[OUTLOOK]Taiwan puts U.S. in delicate spot

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[OUTLOOK]Taiwan puts U.S. in delicate spot

The domestic turmoil in Taiwan is strengthening the ties between the United States and China. President Chen Shui-bian was re-elected on his platform advocating Taiwan’s autonomy from China, but this has compromised Taiwan’s international standing. It is because Taiwan’s survival depends, paradoxically, on the cooperation between the United States and China.
In the March 20 presidential election, Mr. Chen, a Democratic Progressive Party candidate, beat the Kuomintang Party’s Lien Chan by less than 30,000 votes, or a margin of 0.22 percent. Mr. Lien had opposed Mr. Chen’s proposed referendum on the withdrawal of 500 Chinese missiles.
The outcome of the election, however, has further aggravated the political problems in Taiwan. Even if the votes are recounted as the opposition party is demanding and Mr. Chen keeps his position as a result, his legitimacy still would be questioned.
Half the voters did not vote for him, and his proposed referendum was turned down. Many analysts say Mr. Chen’s victory was the result of “sympathy votes” that stemmed from his surviving an assassination attempt one day before the election.
It’s important that Mr. Chen was re-elected despite the pressure from China and the United States, which saw the proposed referendum as a prelude for a more blatant movement toward Taiwan’s independence.
Of course, President Chen has appealed for better relations with China after his election, but the Chinese authorities distrust him. Supporters of the Democratic Progressive Party, which wants independence, have grown from 20 percent of the public in 1996 to 39 percent in 2000.
This year, 50 percent of the voters supported Mr. Chen’s party. These voters demand a separate identity for Taiwan, which they say has a different culture, language and values from mainland China. Mr. Chen still refuses to accept the “one China” policy and says Taiwan is an “independent sovereign state.” He is pursuing the establishment of a new constitution completely different from the present one, which was created by the Kuomintang.
On the other hand, Taiwan’s economy cannot survive without mainland China. About 10 percent of Taiwan’s gross national product depends on trade with China. About 1.5 million Taiwanese entrepreneurs have set up factories and invested a total of some $100 billion in mainland China.
Economic cooperation, however, has its limits in alleviating the problems between the two different political systems. Tension is building quickly between mainland China, confident in its fast-growth, and nationalistic Taiwan that longs for autonomy and independence.
Should Taiwan declare its independence, China would not stop from using military force, and the possibility of war could not be ruled out. If war does break out, the United States would be obliged to provide military assistance to Taiwan according to its Taiwan Relations Act.
The United States and China share a common view that they should prevent such a crisis and keep the status quo. We must also remember that the United States, the sole world superpower now, and China, a potential superpower, share responsibilities not only in the Taiwan Strait but in the North Korean nuclear issue.
When Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited Washington in November, U.S. President George W. Bush requested that neither side take any actions that might compromise the status quo. Shortly after the presidential election in Taiwan, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the results with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing over the phone.
Beijing depends on the United States to block the independence movement in Taiwan, and Washington needs China’s cooperation to prevent the nuclear armament of North Korea. After requesting the U.S. government to assert its influence in the Taiwan situation, Foreign Minister Li visited Pyeongyang in an effort to persuade North Korea to quickly open a third round of six-way talks on its nuclear program.
Thus, the United States and China are cooperating in the two most dangerous security issues in Northeast Asia. Only when the two succeed in sharing the burden will peace and stability be sustained in the Taiwan Strait and the Korean Peninsula.
President Chen has retained his hold on power, but he’ll find it hard to maintain Taiwan’s security without U.S. military assistance and to push the national economy out of its recession without the cooperation of the United States and China, two of Taiwan’s biggest export markets.
The ongoing strife between the government and the opposition only makes the lives of ordinary Taiwanese more difficult and invites the intervention of outside countries. The United States supports the development of democracy in Taiwan but considers cooperation with China the top priority in maintaining peace and security in Northeast Asia.

* The writer is a visiting professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Japan. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Ahn Byung-joon

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