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Hope for pacifying the strait

by Hisahiko Okazaki

The following passage, which was not given wide press coverage, was included in a report that Chinese President Hu Jintao made to the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China last fall:

“We would like to make a solemn appeal: On the basis of the one-China principle, let us discuss a formal end to the state of hostility between the two sides across the strait, reach a peace agreement, construct a framework for peaceful development of the two sides and thus usher in a new phase of peace and development in cross-strait relations.’

From the moment I learned of this passage, I have considered it an important proposal.

Taiwan has previously called on China to abandon the option of using armed force, but China rejected Taiwan’s call. If a peace agreement as stated in Hu’s report means renouncing the use of armed force, it is a landmark proposal and meets the Japanese and American policy goals of seeking a peaceful solution to the Taiwan Strait issue.

Neither the reunification of two Chinas nor Taiwan’s acceptance of “one country, two systems” is made a condition. The basis for talks is the “one-China principle.” “One China” is indeed the very basis of the Taiwan issue; at the same time it is a flexible concept.

When both sides decided in 1992 to hold a dialogue, China made it a condition that Taiwan accept the “one-China principle.” But without reaching a clear agreement on what “one China” actually means, bilateral talks between Koo Chen-fu and Wang Daohan took place in April 1993.

Afterwards, China claimed that Taiwan accepted the “one-China principle” while Taiwan asserted: “Both sides of the Taiwan Strait have not reached any specific conclusion about the expression ‘one China,’ neither in the Hong Kong talks set by the [Beijing-based] Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait with the [Taipei-based] Straits Exchange Foundation — both of which were authorized by their respective governments to arrange the talks — nor in the development that followed the talks” (TaiwanWeekly Review, May 5, 2005).

Reportedly, the Taiwanese suggested that both China and Taiwan interpret “one China” in their own ways. At any rate, the talks between both sides were held, setting aside China’s assertion that the condition for holding the talks is that both sides reach agreement on “one China.”

My conclusion is that if the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) wins in the next presidential election, it would be good for Taiwan if it started negotiations with Beijing on the basis of Hu’s proposal. Why the DPP? Negotiations with China over the question of “one China” alone will be delicate, so I believe that those with strong principles about Taiwan’s identity should engage in the negotiations.

This does not mean I do not trust Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang. In fact, Ma reportedly stated that he does not favor reunification and that it is no problem that China and Taiwan have their respective interpretations of “one China.”

What Ma said, however, is different from what the Kuomintang has asserted in the past. And I also can’t ignore the worry that a Kuomintang-led government may follow the lead of China.

Although Hu declared the principle on which China-Taiwan talks should be based, China has yet to spell out the details due to complex domestic circumstances. It will do so but only after talking with Taiwan in the future and coordinating the views at home. Until then, China and Taiwan can be expected to engage in tough, fierce negotiations. Given this, I think it is necessary for a person with a strong beliefs in Taiwan’s identity to engage in such talks.

If the DPP negotiates with China, I don’t think it would be a bad idea for Taiwan to come to terms with China over the term “one China.” Taiwan can concede that both sides share a common heritage, at least by virtue of the fact that both use Chinese characters.

Specifically, the best policy is that Taiwan add the condition that China must agree to Taiwan’s membership in the United Nations in return for Taiwan conceding on the “one China principle.” If that is realized, a number of principles stated in the U.N. Charter, such as sovereign equality, noninterference in internal affairs and a peaceful resolution of disputes, would become applicable.

If that condition is set as an absolute condition, I would not care if someone backed by the Kuomintang assumed the post of Taiwanese president. It would be good if unnecessary conditions such as “neutrality” or “future reunification” were not added. In the case of Hong Kong, “one country, two systems” has been introduced. Yet, no popular election has taken place in the 10 years since Hong Kong’s reversion to China. Moreover, there are only 40 years left in which Hong Kong can enjoy a “free society.”

Hu is rumored to be flexible in his political approach toward other countries. Hu may be seeking to settle the cross-strait issue in a couple of years, thinking that it is inevitable that the Taiwanese public will become more Taiwan-oriented each year. Thus Taiwan could have the upper hand. Taiwan will not have to compromise at all on the issue of obtaining U.N. membership.

If Hu is so insightful and has enough political power to be flexible in his political approach, East Asia could realize the dream of peace in the region after a half century of hostility.

Hisahiko Okazaki is former ambassador to Thailand. The article is a slightly abridged English translation of an article that appeared in the Jan. 11 Seiron column of Sankei Shimbun.