[FOUNTAIN]Roiling the Taiwan waters“The Son of Taiwan” was the simple and clear slogan President Chen Shuibian used in the 2000 presidential election campaign. His message was that he represented the native Taiwanese. The other two candidates were born in mainland China. “The Son of Taiwan” was also the title of his autobiography published in the middle of the campaign. The book helped win support from the native islanders, who make up more than 80 percent of the population.
At his Inauguration ceremony in May, 2000, he proclaimed, “The time has come for Taiwan to stand tall,” an echo of Mao Zedong’s proclamation in 1949, “The Chinese people have stood up!”
But Mr. Chen did not cross the red line. He announced the “Five Nos” pledges for cross-strait policy: Unless the mainland threatened to invade Taiwan, Taiwan would not declare independence, would not change the country’s name, would not declare a special status in its constitution, would not conduct a national independence referendum and would not abolish two unification councils.
The promises were not in line with his true thinking, which was pro-independence. He was reacting to pressure from both Beijing and Washington.
Perhaps Mr. Chen has decided to reveal his true character. Recently, he announced that the National Unification Council and its guidelines would “cease to function.” The National Unification Council is the highest advisory apparatus installed by President Lee Teunghui in 1990. The guidelines were written by the council in the following year and contain the basic principles of cross-strait relations. They include a three-step process for the unification of Taiwan and China, based on a “democratic, free, and equitably prosperous China.” Domestically, the guidelines reflected a realistic line defying Chiang Kai-shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo’s chimerical policy of reclaiming the mainland. Beijing did not oppose the guidelines because it aimed at unification and accepted the principle of one China.
Beijing is fiercely pressing Taiwan over Mr. Chen’s recent announcement, including some saber-rattling. Once again, tension has returned to the Taiwan Strait.
The beautiful island of Taiwan is a strategic place. To Beijing, it represents a foothold for the People’s Republic of China to rise as a maritime power. To the United States and Japan, it is an unsinkable aircraft carrier checking China’s advance into the Pacific. Once the balance of power across the strait breaks down, the order in the Asian Pacific region will fall into chaos. That’s why we cannot take our eyes off the Taiwan Strait.
by Oh Young-hwan
The writer is a deputy political news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.