead of actually working for the country.
AC Dropout    Thursday, February 06, 2003 at 16:07:32 (PST)    []