Comments on Taiwan's National Unification Council
aired by NHK World Radio Japan (March 9, 2006)

Taiwan's National Unification Council ceased to function and it's National Unification Guidelines ceased to apply

1. What is the background behind President Chen Shui-bian announcing the termination of the National Unification Council and National Unification Guidelines?

On 27th February, Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian announced that the National Unification Council ceased to function. The National Unification Council was set up in 1990 under former President Lee Teng-hui. This council was a high level advisory body for the President and designed to discuss the way to the unification. In 1991, this council issued the National Unification Guidelines. The Guidelines demonstrated that Taiwan government had long-term goal for the unification with the Mainland China. After having issued these Guidelines, the National Unification Council has become a rather symbolic body and actually it has never held meeting since 2000.
For the past fifteen years the political climate in Taiwan underwent a remarkable change. The ruling party of the day the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuo min dang) which ruled post-war Taiwan, already lost office. Taiwanese identity rose and spread over Taiwan Island. Taiwanese identity does not necessarily mean Taiwanese nationalism and cutoff ties with China, but at least Taiwanese identity represent people's feeling in two ways: first Taiwan and China are different countries, second Taiwanese and Chinese are different people. In a sense, the policy document of 1991 became out of date now and President Chen did nothing more than confirming the end of an advisory council that already ceased to function.
The ruling party of Taiwan today is the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). It has inclination toward Taiwanese identity and eventual Taiwan independence. When Mr. Chen Shui-bian became President in 2000, he made so-called "five pledges" to avoid confrontation with China. In his inaugural address, President Chen pledged; first not to declare independence; second not to change Taiwan's official name; third not to push state-to-state description of Taiwan-China relations included in the Constitution; fourth not to promote a referendum to decide independence or unification; and finally not to abolish the National Unification Council and the National Unification Guidelines. President Chen repeated these "five pledges" in 2004. That's why Taiwan's opposition party, China and United States thought President Chen broke his promise.
However, President Chen told that the precondition for his "five pledges" has already disappeared. The precondition was that "as long as China had no intention of using military force against Taiwan." President Chen criticized China for increasing the number of missiles aimed at Taiwan from 200 to 784 in the last six years. President Chen said, "China's intention to invade Taiwan is visible now."

2. China has severely opposed this move. Why is this?

It's quite obvious that President Chen's decision infuriated Beijing. The Chinese government officially accused President Chen of pushing Taiwan toward independence. Chinese Prime minister Wen Jiabao told the opening day of the National People's Congress annual session that "we will uncompromisingly oppose secessionist activities aimed at Taiwan independence." Prime minister Wen said, "Anyone who tries to reverse cross-strait relations will certainly fail." He continued, "It is the common wish of all Chinese people to see the ultimate realization of national reunification, a process that no one can stop."
However Chinese Prime minister Wen did not directly threaten any military action. China's National People's Congress last year passed "Anti-Secession Law." It gives its military the legal basis to attack Taiwan if Taiwan "moves toward independence." The law allows the use of "non-peaceful means and other necessary measures" to protect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity if all else fails. This "Anti-Secession Law" raised suspicion and concern around the neighboring countries and the United States. The Chinese leadership this time seems to consider it would be wise to be restrained.

3. How do you view the current political and economic power relationship between China and Taiwan?

The relationship between China and Taiwan can be summarized in a word, that is, "politically cold, and economically hot." This is the case with Japan-China relationship, too. The Chinese economy is booming and it becomes the biggest market for Taiwanese export industry and foreign capital investment. It is not an exaggeration to say that Taiwanese economy cannot survive without China. The Chinese government now has a lever to influence Taiwanese people by capitalizing Taiwan's business opportunity in China. In the 1990s, China needed Taiwan's money and technology to promote economic reform and Taiwan had got the upper hand in the ground of democratization, but the Taiwan's upper hand becomes less obvious in recent years.
Many military experts analyze that Taiwan's military force still maintains the capability of defending itself from an assault by China's People's Liberation Army. But it is widely anticipated that China will outmaneuver Taiwan in the next decade. So peoples' confidence in Taiwan's future may not be as strong as before.

4. What kind of discord do you foresee between China and Taiwan over the "One China" policy?

President Chen will not accept "One China principle," while Beijing insists that accepting "One China principle" is a precondition for the talk. So there seems to be little room for both sides to mitigate the tension. Chinese President Hu Jintao adopts flexible approach to Taiwan. The Chinese Communist party started to bring about reconciliation with the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuo Min Tang). Last year the Chinese Communist Party invited the Chairman of Chinese Nationalist Party Mr. Lian Zhan to Beijing and made an agreement to improve relationship of both parties. From the viewpoint of the Chinese Communist Party, the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuo Min Tang) was a historical archrival, but at least Kuo Min Tang also insists "One China principle," even though the meaning of it is different.
It is widely viewed that the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuo Min Tang) will have a fair chance of winning the presidential election in 2008. Beijing's strategy seems to neglect Chen Shui-bian and wait for the change of Taiwan's domestic politics. This situation may trigger President Chen's another move to assert himself to appeal Taiwan's presence in international community.

5. What kind of moves do you predict will be made by neighboring countries, especially Japan and the U.S.?

The United States maintains double-edged policy toward Taiwan affairs. Diplomatically the United States accepts "One China Principle," but militarily the United States commits itself to Taiwan's defense. In recent years, the United States has more interests in the Mainland China, therefore the US does not want confrontation with China over Taiwan affairs. So US policy goal is to maintain status quo on the Taiwan Straits. The US will try to stop any move to change status quo on the Taiwan Straits.
In the past, China did not want foreign countries involved in Taiwan affairs, because it would bring internationalization of Taiwan affairs and create a perception of 'two Chinas'. But Beijing's strategy now seems to let international pressure rein in President Chen. Up to now Beijing's pressure on Washington to rein in the Taiwanese leader seems to take effect. China will continue to put pressure on the US to curb President Chen's pro-independence actions in return for Beijing's support on other hot international issues like anti-terrorist issue, North Korea's nuclear issue and so on.
If we turn to look at Taiwan's domestic politics, we can understand that President Chen suffered from a series of political setback last year. His credibility was downgraded. Opinion polls conducted in Taiwan showed that the rate of support for the President recorded the lowest figure.
His ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party underwent serious defeat in the Prefecture Governors and City Mayors election held in December last year. It looked as though President Chen became so-called lame duck two years earlier before his retirement. President Chen's calculation is; by initiating agenda regarding Taiwan's status he would be able to stimulate his supporters sense of purpose and rehabilitate his reputation.
The latest move of President Chen does not change the balance between China and Taiwan. Therefore the row between Beijing and Taipei this time will not become intensified further more. But this move suggests that President Chen may take another move before his term expires in 2008. He may wish to become a father figure of Taiwan after his retirement from the Presidency. For next two years, Beijing, Washington and opposition party in Taiwan try to contain President Chen's next move.
You may think that this is just a game of words and doesn't represent real tension between China and Taiwan. To some extent it is true that both sides play a game, but we should recognize the background on which China and Taiwan struggle. Taiwan is a de facto independent state, because it has its own land, people and government. But the United Nations and the major powers do not recognize Taiwan as an independent state. Most of the major powers including Unites States and Japan agree with China's position that Taiwan belongs to China.
Taiwan's consensus is that the island's future should be decided by Taiwanese people, not by Mainland Chinese people. There lies the fundamental contradiction and it is difficult to find any formula to patch up this contradiction.
Before the end of this interview, let me quickly mention Japan's role. Unfortunately Japan has little room to play on this issue, because Japan's diplomatic tie with China is in a stalemate. There also occurs a row with China over natural gas filed in the East China Sea. Japan's involvement in Taiwan affairs will simply make the situation worse. What Japan can do is only to watch carefully the political situation in Taiwan and wait to see how the talks between the US and China will go on.