Taiwan’s way with dignity

by Hisahiko Okazaki

The inaugural address that Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou gave was titled “Taiwan’s Renaissance.” It was well-composed, reflecting the president’s views clearly while not evoking excessive alarm or expectations on complex and sensitive issues. These include the future of Taiwan’s democracy, relations with the United States, cross-strait relations and relations between Chinese- Taiwanese — those who came to Taiwan from China after the Nationalists (KMT) were defeated in the civil war with the Communists, and their descendants — and Taiwanese-Taiwanese.

It is noteworthy that the address uses the expression “Taiwan’s dignity,” and premises the advance of cross-strait relations on whether international dignity is accorded to the island.

While I have pointed out in the past the danger of Taiwan’s being dragged into unification by China’s strategy of accepting Beijing-proposed peace agreement talks, I have also written that I would be comfortable with such talks if the KMT pursued them on the condition that Taiwan would be accepted into the United Nations.

Ideally, Taiwan should be admitted into the U.N. At the very least, it may be reasonable today to expect Chinese President Hu Jintao to be flexible enough to let Taiwan join international economic, social and health-care organizations to keep its dignity.

In reality, Taiwan is a full member of the World Trade Organization and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). If APEC extends an invitation to President Ma for a summit meeting, how would China react to it? It would be a test of Hu’s flexibility.

Behind Ma’s policy of acknowledging “one China under respective interpretations” lies his thinking that Taiwan is part of the Chinese community. That thinking runs through his inaugural address. He said Taiwan is the only Chinese society in which power has shifted peacefully twice. This is significant in pressing China for democratization and emphasizing that Taiwan is more democratic than Singapore.

This may embarrass the Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which places high priority on the identity of the Taiwanese people.

However, if the one-China policy is defined as loosely as the Commonwealth of Nations, in which India acknowledges the crown of Britain as a symbol of the free bond, any interpretation is possible. In fact, Pakistan has repeatedly left and joined the Commonwealth.

Thus the establishment of the Ma administration may provide a chance to break the diplomatic gridlock in East Asia.

In a sense, China is caught in its own trap. During the DPP era, Beijing often invited KMT leaders to China and treated them respectably for the purpose of impacting Taiwan’s political balance. To try to explain now that that was because the KMT was not in power is unreasonable. Beijing will have to formally contact the KMT’s leader, who is Taiwan’s president, in some way or another — possibly at an APEC summit.

This would be a chance for Japan as well. With its hostile policy toward the DPP president of Taiwan, China used to stiffly oppose Japan’s attempts to make contacts with Taiwan. Since the U.S. was also cold toward the DPP for some unexplainable reason, Japan had to pay heed to both China and the U.S. in dealing with Taiwan.

Japan may no longer have to care about either’s reaction. Since Taiwan and Japan have strong historical and economic ties, to treat Taiwan coldly in disregard of those ties is unnatural. Japan might now be freed from this bind.

The DPP might be unhappy with Japan’s about-face to establish friendly ties with the Taiwanese government under the control of KMT. Nevertheless, deepening relations with Japan would bring benefits that would be an asset for Taiwan when the DPP returns to power in the future — possibly four, eight or more years from now.

When conducting cross-strait talks, the Ma administration must never give in on Taiwan’s sovereignty and security. Any kind of “one country, two systems” formula is designed to set a time limit on Taiwan’s freedom regardless of whether it is for half a century or a century.

Again, Taiwan must not accept neutrality or any unilateral arms restrictions. There is no comparison between China and Taiwan in terms of size. Once security measures are abandoned, there will be none to defend Taiwan if the situation changes. Taiwan must keep this in mind.

Hisahiko Okazaki is former ambassador to Thailand. This article originally appeared in the June 13 Seiron column of Sankei Shimbun.