A Strategy for Chinese Reunification

The premier of the Republic of China calls for a three-phased approach, starting with resuming unofficial exchanges

WORLD attention was drawn to relations between the Republic of China [the government on Taiwan] and the People's Republic of China during July and August 1995 by two sets of missile tests conducted by mainland-Chinese forces close to Taiwan's northern coast. Beijing's escalation of tension in the Taiwan Straits was widely perceived as a response to ROC President Lee Teng-hui's June visit to Cornell University, his alma mater, in Ithaca, N.Y.

Although the president's trip was private, Beijing further signaled its displeasure by shutting down the nongovernmental negotiating channel that since 1993 had met periodically to discuss issues concerning growing trade, investment, and cultural contacts between Taiwan and mainland China. Although these talks avoided direct governmental contacts, they broke decades of isolation between the two sides and helped build greater mutual understanding and cooperation.

To many people, the missile tests and the break in unofficial meetings indicated that a crisis had arisen in cross-straits relations. But Taiwan and mainland China have weathered previous crises successfully. One need only recall the shelling of Quemoy by the Chinese Communists in 1954 and 1958, which prompted the United States to send the Seventh Fleet to monitor the situation.

Despite last summer's tensions, the ROC has strengthened its resolve to continue pursuing increasing trade, investment, cultural, and other contacts. These are means to build greater trust and achieve a shared goal: the peaceful reunification of China.

While Beijing has yet to reciprocate by renouncing the use of force against Taiwan, the ROC is committed to pursuing a peaceful strategy that fosters mutual respect. When I became premier in February 1993, I made improvement of cross-straits ties a high priority in hopes of moving both sides away from a ''zero sum'' approach to relations in favor of finding ''win-win'' solutions that could resolve our differences in a mutually beneficial way.

It is clearly counterproductive for both sides to advocate the eventual reunification of China and at the same time indulge in unnecessary diplomatic skirmishes and waste precious resources on military preparations.

Basis for peace

The ROC's strategy for peaceful reunification is to build positive cross-straits relations through a gradually expanding set of exchanges. During the first half of last year, it began to look as if a framework for indirect high-level dialogue might result from a proposal offered by President Lee in response to one from Jiang Zemin, secretary-general of the Chinese Communist Party. Regrettably, this development and the ongoing administrative-level talks were casualties of Beijing's displeasure. The unofficial channel of communication should be reopened. Such a channel is all the more important during any period of intensified tension between Taipei and Beijing, because it helps prevent miscalculation or misunderstanding.

One example of such misunderstanding is Beijing's persistent complaint that the ROC's efforts to gain its rightful international status are an expression of ''Taiwan independence.'' Such a stance fails to reflect reality.

The ROC's strategy for peaceful reunification derives from the 1991 Guidelines for National Unification. They delineate three phases for achieving China's reunification: a short-term phase of exchanges and reciprocity; a medium-term phase of mutual trust and cooperation; and a long-term phase of consultation and reunification. There is no fixed time frame for each stage.

The ROC has abandoned ideological conflict and tried to recast relations in a positive mode. In the past, we hoped to exploit the vast differences between each side's economic systems to demonstrate the superiority of our free-market system. We now hope to offer our system's advantages as a model to promote trade and economic growth in mainland China and decrease cross-straits economic disparities.

We have shelved our dispute with Beijing over the issue of China's representation in the United Nations. The most concrete step the international community can take to acknowledge that China is divided and ruled by separate and autonomous governments is to ensure that both sides have satisfactory representation not only in the UN, but indeed in all international organizations.

The key now to national reunification is the enormous gap between the two societies' political systems, not issues of common ethnic identification. Rather than a needless debate over whether a particular act is an expression of ''one China, one Taiwan,'' ''two Chinas,'' or ''Taiwan independence,'' the real question is how to promote peaceful reunification on the basis of democracy, freedom, and prosperity.

Obstacles to reunification

Many of the obstacles to peaceful reunification are based on Beijing's reluctance to relinquish outdated policies. For instance, Beijing's position that increased recognition of Taiwan would encourage sentiment for independence is groundless. ''Taiwan independence'' is explicitly counter to ROC policy. The ROC advocates ''one China,'' while simultaneously stressing that China is divided and has been for more than 40 years. Thus, neither the ROC nor the PRC can at present claim to represent the entire Chinese nation.

Beijing also maintains a ''one China'' stance, but its version sees the PRC as the sole government of China, and Taiwan as a part of the PRC. There is, however, no substance to the PRC's claim of sovereignty over Taiwan.

Given the ROC's political and economic strength, it is only natural that our people demand an international status commensurate with Taiwan's role in the world. The result of Beijing's effort to oppose and isolate the ROC is that, despite being welcome as tourists and businesspeople around the world, our citizens are subject to cumbersome visa procedures. Our athletes in international competitions cannot even wear their country's name on their uniforms. And despite consistent expressions of willingness and financial ability to help, the ROC remains unable to join such apolitical organizations as the World Health Organization, UNESCO, and even the International Red Cross.

Several steps are needed to improve cross-straits relations. First, if Beijing's leaders are sincere about reunification, they must adopt a strategy that strengthens bilateral understanding. This should include attempts to comprehend the reasons for Taiwan's social, political, and economic development.

Second, relations can be improved by accepting ''parallel benefits'' as a common goal. In other words, both sides should strive for a ''win-win'' approach. Taipei has consistently expressed its willingness to use its economic strength to assist the mainland.

Third, both sides must increase exchanges in business, trade, and investment. Cross-straits relations should focus on trade and economic issues so that both sides might enjoy the benefits of a market economy. The ROC has accordingly relaxed its restrictions on cross-straits investment and trade. We also encourage exchanges in the arts, culture, education, literature, science, and technology.

Fourth, we need more pragmatic consultation. After the first nongovernmental talks in 1993, the two sides created a consultation channel to deal with problems related to exchanges. Although matters did not go smoothly at first, we were headed in the right direction. It is in the interests of both sides to resume our dialogue as soon as possible.

These suggestions are made in a spirit of cooperation and are inspired by a desire to build confidence and trust. Although relations across the Taiwan Straits have been chilled by recent setbacks, we are confident that this situation is only temporary and that peace remains our common aspiration.

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