ad info


Asiaweek TIMEASIA.com CNN.com
 > magazine
 home
 intelligence
 web features
 magazine archive
 technology
 newsmap
 customer service
 subscribe
 TIMEASIA.COM
 CNN.COM
  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia
  australasia
 BUSINESS
 SPORTS
 SHOWBIZ
 ASIA WEATHER
 ASIA TRAVEL

Other News
TIME.com
TIME Europe
FORTUNE.com
FORTUNE China
MONEY.com
Asiaweek Services
Contact Asiaweek
About Asiaweek
Media Kit
Get up to 3 months of Asiaweek free when you subscribe online!


APRIL 14, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 14 | SEARCH ASIAWEEK


Asiaweek Pictures
Allen C. Choate is director of program development for The Asia Foundation in Hong Kong

VIEWPOINT
In China's Interest
A democratic Taiwan could be a flexible negotiator By ALLEN C. CHOATE

The conventional wisdom on the cross-strait issue is that the outcome of Taiwan's presidential election - and the dramatic manifestations of greater democracy - make a resolution of the problem even more difficult. In fact, the opposite may be true. Beijing could well find that a more democratic Taiwan is a more imaginative and flexible negotiating partner.

Virtually all competitive democratic political parties are essentially centrist and tend toward consensus-building in order to get the votes they need. In the Taiwan election campaign all three major candidates edged toward the moderate center and away from Lee Teng-hui's "two states" position. The election results revealed a strong, widespread consensus not for independence or greater distance from the mainland, but for the "status quo plus." That is, the majority of voters seem prepared to accept some mutually face-saving, to-be-defined concept of "one China," with secure arrangements for autonomy and formal international status.

Voting analyses and surveys done before and after the election confirm that the very large majority of the public on the island do not yearn for independence. They would like the cross-strait problem to simply go away, and are willing to entertain new ideas about how that might happen.

President-elect Chen Shui-bian has demonstrated his awareness of this broad public opinion by holding out a number of olive branches to the mainland. They include his intent to open direct trade and transport links across the Taiwan Strait, his willingness to "discuss" - on the mainland - "one China," his invitation to Wang Daohan, the mainland's elder statesman on Taiwan affairs, to attend his May inauguration, and repeated statements that he does not intend to declare independence, call for a referendum on it, or change the name of the Republic of China.

Of course, all of these initiatives still are not sufficient for Beijing, which has a consistent and adamant bottom line of Taiwan's accepting the "one China" principle before starting talks on their future association. Make no mistake: the post-election mood in Beijing is even more determined on this acceptance. For now, though, Beijing has wisely chosen to take a quite muted and watchful attitude, awaiting actions and comments by Taipei during the next two months.

Fortunately, democratic politics normally are characterized by pragmatism and compromise, not ideology. Thus Chen, fully recognizing the prevailing public opinion, and also aware that he is a minority president who is regarded skeptically by many, has spent the last two weeks trying to prove his flexibility on relations with the mainland. His appointment of a respected mainlander and Kuomintang loyalist as premier, his plan to form an all-party council on mainland relations policy, his resignation from leadership posts in the Democratic Progressive Party, and the promise of the DPP not to interfere or attempt to influence government all demonstrate that pragmatism and recognition of political reality.

Since the election, all the major parties have expressed their intent to focus primarily and heavily on party and government reform. In fact, the mandate of the electorate is an overwhelming one for honest government and reform in public affairs, and it is this mandate that Chen is both expected to carry out and wishes to execute. The KMT has begun its own internal reform and democratizing process, and the popular James Soong has started building a new political party, again on appeals to reform. During this coming period of reform and democratic restructuring, Taiwan's various political leaders would prefer not to be distracted from these domestic tasks by offshore anxieties. The preoccupation with domestic reform, increased democracy and partisan realignment will continue for some time.

The emergent features of Taiwan politics will offer a more receptive audience for new suggestions by Beijing about how to approach a mutually palatable "one China" agreement. Today's "New Taiwanese" (a term that resonates among the population and ironically was first coined by President Lee) is above all a believer in democracy and civil rights. The Chinese government's future messages will need to take cognizance of that to be effective.

Any recent visitor to Beijing comes away convinced that it is grimly serious about the option of war to prevent any move toward Taiwan independence. There also appears to be an unsettling lack of available knowledge about the island's domestic politics, which is exacerbated by the withholding of news about Chen's efforts to reach out to the mainland. But there also is a new and genuine curiosity about what is happening on the island. That studious attention and apparent willingness to reserve judgment for at least a couple of months should provide the time for Beijing to see that the independence threat has receded. When it does, Beijing can begin to suggest ways to reassure Taiwan on the preservation of its political system and values.

But that is the long game. The short game must be a pragmatic and low-key search for a mutually acceptable "one China" formula. The democratic dynamics of the new Taiwan can be of help in that search.

Write to Asiaweek at mail@web.asiaweek.com

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek.com home

AsiaNow


Quick Scroll: More stories from Asiaweek, TIME and CNN

   LATEST HEADLINES:

WASHINGTON
U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

MANILA
Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

ALLAHABAD
Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

COLOMBO
Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

TOKYO
Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

BANGKOK
Thai party announces first coalition partner



TIME:

COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state



ASIAWEEK:

COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness


Launch CNN's Desktop Ticker and get the latest news, delivered right on your desktop!

Today on CNN
 Search
  ASIAWEEK'S LATEST
Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

  MAGAZINE

THE NATIONS
SOUTH KOREA: Evaluating Kim
South Korea's upcoming polls are a verdict on the president's policies. Plus -- How Kim lost a key segment of his support

SPECIAL REPORT
The Legacy of War
Vietnam and Cambodia are still struggling with peace -- 25 years after the end of hostilities
•  On The Road Back: Still roiled by deep economic and social problems, Cambodia seeks a brighter future through ASEAN
•  Stops And Starts: A journey through Vietnam finds that as pumped as its babyboomers are, change is a fitful process

BUSINESS
Tycoon With a Triad Past
Taiwan billionaire Sheen Ching-jing still uses the street-smarts he developed as a youthful gangster

The Hatching of an Incubator
A well-connected but small outfit goes public

TECHNOLOGY
All Aboard for the New-Economy Express
Has Brierley missed the train?

Now Showing on the Monitor
Move over celluloid. Directors are going digital

 more stories


Back to the top   © 2000 Asiaweek. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.