The whole island was mobilized last month when Taiwan held the "referendum" and "presidential election". The result of the "referendum" was a relief but that of the election is worrying.
What Chen Shui-bian will do in the next four years can be gauged from what he did in the past. He is good at putting on a show and misleading the public; and will probably not resign himself to the failure of the "referendum". We must be on guard against any new tricks that he may come up with.
As for the election result, Chen's victory by a razor-thin margin will create hurdles in the realization of the so-called "three links" in the short term and the peaceful reunification in the long term.
This is a reality we have to face. But it has both advantages and disadvantages; and to be specific, the advantages may outweigh the disadvantages.
The failure of the "referendum" testifies to two crucial trends.
First, "Taiwan independence" is by no means mainstream. Most Taiwan people favour "reconciliation" with the mainland, or at least "maintaining the status quo". Second, in the new international environment, advocates of "Taiwan independence" may have reached a historic "peak" in their movement.
Let's assume that the "referendum" passed but Chen lost -- then cross-Straits relation would still have been fraught with perils. In my opinion, the fiasco of the "referendum" is more significant than the "election" result.
Given this reality, we should remain cool-headed and think from a long-term perspective.
Why do Chinese people think the solution to the Taiwan issue is so important? Besides the fundamental issue of sovereignty and territorial integrity, there is the strategic significance of Taiwan. The fact is, if it were not for Taiwan, other countries might have long controlled the sea transportation routes of China.
The reunification of the two sides of the Taiwan Straits is something that the Chinese Government and the Chinese people have long yearned for. Without the interference of a third country, it would have been solved long ago.
The reunification cause is currently at an impasse. Times are changing, but the fact that China has sovereignty over Taiwan has never changed. The claim over Taiwan is supported by both international and domestic law. If we move correctly, the "pro-independence" forces will encounter great legal obstacles.
Currently there are 165 countries that have established formal diplomatic relations with China. They all recognize there is only one China in the world and Taiwan is an inalienable part of the People's Republic of China.
But there are three dilemmas.
The first is the contradiction of viewing the Taiwan issue as an internal problem and resorting to international forces in curbing "Taiwan independence".
From the legal point of view, Taiwan is China's internal issue. However, "Taiwan independence" forces have cultivated the help of foreign countries. Therefore we have to deal with other countries to solve the problem.
It is undeniable that the "referendum" failed, to some extent, as a result of international pressure. Some countries are clear that, once "Taiwan independence" becomes true, China would be forced to take drastic measures, which would damage peace and stability in the Far East.
China's use of international forces in containing "Taiwan independence" is a highly sensitive political strategy, which tallies with the interests of many countries. But do not expect China to make it an international issue. China will never put the Taiwan issue on the negotiating table with other countries or let others handle it directly.
The second dilemma is the choice of peaceful unification versus the use of force. Beijing reiterates that "Chinese do not fight Chinese", and "we will seek peaceful unification as long as there is a ray of hope".
But it has never promised to forsake the use of force, which would provide room for "pro-independence" forces to manoeuvre.
"Taiwan independence" advocates should understand that the People's Republic of China was founded with the sacrifice of countless lives. Why should it fear another round of sacrifices when its territory and sovereignty are at stake? So they should not play with fire and push the Chinese Government too hard with provocative acts.
The use of force is not something Beijing is keen on because it would hurt China's economic growth and disrupt international peace. It will only resort to it as the last means to stop separatism.
The third dilemma is the focus on economic growth and forced participation in arms race.
"Taiwan independence" advocates are using Taiwan people's tax money to buy weapons and military technology, forcing the mainland to raise its military expenditure and throwing cross-Straits relations into a vicious circle.
The dilemmas have made reunification a thorny issue. But we have confidence that it will be solved; and as long as we remain patient and bear in mind the common interests of people on both sides of the Straits, we will overcome the dilemmas.
For peaceful reunification, time is on the side of the mainland and its 1.3 billion people. The mainland can wait. It does not have a timetable.
It should be pointed out that today's China is not the one in the 1950s or 60s, and today's international power equations are different from the old days. It is not just China's, but also the world's aspiration that peace and stability be maintained in the Asia-Pacific region.
As long as "Taiwan independence" advocates do not cross the "bottom line" set by international law, the mainland will not give up the hope for peaceful reunification by making every effort to win over Taiwan people. We are fully aware that, without the sustained economic growth and the deepening of reform, it will be just empty talk to achieve national reunification. The key is to make our country stronger. This is a lesson we have learned since the Opium War in 1840 when China was bullied and oppressed by foreign powers.
As long as the mainland keeps its growth momentum, it can use the internationally-accepted "bottom line" to check "Taiwan independence" and keep itself in a winning situation.
(China Daily April 4, 2004)