Friday, June 16, 2006

WaPo Says China's Stance is Softening

WaPo reports that China's stance on Taiwan is softening:

Gradually and without fanfare, China has substantially softened its stand on Taiwan, according to senior officials and diplomats. President Hu Jintao, they said, has begun to play down China's long-standing vow to recover the self-ruled island by force if necessary and shifted the focus to preventing any move toward formal independence.

The adjustment, which has become clearer in recent months, has brought China's policy on the volatile Taiwan issue closer to that of the United States. Washington has long maintained that the island's half-century-old status quo -- independent in fact but not in law -- should not be changed until Beijing and Taipei can work out a mutually acceptable peaceful solution.

"Before, we never said 'status quo,' " said a Chinese academic who advises Hu's government on Taiwan. "Now we say it all the time."

Officials and diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. One of them, a high-level official, said he had visited Beijing and spoken to Hu privately about Taiwan for several hours. Hu, according to the visitor, said he had no plans to act militarily against Taiwan unless the status quo was changed in a way that risked causing him to "lose face." That concern reflected the ardor for reunification among many Chinese on the mainland.

If true -- and the missile build-up continues apace -- then this is welcome. But what we're looking at is simply a change of tactics, not a real change.

Cody's article asserts:

As part of China's longer-term strategy, Hu's government has high hopes that Taiwan's strongly pro-independence president, Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party, will be voted out of office in the island's next elections, scheduled for 2008, and will be replaced by Ma Ying-jeou, the Nationalist Party leader, who favors better relations with the mainland.

Aaargh! Two problems: Chen can't run in 2008, so no problem there. Actually, the focus on Chen is beneficial, since it is preventing attacks on likely candidates such as Premier Su and DPP Chairman Yu.

The second problem is that massively stupid conventional wisdom that is always associated with Ma: "Ma Ying-jeou, the Nationalist Party leader, who favors better relations with the mainland." Ma does not "favor better relations." Ma wants Taiwan annexed to China. The fact is that everyone on the fricking island wants better relations with China, including the DPP leadership. The difference is that the DPP is unwilling to sell out Taiwan to get them.

It also would be nice if people started putting "Chinese" before "Nationalist" when discussing the KMT, so that the reading public would come to understand that the struggle over Taiwan is one between two competing nationalisms, one Taiwanese, the other Chinese.

Worse still, Washington still doesn't get it:

According to Chinese sources, senior Chinese officials have explained to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others in Washington that they are concerned Chen might seek to amend the constitution in a way that implies Taiwan is legally independent. In response, they said, U.S. officials have warned Chen in public and private against making substantial changes to the document.

Chen doesn't control the legislature and any attempt to amend the Constitution will end in failure (never mind that Constitutional change must also pass by referendum). How is it that everyone in the Taiwan blogosphere understands this but key policymakers inside the Beltway don't? I suppose that is a kind of redundant question....

Lost here are definitions: one of the things the DPP has long wanted to do is abolish the Provincial Government, which was frozen a decade ago leaving a massive pile of unpaid debts. This goal is also shared by many KMT legislators (it was, after all, the KMT that originally froze it). If the DPP passes a Constitutional amendment abolishing that, could that be regarded as a change inplying Taiwan is legally independent? Who gets to decide? Answer: China. We can all look forward to the day when Washington is all in a tizzy telling Taipei it can't abolish another useless internal organ.....


ChinaLawBlog said...

Is China's stance really softening, or is China just getting smart and realizing there is no point in being antagonizing on this issue until after the Olympics?

Taiwan Echo said...

In the history of past 10-year relationship between Taiwan and China, whenever China got 'harder' in her attitude toward Taiwan, it pushed Taiwan leap forward big time toward independence. That included the missiles before 1996 president election, and the threatening before 2000 president election. It seems that after China help pushing the rising of Taiwanese consciousness so many times, they finally came to their senses. And what is that ?

Taiwan is such a funny country, when you force it to come closer, it fades away quickly. But when you release the grip and hide your greed, it drifts toward you quickly. China really doesn't have to be hard on Taiwan. Just playing nice and gentle, and Taiwanese will give up everything all by themselves.

Well, "ourselves", should I say... :(