Four years ago, when Chen Shui-bian was elected Taiwan's
president, he promised he would not declare Taiwan independent of
China and would not change the country's name (formally, the
Republic of China), its flag or its constitution. And he said he
would go anywhere, any time, for talks with the Chinese government
as long as there were no preconditions. But for four years Beijing
has refused to entertain such talks unless Chen agreed that Taiwan
was, in effect, a province of the People's Republic of China.
On Saturday, in an extremely close election, Chen was declared the
winner of a second term. Though the margin of victory was small, it
was several times larger than George W. Bush's in Florida in 2000.
However angry and disappointed U.S. Democrats might have been in
that 2000 election, they eventually bowed to the declared result.
It is a lesson that the opposition in Taiwan, the Nationalist
Party, which ruled with an iron hand during the years of martial
law military dictatorship, should take to heart, rather than
pushing endlessly for a recount of Saturday's vote.
China, too, should accept the results. Back in 2000, when Chen was
elected with just 39% in a three-way race, Beijing decided he was a
passing phenomenon and that it would wait him out rather than make
concessions to him. But now that he has been reelected with more
than 51% in an election with 80% turnout, Chinese leaders ought to
Chen's opponent, the Nationalists' Lien Chan, promised during the
campaign that he would achieve better relations with Beijing and
that if he won he would travel to China. One wonders what he would
have traveled as, for Beijing would never have admitted him as
president of Taiwan. Better relations would have depended on Lien
accepting China's "One China Principle" - there is but one
China, Taiwan is a part of it, and its legitimate government is the
government in Beijing. But that formula is unacceptable to the
overwhelming majority of the island's ethnic Taiwanese, who account
for 85% of its population. For any Nationalist Party leader in
Taiwan to accept it would bring immediate cries of "sellout," along
with civic disorder.
Chen is certainly not going to accept the "One China Principle,"
and Beijing's leaders know it. That gives them the following
options: extend their boycott of Chen for four years, which
probably would drive him further toward declaring formal
independence, or come up with a more reasonable formula to get
discussions going when Chen reiterates his desire for talks. Two
years ago, Chen said he was even prepared to talk about eventual
political integration - another offer Beijing refused.
Even though there are factions within the Chinese Communist Party
leadership that, for political advantage, will criticize anyone who
is "soft on Taiwan," it is time for them to rethink their problem.
Chen's term expires just before the Beijing Olympics of 2008.
Stiffing him again would not make their lives any easier.
Talks without preconditions could lead to more stability than the
Taiwan Strait has seen in decades. That basically is what Taiwan's
people want. It should be what China's people desire too.
Increasingly, the two sides are economically interdependent. Chen
knows this. So do the Communists. It is time for them to drop the
Maoist slogan, "Political power comes from the barrel of a gun." It
is time for them to talk to Chen and bring an era of joint
development to the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
Harvey Feldman is a retired U.S. ambassador who was one of the
drafters of the Taiwan Relations Act. He is now senior fellow at
the Heritage Foundation's Asia Studies Center.
First appeared on Los Angeles Times