Comments on the Relationship between Taiwan and China
aired by NHK World Radio Japan (May 25, 2004)

The Relationship between Taiwan and China and President Chen

On the 20th of this month President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan began his 2nd 4 years term as President after being narrowly re-elected. Several days before his inauguration, the Chinese government released stern warning in the form of statement in which it said the only way both sides of Taiwan Strait would be able to enjoy peace and stability would be for Taiwan to drop a stride for independence. China went on to harshly criticize President Chen, a strong advocate for Taiwanese independence, saying that counter to the promises he had made, he continued to provoke major incidence of Taiwan independence. At the same time it also offered economic and diplomatic benefits if Taiwan would embrace "One China principle."

Radio Japan Reporter Yuka Nukina spoke with Mr. Yoshiyuki Ogasawara, associate professor at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies to comment on the relationship between Taiwan and China and President Chen's pro-independence stance.

1. You've been closely following Taiwan political scene for last ten, fifteen years. Before asking you about its relationship with China, would you clarify its current status in the international community? What exactly is Taiwan's status now?

Taiwan is an independent state, whose name is called Republic of China. But I think its sovereignty is restricted by the international community. This is Taiwan's position today.

2. I understand that less than 30 countries throughout the world recognize Taiwan. So it's interesting to hear you refer to Taiwan as an independent state. What is your rationale in that?

It's because Taiwan has its own territory, people and the government. Taiwan also keeps its own military, which is strong enough to defend the island. What Taiwan lacks is only international recognition, in particular recognition of countries like US and Japan.

3. In what sense, do you feel that Taiwan's sovereignty is restricted?

It's because the Chinese Government insists that Taiwan is a part of China and other major countries accept this insistence. Therefore Taiwan cannot join International Organizations such as the United Nations. Let me give you examples that Taiwan's sovereign is restricted. President of Taiwan cannot join any international meeting. President of Taiwan cannot visit to Japan. In this way Taiwan's sovereignty is restricted.

4. How do you compare Taiwan to Hong Kong?

The Chinese Government's policy toward Taiwan has been "One Country Two Systems," which means that the Chinese Government will allow Taiwan to keep its own political system including the military for considerable period. "One Country Two Systems" has been applied to Hong Kong, but the situation of Taiwan is different from that of Hong Kong and the majority of the Taiwanese oppose this.

5. Why is the situation different from Taiwan and Hong Kong?

Because Hong Kong was a colony of Britain and the people of Hong Kong had no power to control the governing body, while in Taiwan people have government and people have presidential election to choose their political leader to control their country's affairs.

So that's why you mention that Taiwan is an independent state?

That's right.

6. Prior to President Chen's inauguration address, China issued a very strict warning, saying that President Chen continued to advocate independence. He would really feel China's threat. China would do whatever it could do to prevent Taiwan from gaining independence. Why does it go such an extreme to control Taiwan, such a small island?

To understand this question, we have to look at the modern history of China and the role of the Chinese Communist Party. The Chinese people regard Chinese modern history before the Second World War as a period of humiliation. It was the Chinese Communist Party that saved the country from the imperial powers. The Chinese Communist Party has two pillars of principle. One is the establishment of the communist society and the other is the unification of the fatherland.
As the first pillar has virtually been abandoned, the unification is a sole goal that could legitimate the one party rule of the Chinese Communist Party. And the unification can be achieved only when Taiwan returns to the country. If any leader of the Chinese Communist Party agrees to the separation of Taiwan, he will lose his position. This could initiate the separation movements in other regions of China and could lead to the falling down of the Chinese Communist Party. This is the reason why China cannot compromise on this issue.

7. What do Taiwanese people generally feel about independence? Do they think themselves as Taiwanese or do they still think themselves as Chinese?

Well, the situation changed greatly in the past ten years. Ten years ago majority of people regarded themselves as Chinese, but nowadays majority of people regard themselves as Taiwanese. So there has been a great change of identity in Taiwan.

8. Is there a sort of consensus toward achieving independence from China? Do the majority of people seek this? Or just party leaders and political leaders seek this?

This is a complicated question. As I mentioned, Taiwan is an independent state. So we have to consider carefully what independence means to Taiwan. In the past, the opposition movement in Taiwan fought against the authoritarian regime of the Chinese nationalist party (KMT). The Chinese nationalist party legitimated their rule on Taiwan by emphasizing Chinese nationalism and diminishing Taiwanese identity. Now the former opposition party becomes the ruling party today, and Taiwanese people control the Taiwanese government. In this sense some goals of the independence group have been achieved. There remains formal denouncement of the country's name, Republic of China and its constitution to get rid of elements of Chinese nationalism in Taiwan. So when we discuss about the independence of Taiwan, we should look at two aspects: One is domestic politics in Taiwan, the other is international recognition of Taiwan.

9. Now you mentioned "the constitution." In the inaugural address President Chen said that he would give major priority to carry out constitutional reforms by the end of his term. What do you think is his ideal vision of Taiwan in the future?

President Chen's basic idea is that Taiwan and China are two different countries. He refuses "One China Principle." In the inaugural address on 20th May, President Chen did not give clear indication to independence, which can be interpreted as an attempt to calm down the fear of China, United States and Japan. On the other hand President Chen announced that he would move ahead with constitutional reforms, which the Chinese government regards as a "dangerous" step to independence.
President Chen is willing to talk with China on the condition that China stop threatening Taiwan with armed force. The Chinese government does not accept this condition because they fear that once China abandons the military pressure, Taiwan will move further away from China to the point of no return.

10. In the inaugural address President Chen said he was not going to include issues of independence when carrying out constitutional reforms. How was this received by China and Taiwan? Could you give us comments on both sides?

General impression is that President Chen's remarks were quite moderate and he did not use any provocative term in his address. But the Chinese government has no confidence in President Chen, so the reception by the Chinese government is a hard one, I would think that the Chinese government would issue warning against Taiwan.

11. How was the reception of his speech among the Taiwanese people?

Well, as you know, the result of the presidential election was almost fifty percent versus fifty percent. It reveals that half of the population did not support President Chen in the election. Therefore it is his challenge how to make reconciliation within Taiwanese society. In this regard President Chen's address was quite mild and constructive, but still he needs lots of efforts to make this more feasible in the feature.

12. The result of the election as you said reflected Taiwanese people's view. What are the feelings of people toward relationship between China and Taiwan?

Before the democratization majority of people believed that Taiwan should be unified with China, but with the emergence of former President Lee Teng-hui, who was the first Taiwanese having become President, people's perception began to change. More and more people regard themselves as Taiwanese as I mentioned. This is what is called the rise of Taiwanese identity.
The Taiwanese economy has been integrated into a wider Asia Pacific economy, in which the Chinese economy consists most important part. There are many Taiwanese businessmen who are active in China these days. Therefore the majority of Taiwanese people I would say wish closer and more constructive relations with China. On the other hand Taiwanese people do not like the idea of unification, because they simply believe that status quo is better than the unification.

13. They don't want to give up their independent rights, and they don't want alienate or antagonize China any father.

The situation is also complicated. Most of the Taiwanese people would like to have a good relation with China. But China has no trust in Taiwan's political party, political leader and even people, because the Chinese government has a suspicion that Taiwanese people would like to be away from China. The problem is that there is neither mutual understanding nor mutual recognition of each other's position while political gestures are going on. President Chen sometimes mentions that Taiwan is Taiwan and Taiwan is different from China. These remarks irritate Chinese leaders, because Chinese leaders position is of course "One China" which includes Taiwan.
Also we should look at the element of the Olympic game, which will be held in Beijing in 2008. It is widely believed that Beijing will not intervene in Taiwan's affair by military force before the Olympic game, because it will jeopardize the Olympic game itself. No one would like to see it happen. Some Taiwanese people and political leaders calculate this element and they may try the nerve of Beijing leaders. As Beijing would not like to show their weakness to Taiwanese politician, they will continue to issue warning against Taiwan, which could cause antagonism of Taiwanese people against China. There is a vicious circle going on. What Japan and US should do is to let these two countries have opportunity to talk each other. We have to consider the framework in East Asia for conflict prevention on Taiwan Strait.