The Taiwan Strait issue is one of the most important issues in the world today because it has the potential to bring two mature nuclear powers, the United States and China, into conflict. The central issue though is between China and Taiwan. China’s position is that Taiwan is part of China and must be politically integrated into China at some point in the future. The view within Taiwan is not so clear. Many of Taiwan’s citizens have claimed a new identity and insist that Taiwan should be a separate independent state based primarily on the principle of self- determination. Others within Taiwan wish to unify with China but believe the time is not right. Since Taiwan has become a full- fledged democracy and Taiwan’s citizens can influence policy, decision-making about the ultimate relationship with China is complex and not yet settled. The role the United States is simply to insure that whatever the outcome, the process must be done peacefully.
The title of this book suggests a formula to prevent war between the United States and China. In fact, the data support the conclusion that by paying attention to a combination of factors, especially military, economic and political, the use of force by China to solve the Taiwan issue can be avoided. If the use of force by China can be avoided it follows that war between China and the United States can be prevented. Most important is the timing. If each of the three actors explicitly state and follow status quo policies, and China and Taiwan delay actions, for twenty to thirty years, on the critical issue of determining the degree of autonomy that Taiwan will enjoy after unification, the likelihood of war will be reduced drastically.
This study examined data from seven disciplines (history, culture, law, geography, politics, economics and military) in an attempt to find additional insights into the cross strait issue. All of these topical areas are dynamic and influence the environment within which negotiations take place. Three of the seven factors (history, culture and geography) serve to rationalize positions about unification or independence, but do not provide impetus to movement. The others offer stimulus for movement: economic and domestic law development in the direction of unification, political, military and international law in the direction of separation. In the brief review below I will offer some recommendations.
An historical review of the relationship between Taiwan and China demonstrated that Taiwan has been a part of China for several centuries, but that China has not always exercised its authority. On the other hand, throughout that period there have been forces within Taiwan attempting to create an independent state. Selective reporting of the history can provide some rationalization for either unification or independence. A complete academic reporting of history provides more support for unification than for independence.
While history doesn't change, the interpretation of history does. It is clear from the selective histories presented officially by China or those who advocate Taiwan independence, that there is a need for some form of official history like the dynastic histories of old. Both China and Taiwan have excellent academic historians. One recommendation is that the negotiations structure (ARATS and SEF) convene a group of prestigious historians to write a history of the China- Taiwan relationship. The mission would be to work together to prepare a history with which both sides can agree. It would be a way to reduce the effect of propaganda writers who use history to promote confrontation. One of the tasks, for example, could be to revisit Sun Yat-sen and his philosophy to see how it might be used to find common ground for a future new political philosophy.
A review of cultural elements reveals that there is little justification for the contention that Taiwan is not Chinese. The traditional culture that exists in Taiwan is definitely from the Fujian region of China. There is a case that can be made that modern acculturation can identify a separation of some values based on Taiwan’s experience with Japan and the West, but it does not overwhelm the fundamental traditional culture. The culture factor clearly declares Taiwan as part of China and cannot support independence.
This is another area in which it would be useful to convene a panel of prominent scholars to study the common culture of the two sides. Rather than seeking to find differences, the mission would be to review Chinese cultural history and philosophy to identify common values that both sides agree should be promoted in school textbooks and in literature or media presentations. An explicit agreement on some values, such as honesty, deference to parents, benevolence, humility, etc. should be sought. Part of this effort could be to examine the issue of individual versus collective basis for political ideology. The idea would be to look forward and identify values to be taught to the citizens, especially youths, of both sides rather than using scholarly energies to condemn past acts.
Geography also argues for unification over independence. Not only is Taiwan a part of China’s continental shelf, at one time it is said to have been connected to China by a land bridge. Taiwan’s strategic economic and military location also argues for it being a part of China.
Geography is another area that does not change. The use of the land and resources, however, does change. The task for a panel would be to suggest policies to insure that in some form of unification the geographic strengths of Taiwan and China complement each other. The panel should identify key areas where Taiwan can contribute to China's economic development and vice versa. For example, it would be important to take maximum advantage of Taiwan's location as a potential transshipment hub.
The legal factor includes fundamental underlying philosophies, domestic and international law. The underlying philosophies, primarily Confucian, contribute to evolving new laws that emphasize mediation over confrontation in the courts. Internally, China and Taiwan are both developing laws that facilitate movement in the direction of unification by providing a foundation of increased certainty and legitimacy for cross strait contact. International law, on the other hand, is more nebulous. While it clearly contains standards of self-determination that Taiwan meets for independence, the practical role of international law prevents it from being used to promote independence. In this case, the political realities of China’s role in the world and its ability to pressure other states in the international arena make it nearly impossible for Taiwan to gain recognition as a separate state by other states. Recognition by other states through the United Nations is required before true independence can be realized. As a result, the law factor supports unification over independence.
Convening a panel on law would also be useful for the future. In this case rather than fighting about international law or even worrying about current domestic laws that facilitate contact between the two sides, this panel should focus on a future constitution or a "Basic Law" that defines the degree of autonomy for Taiwan. It should be developed by scholars from both sides working together, not by one side to be imposed on the other.
The political factor is the key to the solution of the cross strait issue. Taiwan’s first response to China’s initial offer for accommodation in 1979 was that China would first have to become a democracy under Sun Yat-sen’s Three People’s Principles. In fact, China also reveres Sun Yat- sen so there may be some possibility of compromise using a cooperative rewrite of his political philosophy.
The differences between the basic political philosophies of China and Taiwan are not as great as they seem. They only appear different because most descriptions are written by westerners from a western frame of reference. This is highlighted in an understanding of the basic impetus to become democratic. In the West it was out of concern for individual freedom and liberty to prevent government abuse and in China and Taiwan it was out of an instrumental belief that democracy leads to economic progress.
China and Taiwan share a cultural/political heritage and historical experience in which the collective is given priority over the individual. These influences cause pressures on both sides to craft a system of laws that will not lead to excessive individualism and will take into account the responsibilities of citizens. Such an ideology could be written, without help, by Chinese scholars and officials on both sides by amending, extending and expanding the initial notions of democracy written by Sun Yat-sen and including some elements from China’s rich cultural heritage. An important advantage of rewriting a new political philosophy is that it would be uniquely Chinese as opposed to the current foreign Marxism-Leninism or an excessively liberal democracy introduced by the West. This effort too could be organized by the current cross strait negotiation organizations (SEF and ARATS).
In the meantime gradual political change in China is likely to continue. Taiwan has already reached a democratic form of government, but that too is likely to evolve further to fit local circumstances. China’s path to democracy is slower and more complicated. It has already moved toward democracy by increasing the number of voices influencing political decision making at the top (increased pluralism) and by introducing limited democratic behavior patterns at the grass roots level in some areas.
China’s next major advance in democratization will have to be the development of one or more opposition parties and an acceptance of new rules of the political game that defines how political conflict can be managed. If Taiwan and Russia provide any lesson for this process, it is that it will take an enlightened leader to succeed. There is no doubt that China has or will have such human talent.
In the meantime, China will continue its deliberate pace of progress toward democratization. It is very likely that as older leaders retire and new leaders emerge the pace will quicken. The process will be influenced by economic progress and the education of its citizenry. It will also be influenced by the lateral transfer into politics by individuals who have been successful in the economic world. This will probably be preceded by changes in the overall relationships between the economic and political arenas from those that emphasize corruption and bribery to those that
emphasize a more neutral form of lobbying. Eventually, in two or three generations, the political environment will change to the point that the next major step of introducing an opposition to the Communist Party can be considered.
The new political environment does not have to exclude the Communist Party, but it does have to include an opposition that has the ability to prevail. It must also be characterized by a stable political environment in which all sides agree on the rules of the political game. The participants will have to learn to “agree to disagree.” This new political environment will have to endure long enough for Taiwan’s leaders to see that it is based on law and likely to be a permanent stable condition.
This new political environment is a precondition that will be necessary before Taiwan can agree to negotiate its degree of autonomy. It is not possible for Taiwan’s leaders to jump right into negotiations of its autonomy before these conditions are met. Even China agrees that the views of all Chinese citizens must be taken into account and Taiwan’s citizens do not want to conclude an agreement too quickly and before there is some certainty about its long-run durability. They especially do not want to negotiate under pressure of a Chinese military attack.
This new political environment is likely to take a couple of generations to realize and be accepted by the citizens of Taiwan. That means that current cross strait policies by all three sides should be to maintain the status quo for at least another twenty to thirty years. Movement too quickly or under pressure is likely to cause serious internal problems for future generations of Chinese.
One of the tasks for the ARATS and the SEF should be to integrate the data from other specialized panels to find a solution to or foundation for the issue of degree of political autonomy. This group should create additional sub-panels, made up of prominent political science scholars, to study in detail some of the political issues that divide the two sides. One group, for example could study the concepts that emerged from the British when negotiating relationships with former colonies. Another group might study the concepts of democracy to attempt to identify a political philosophy, based on Chinese values identified by the cultural panel, and which satisfy universal standards as articulated in UN agreements like the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The underlying economic philosophies on the two sides of the strait are, like the political philosophies, not too dissimilar. While China’s economic system is socialist it has been called “Socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Taiwan’s system is capitalist, but has collective tendencies. Both philosophies tend toward the middle of the economic spectrum. China’s is socialist with capitalist tendencies and Taiwan’s is capitalist with socialist tendencies. While there are significant differences, there is no doubt that this is another area that could be negotiated out and a new economic ideology could be written that would minimize the differences. This is also the area which China has already conceded, under the “one country two systems” formula, could be tolerated in any future agreement. The socialist-capitalist dichotomy is not likely to be a problem in the future.
Serious and legitimate cross strait economic interchange began in 1987 and has already become significant for both sides. The principle of economic interdependence is having an increasing influence on both sides. Taiwan is becoming increasingly dependent on China and various key sectors in China are increasingly dependent on Taiwan.
Total investment from Taiwan into China has now exceeded U.S. $100 billion. Trade has increased from U.S. $2.5 billion in 1990 to U.S. $32.3 billion in 2001. Taiwan has become China’s fourth largest investor after Hong Kong, the United States and Japan and the fifth largest trading partner after Hong Kong, Japan, the United States and Korea.
On every front (travel, mail, telephone, remittances and cultural exchanges) contact between the two sides has already increased dramatically and the trend is for continued increases. China has replaced the United States as the place where Taiwan’s young people want to make their fortunes. There are now over 1 million Taiwanese residing in China over 300 days a year and over 200,000 cross strait marriages have taken place. The practical consequences of this exploding economic relationship will be a major growth in the demands placed on the political systems of both sides to make decisions that will facilitate and protect economic links. At first the demands will come from the economic sector, later highly qualified individuals in the economic sector will join the governments to influence decisions from within.
The economic factor is another area that promotes unification far more than independence. It will increase over time to the point that it will have a decisive influence on the cross strait issue. That may take another twenty to thirty years, but it is very likely to occur.
This area could lend itself to some scholarly work even though it is difficult to find economists who agree. But a panel in this area could consist of eminent economists and their thinking should be at a similar level to the State Planning Commission in China and the Council for Economic Planning and Development in Taiwan. The idea would be to maximize the benefits of unification for both sides.
The military factor, even more than the political factor, divides the two sides. Military history also makes clear that the United States is an integral part of this issue. The record of military confrontation in the Taiwan Strait shows how the U.S. Navy has participated directly in the conflict in times of crisis. Naval battle groups have been deployed into the area four times (1950, 1954, 1958, and 1995/6) to moderate tensions and prevent the two sides from fighting each other. It has also indirectly threatened the use of nuclear weapons twice. But the role of the U.S. has been more than that. At times it was U.S. policy that had the strongest influence on events in the Strait. For example, it was U.S. policy that forced the return of the Dazhen Islands to China. It was U.S. policy that ultimately had the final say that Jinmen and Mazu remain in the hands of the Nationalists. U.S. policy has forced both China and Taiwan to change their policies to more peaceful approaches. China has moved to a policy of peaceful reunification if possible, and Taiwan stopped the strategy of counterattacking the Mainland and developed defensive military strategies for Taiwan.
Military threat perceptions by each of the participants are clear. China is perceived as the principal potential state threat to the United States because it has the greatest capability of any potential adversary. America is perceived as a clear threat to China because it has the greatest capability and is willing to interfere (intent) in the Taiwan Strait issue. The U.S. also represents a threat to China because it is perceived as a hegemonic power that is trying to keep China from assuming a greater role on regional and world stages. The military threat to Taiwan is also clear. The constant reminders in the Chinese and Hong Kong media not only show the increasing Chinese capability they also expose intent. Taiwan also sees the nearly 500 short range ballistic missiles deployed and targeted on Taiwan.
One important lesson in the series of military confrontations in the Taiwan Strait is that Chinese military actions have been designed for immediate political goals, not for military effect. It has been more important to influence Taiwan’s populace about independence than to inflict damage on Taiwan’s people or property.
The cross strait military confrontation has also been indirectly influenced by several external events including: the Tiananmen Incident (1989), the end of the Cold War (1989), the Gulf War (1991), China and South Korea diplomatic recognition (1992), Taiwan President Lee Denghui’s visit to Cornell University in New York (1995), the U.S. – Japan declaration on security (1996), the North Korean missile firing over Japan (1998), the NATO war in Kosovo (1999), the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade (1999), the Afghanistan War (2001), the US largest arms sales to Taiwan (2001), The EP-3 Incident (2001), China and Taiwan entry into the World Trade Organization (2001-2002), the settlement of the Spratly Islands issue (2002) and the Iraq War 2003).
These external events had different types of impact. One, President Lee’s trip to Cornell, caused all cross strait negotiations to be stopped. Some, like the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, strengthened the hand of the military leadership within China and caused it to be more adventurous militarily in the Taiwan Strait (missile exercises). Some events in which American military forces displayed an efficient high-tech military capability in the Iraq War caused China’s military to soften and delay threats of using force in the Taiwan Strait. The point is that often, apparently non-related events have a temporary impact on the thinking that goes into actions to be taken to solve the Taiwan Strait issue.
The external events have a severe, albeit transitory, impact on the thinking in China and they impact different segments of the government in different ways. China has a complicated bureaucratic system that is not so different from that of the United States. Most key foreign policy decisions or decisions concerning the Taiwan Strait are made after an extended coordination process in which various parts of the government present positions to the final decision-making authority which is ultimately the Standing Committee of the Communist Party Politburo for divisive issues. Policy papers that are staffed through the bureaucracy allow each government department, such as the Foreign Ministry or the People’s Liberation Army, to present an official position. The result is usually a well thought out policy that reflects a consensus of whichever faction has the upper hand at the time. For example, after the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and the EP-3 incident, the military had the upper hand or strongest voice in decisions having to do with Taiwan or relations with the United States. But this is never stagnant. As the environment changes, positions soften and the dominant voice changes to other groups who prove their relevance based on the events of the day.
When the actual military capabilities of the three actors are considered the differences are clear. The United States has an overwhelming superiority over China which has an overwhelming superiority over Taiwan. All three are adding to their capabilities at a rapid rate. The United States continues to improve its high tech weapons capability; it's processing of all forms of information from battlefield communications to surveillance and intelligence data, and its ability to deliver lethal force from a stand-off position. The one U.S. weakness is its inability to fight China on land within China’s borders. It could certainly cause unacceptable damage to China’s military or even its cities, but it could not conquer and occupy.
China too continues to modernize its military forces. It gives priority to military research and development, but it also seeks to import advanced weapons systems and technology, mostly from Russia. It focuses on high tech warfare, especially the ability to interrupt the U.S. information or data flow. It gives priority to anti-satellite weapons and any weapon that could inflict enough damage on the U.S. Navy to cause the American leadership to think twice about intervening in the Taiwan Strait. PLA leaders understand asymmetrical warfare very well. They also understand political warfare and how a limited amount of military force can have severe political or economic consequences.
Taiwan, through domestic development and arms purchases, tries to maintain a “balance” in the immediate limited battle area of the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan’s military leaders are particularly concerned about making sure China cannot win a quick victory which will allow time for help from the outside, particularly the United States, to intervene. Taiwan focuses on air defense and
hardening command and control systems and has been able to maintain a strong defensive shield around the island.
The gaps in military capability between the U.S. and China as well as between China and Taiwan are increasing, not decreasing every year. That means that in spite of the bravado by all three sides, the military leaders have actually become more cautious over time in planning the use of force. This has been significantly reinforced by the recent war in Iraq that has changed the whole approach to military strategic thinking. It is often the civilian leaders in each area that call for military force more strongly than the military and it is usually for domestic political reasons more than for what is perceived to be military efficacy. As a result military leaders will continue to be more guarded about using force to settle a political issue.
The potential for confidence building measures between China and the U.S. is great, but it is still impeded by China’s perception of the U.S. role in the Taiwan Strait situation. Until the Taiwan issue is settled or at least placed in suspension, U.S. – China relations at the global level will be stymied.
One idea that has not been promoted, but could be, is that even if the United States were to enter a conflict between China and Taiwan, the purpose would be to set the situation back to status quo ante. It would not allow Taiwan to prevail in its quest for independence. Such explicit statements could deter some Taiwanese from provocative efforts to become independent.
As with the other trends in the cross strait relationship, the military trend also suggests that a maintenance of the status quo for a long period of time will benefit all. There is not likely to be a military breakthrough that could be used for first strike purposes. Even the U.S. deployment of an anti-ballistic missile capability will not change the balances in favor of the United States very much.
The military arena could also use a forum for discussion of military issues. The idea would be to turn the energies from focusing on confrontation and potential warfighting scenarios to planning for future stability operations. It would also be to reduce current suspicions and to develop cooperative behavior habits. The beginning of this type of panel could focus on confidence building measures, especially mitigating the impact of military exercises in the area.
Since all seven factors have some influence on the negotiations process and its potential outcome, the suggestions made above could contribute indirectly to the peaceful and effective resolution of the central issue. Not only is it possible that real substantive understanding can be advanced, these forms of cooperation could change the direction of some scholarly thinking in a way that seeks a positive and cooperative solution to the problem rather than dwelling on narrow positions that justify the position of one side or the other. A series of panels of scholars, as opposed to government bureaucrats, focused on finding solutions based on rigorous academic research could be very beneficial. It is one way of "seeking truth from facts." Much of this type of research already takes place, but in a relatively parochial and uncoordinated way.
The issue is simple. The solution is complex. Because of China’s great political and economic power, as well as determination, there is no realistic chance of an independent Taiwan. As a result the central issue is the degree of autonomy Taiwan will be allowed. That should ultimately be the focus of negotiations between the two sides. At this point the two sides talk past each other. China thinks of "one China" as the condition after unification; Taiwan thinks of "one China" as the condition during negotiations that hinders negotiations. It is understandable why the two sides cannot agree on the definition of "one China."
Taiwan has been able to delay negotiations on the central issue by focusing on the status of the two sides before and during the negotiations and refusing to address the central issue of degree of autonomy after settlement. Taiwan has advanced several rational reasons for this tactic such as maneuvering themselves into a better position to realize a maximum amount of autonomy. Taiwan also wants to be assured that any final agreement will last in an environment of law (democracy. Internally, however, there are also those who believe a delay helps establish an environment in which independence is possible. Future calls for entry into the United Nations and holding a referendum within Taiwan are all political schemes to facilitate movement toward independence, but are doomed to failure because of China’s power and determination.
For the United States, the issue is also simple. The only American demand is for the process to be accomplished peacefully. Americans are prepared to live with any outcome.
China and Taiwan have both established governmental organizations to direct negotiations and quasi-governmental organizations to carry them out. China’s Office of Taiwan Affairs in the State Council and Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council of their respective executive branches of government (policy-level organizations monitor and examine all aspects of the current relationship between the two sides and make policy for future contact and negotiations. China’s Association across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS and Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF(operational level organizations, both headed by very senior personalities, do the negotiating.
To date Taiwan has made the only significant compromise with their past policies. It's original "Three Nos" policy (no contact, no negotiations and no compromise has been completely reversed and that represents a major compromise. China has yet to make any compromise in their effort. Their policy on Taiwan has been consistent from the beginning.
The negotiations have so far focused on developing functional agreements designed to control the contact between the two sides. Agreements have been signed that provide rules for various types of exchanges from mail to travel to investment and trade. This part of the process continues even though the formal negotiations on the ultimate political relationship are stalemated.
Currently, the main obstacle to the progress of negotiations is the perseverance of the Chinese side that Taiwan should acknowledge a “one China” principle, as mentioned above. Again, in the minds of the Chinese side "one China" refers to the final status of Taiwan after settlement. Taiwan, on the other hand, refuses to acknowledge the “one China” principle because they are thinking in terms of the current status for negotiations and are not prepared to discuss the central issue of degree of autonomy after settlement. Taiwan is also reluctant to negotiate under pressure of military threat and before China is perceived to be a nation of law (democratic.
Not only does Taiwan refuse to acknowledge the “one China” principle, the current and former President of Taiwan have made public statements that contradict the idea by discussing “state to state” relations. President Lee Tenghui made the statement to a German reporter in July 1999 and that effectively stopped all negotiations. President Chen Shuibian has made similar during his tenure. Again, Lee and Chen seem to be speaking more about the current status and China is concerned more about the status after settlement.
A successful final solution to the Taiwan Strait problem will have to be for China to become more patient and agree to discuss preliminary issues first. China will have to discuss ways in which the cross strait environment can continue to improve until the Taiwanese want to unify with China. Taiwan’s citizens will have to see major advantages to unification. Taiwan's leaders will have to agree to some form of eventual confederation.
Taiwan is not like Hong Kong. China could have recovered Hong Kong at any time during the past fifty years through military means, but they did not. They could also have accomplished a takeover through non-military means. They could literally have cut off Hong Kong's water. China cannot easily recover Taiwan by military means without destroying all they are trying to recover. Further, unification as a result of military means would result in a part of China that would continue to feel intimidated and oppressed as if by an alien power. It would create another area, like Tibet and Xinjiang, that would be a source of perpetual dissent and potential uprising.
Contrary to prior stated policies by all three actors (America, China and Taiwan the United States should play an active role in resolving the Taiwan Strait issue. While the United States is viewed as a potential adversary by some elements within China, it is clear that over the past two decades both sides have gradually increased mutual trust. For the first time individuals within China and Taiwan have suggested that although the Taiwan Strait Issue is a matter to be resolved by the Chinese themselves, the international environment has changed to the point that it may now be useful for senior U.S. officials to offer good offices to help resolve the issue. The conclusion of this web book is that the policy of all three actors should be one of active status quo because the most significant factors which prevent resolution of the problem are changing in a direction that will allow a solution after 25 to 30 years.
To avoid military action and potentially a nuclear war, all three actors must explicitly announce a status quo policy that will avoid any actions, such as a name-changing referendum in Taiwan or a PRC missile attack to influence Taiwan's politics. Even better, all three sides should sign a communiqué that commits to an active status quo policy for at least twenty-five years. The analysis in this book clearly indicates that the situation is likely to be so different in twenty-five years because of economic interaction and China's gradual movement toward a democracy and rule of law acceptable to Taiwan, that the critical obstacles to a confederation solution will be significantly reduced.
The current military standoff can be mitigated by increased confidence building measures by all three sides. China can withdraw missiles targeted on Taiwan and reduce the rhetoric about the use of force. Taiwan can reduce arms purchases and efforts to place themselves into a broader defense structure and can renounce the ultimate goal of complete independence. The United States can continue to make clear that American policy will not support Taiwan independence and will intervene if either side uses force to solve the problem. U.S. intervention should have the explicit goal of returning the situation to status quo ante. It should not be to help Taiwan win a victory or create a situation in which Taiwan can gain by declaring independence.
Immediate discussions can begin to create a better and less threatening environment in which negotiations for Taiwan’s degree of autonomy can be carried out. Negotiations between China and Taiwan should distinguish process from outcome. China should recognize that compromises will have to be made about the negotiations process and Taiwan should recognize that they will have to engage in some talks about the ultimate degree of autonomy for Taiwan. There doesn’t have to be immediate agreement on these different topics, but both sides should enter into sincere discussions to resolve the issues. Special groups made up of serious scholars should be established to rewrite political philosophy, to study the theoretical concepts of unified versus federated states in history, and to design a new "Basic Law" for Taiwan that can be used as a basis for negotiations. All of these efforts will take time.
Many senior Chinese and Taiwanese leaders still carry grievances that are the result of historical circumstances. Their judgment is colored by emotion even though both sides have become more pragmatic over the years. Even if both sides were completely sensible and logical in their thinking, it would still be very difficult to agree to the detailed terms of unification. Differences based on local versus central interests will still emerge. Even in China today differences between the national government and provincial governments require a great deal of give and take.
A successful unification, assuming that independence is not an option, will require a period of about twenty-five to thirty years for current leaders to retire and for future leaders to find a formula for unification that protects the interests of Taiwan’s citizens. Taiwan has to believe that any settlement will become a matter of law that cannot be changed by political whim. There will have to be, as Taiwan’s Guidelines to National Unification point out, periods of increased contact and cooperation. It will have to be introduced in phases of increasingly complex interaction. New rules will have to be developed.
It will be necessary to build a foundation for unification that brings both sides together willingly. China may not have to become a liberal democracy and Taiwan may not have to be considered an equal. Solutions based on acceptable and well researched data rather than forced compromise will have to occur. That process is likely to take twenty-five to thirty years and that argues for China, Taiwan and the United States to adopt explicit policies that promote the status quo for that length of time. An explicit status quo policy for all three sides will change and improve many of the current policies of interaction.
It may be possible for China to compromise by accepting Taiwan as a de facto state for the purpose of negotiation only if Taiwan compromises by explicitly stating that it will not seek de jure independence and acknowledges that the final status of Taiwan will be as part of one China. The problem is that if China were to compromise and agree that Taiwan is a de facto state now, it could open the door for Taiwan to seek an end solution in which Taiwan maintains its independent status and that is not acceptable to China. On the other hand, discussing these possible compromises could move the process forward and allow both sides to compromise on the issue of degree of autonomy after unification. All of this must be mitigated by an understanding of the declining relevance of the concept of nation state sovereignty and the increasing consequence of global interdependence.
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