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Commentary and opinion on current civic, political, and religious events and issues.

Past Issue
28 February 2000

Northern City Journal
(ISSN 1528-9575)
Vol. 1, No. 7

Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Treating Taiwan Fairly

by Jerome F. Winzig

This past week, China threatened Taiwan with war if it does not come to the negotiating table to discuss reunification with the mainland. The threat came in an 11,000-word white paper, entitled "The One-China Principle and the Taiwan Issue," issued by the State Council of the People's Republic of China. The paper states China will "be forced to adopt all drastic measures possible, including the use of force," if Taiwan refuses, "sine die, the peaceful settlement of cross-Straits reunification through negotiations."

The use of the Latin phrase, "sine die" -- which means "without a date" -- was unusual. However, observers of the Minnesota state legislature might recognize it as the phrase used when the legislature adjourns permanently at the end of a session. (The speaker declares, "The house stands adjourned sine die.") Apparently, China feels that time is not on its side and wants to force a deadline for reunification.

If China really had reunification rather than takeover in mind, perhaps this would not be a problem. But open-ended reunification talks are not what China wants. Its policy paper refers to the "One-China Principle" and elaborates on a "one-country, two systems" solution. But, as the Republic of China (the official name of the government of Taiwan) so aptly points out, this all depends on the definition of "one China" and "one country."

In its reply to China's white paper, Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council stated, "Our position is that China is currently divided. Prior to reunification, the two sides naturally have different definitions of China." The council then went on to observe that China and Taiwan had previously agreed upon this important fact in a joint declaration in 1992 which referred to "one China, with each side being entitled to its respective interpretation."

Sui Chi, chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, added additional insight: "We call ourselves a sovereign country, and if they don't like it, they'll have to live with it. They call us a province and we don't like it, but we live with it.

This is not legal hair-splitting. If "one China" referred to a democratic, free-market state like Taiwan rather than a Communist dictatorship like China, it is not likely that China would be eager for reunification.

However, it is fair and reasonable for the 22 million people of Taiwan to insist upon such a definition. In the 51 years since the Nationalist Chinese leadership fled to Taiwan after the Chinese civil war, it has loosened its grip on power, allowed democracy to flourish, permitted a free press to develop, and fostered a free-market economy that has enabled the people of Taiwan to prosper.

Last year, the only democratically-elected Chinese leader, President Lee Teng-hui of Taiwan, declared that Taiwan would talk with China only on a "state-to-state" basis. His comment provoked an angry response from China, which broke off planned high-level meetings between China and Taiwan. It has continuously denounced President Lee ever since.

But Lee's comments merely reflect the obvious facts of the situation. Since 1949, Taiwan and the Chinese mainland have been governed separately. Each possesses a key component of statehood: sovereign control of its own territory. Each has its own armed forces and maintains the governmental structures normally associated with statehood. Furthermore, the People's Republic of China has never ruled Taiwan.

Taiwan's area, 35,980 square miles, is larger than that of Albania, Bahrain, Belgium, Belize Burundi, Cyprus, El Salvador, Jamaica, Kuwait, Rwanda, and 48 other nations of the world. It's population of 22,319,000 is larger than that of Australia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mozambique, North Korea, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Yemen, and 173 other independent states. Its per capita gross domestic product is greater than that of Algeria, Hungary, Lebanon, Libya, Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, Turkey, South Africa, Venezuela, and 153 other countries of the world.

Of course, size alone does not determine nationhood. But clearly there ought to be some sense of proportionality. Taiwan's population is larger than that of the 76 least-populous nations in the world combined, and they regularly elect leaders who do not favor a takeover by China.

In spite of this, since the 1970s much of the world community, under the leadership of the United States, has asserted the legal fiction that Taiwan is not a nation. It is denied membership in the United Nations. It is also excluded from the World Trade Organization even though it is a significant player in terms of world trade.

This spring, Taiwanese voters will go to the polls to elect a new president. None of the three candidates -- Vice President Lien Chan of the Nationalist Party, James Soong, a former Nationalist running as an independent, or Chen Sui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party -- endorses China's vision of reunification in the form of a unilateral "negotiated" takeover. What will be the policy of the United States and the rest of the world if China attempts to overrule by force the results of the largest free election of Chinese voters in the world?

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