Taiwan's Three Paths to the Future

By , Trong R. Chai is professor of political science at the City University of New York.

RECENT developments in Taiwan have once again touched off a hot debate over Taiwan's relations with mainland China. Last month, Cheng Nan-zong, the publisher of the Freedom Era Weekly, who favored Taiwanese independence, immolated himself when police attempted to arrest him for sedition for publishing a proposed constitution of the Republic of Taiwan. This month, Shirley Kuo, Taiwan's finance minister, went to China to attend the annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank. Ms. Kuo is the first Taiwanese official to visit China since Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang (KMT) forces retreated to Taiwan in 1949.

The debate over Taiwan's future encompasses China's ``one-nation, two-systems'' formula, KMT's recent proposal for ``one nation, two governments,'' and the ``one-China, one-Taiwan'' policy of the Taiwan Independence Movement.

The Chinese policy of ``one nation, two systems'' states that Taiwan authorities should accept Chinese sovereignty in an exchange for China's promise to keep, for a considerable time, the capitalist system existing in Taiwan today. This policy contains an implicit contradiction. Once the KMT accedes to China's demand for ``one nation,'' China's intent to honor its pledge to maintain ``two systems'' becomes its internal affair: Other nations can no longer guarantee this status quo. To have ``one nation,'' Taiwan would have to lose international guarantees for ``two systems''; and to have ``two systems,'' the KMT would have to reject the notion of ``one nation.''

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The KMT's formula of ``one nation, two governments'' implies recognition of the People's Republic of China as the legitimate government of China. It also implies that China and other nations will recognize the KMT as the legitimate government of Taiwan. Thus, the KMT would renounce its claim of representing all China and limit its rule to Taiwan.

Since this formula denies Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan, the Chinese government has strongly opposed it.

Although the policy of ``one nation, two governments'' won't help Taiwan break its isolation in the world community, it does have significant domestic implications. First, as the KMT would no longer consider the Chinese communists ``bandits'' but a government, emergency measures and institutions created to fight the ``bandits'' - such as the National Security Council and the Taiwan Garrison Command - would be abolished, giving civilians more control over the military. Second, since the KMT would no longer represent the Chinese mainland, members of the national legislative bodies elected by the Chinese people four decades ago and still in office today would have to face election by the people on Taiwan. Third, by confining its sovereignty to Taiwan, the national government of Taiwan would rule virtually the same area as the provincial government of Taiwan, and, accordingly, the provincial government would be eliminated.

Because of these domestic effects, the military, the mainlanders, and the KMT conservatives are less enthusiastic about the ``one-nation, two-governments'' proposal than civilian officials, native Taiwanese, and the KMT liberals. This proposal will probably become a major source of conflict within the KMT.

The idea of ``one China, one Taiwan'' comes from the reality that Taiwan had been politically separated from China for nearly a century. Consequently, the island differs from the mainland in several significant ways. Taiwan's economic development is far ahead of China's. The island has a larger foreign trade than the mainland, and Taiwan's per capita income is 15 times that of China. In Asia, Taiwan is second only to Japan in educational quality and achievement. The Taiwan illiteracy rate is less than 10 percent, compared with more than 30 percent for China.

Taiwan not only significantly differs from China but is also capable of becoming a new nation independent of China. The island, 110 miles off the Chinese coast, has a population of 20 million - more than that of 130 members of the United Nations. Its gross national product exceeds $100 billion, larger than that of any UN member in the Middle East or Africa.

China favors ``one nation, two systems'' and opposes ``one nation, two governments'' and ``one China, one Taiwan.'' But if a plebiscite is held in Taiwan, and the United States, China, and other nations concerned with the future of Taiwan are invited to supervise the voting, China would lose the moral ground to oppose a policy chosen by the people.

Holding a plebiscite in Taiwan would be a just solution to the Taiwan problem.

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