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Passive US Strategy Could Be Upgraded
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Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian's recent termination of the "national unification council" and doing away with its guidelines left relevant US government departments, Congress and think tanks disgusted and disappointed.

They are now also more vigilant against Chen's "rushed independence" attempts than before.

Against this backdrop, the United States welcomed Kuomintang (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou with uncharacteristic pomp, which showed more of Washington's dislike for Chen than its fondness for Ma.

While in the United States, Ma managed to dispel Washington's suspicion about his intention by clearly stating KMT's adherence to the one-China principle and the "1992 consensus," as well as demanding that the Chinese mainland embrace "democracy" as soon as possible.

Following these developments, a cross-Straits economic and trade forum was held in Beijing, and Party General Secretary Hu Jintao met with Ma's predecessor Lien Chan.

The series of high-level interactions indicates that the Chinese mainland, the United States and the pan-blue camp (who represent majority will in Taiwan) have reached a tacit agreement to oppose attempts for Taiwan's "constitutional independence."

As conventional wisdom goes, Chen should know very well he does not stand a chance of succeeding against such powerful opponents. But why is he still headed in the direction of "Taiwan independence" against better judgment?

By playing the termination of unification council and guidelines card, to be followed by that of "constitutional reform," Chen is acting like a gambler desperately hoping to win his last bet.

The bid is to draw media and international attention and solidify his "deep green" voter base for regaining the center spot in local politics. But after two weeks of pondering, there should be no doubt he has some hidden agenda to accomplish with that calculated move.

Chen has found and is trying to take advantage of the rifts in the co-operative bond between the Chinese mainland, the United States and the pan-blue camp in Taiwan.

First, let's take a look at the basic standings of the three parties. The United States has always followed the principle of "hedging." Its dislike for Chen does not necessarily extend to his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and even if Washington is happy to see KMT back in driver's seat in 2008, it will continue to support DPP as an effective counterbalance to KMT and even the Chinese mainland.

This means that the United States is not embracing KMT with open arms. Neither is it siding with the Chinese mainland wholeheartedly. Its demand for the Chinese mainland to adopt "democracy" is proof enough.

From the standpoint of opposing "Taiwan independence," KMT is doing it only as a strategic move, and sometimes has been pressured to cut DPP some slack.

On his part, Chen is bound, in his constitutional reform drive over the next few years, to use such claims as "Taiwan is not part of the People's Republic of China" and "the Republic of China's sovereignty covers only the islands of Taiwan, Penghu, Jinmen and Mazu, its population is 23 million and its territory is 36,000 square kilometers," which KMT cannot but agree with tacitly.

That will help widen the rift between KMT and Communist Party of China (CPC) over their joint opposition against "Taiwan independence."

The termination of the "national unification council" and guidelines is an experiment or test balloon by Chen to find out where and how big the "rifts" are. This attempt did not fail entirely, as shown in the not-so-enthusiastic public response to Ma's "ultimate reunification" goal for Taiwan and later an advertisement acknowledging, "Taiwan independence is the choice of some Taiwan residents" under deep-green pressure.

It also succeeded to a certain degree in learning where the United States draws the line on this issue. The world now knows Washington is prepared to go easy on Chen if necessary.

At his televised meeting with Ma, Chen announced a set of new "four don'ts and one have not" to replace the old one. By this, he let the world know he has no intention of honoring the "seven-point promise" he made to the US administration earlier. In other words, even the pressure the United States exerts on Chen cannot slow him down in his rush to "constitutional independence," let alone forcing him to abandon it.

It should be pointed out that US opposition against "Taiwan independence" is not without a measure of sincerity, which the Chinese side acknowledges and is willing to trust for the moment. However, the present China-US co-operation in opposing "Taiwan independence" is just a tacit agreement. China's opposition to "Taiwan independence" is part of its national strategy, while the United States treats it only as a stop-gap measure taken in a passive, crisis-management and controlling manner.

This kind of passive crisis management and control means that, when the Taiwan authorities initiate a provocative move, the United States will respond in a manner it deems appropriate to the seriousness of the Chinese mainland's response.

This kind of passive crisis management and control is usually applied when an emergency has happened, while the Taiwan side has adopted the tactic of "two steps forward, one step back" to achieve its goal.

And it has succeeded so far because the US side always responds by first opposing the two steps forward and then accepting the substantial one step forward after the Taiwan side takes one step back.

This practice, in effect, encourages "Taiwan independence" forces to slowly encroach on the bottom line of the Chinese mainland.

Since the United States has qualified China as a "stakeholder" and asked China to be a "responsible member of the international community," it should also honor the promise it has made to China that it does not support "Taiwan independence."

With this kind of passive crisis-management and control mechanism, the United States only uses it when a major step is or will be taken towards "Taiwan independence," while paying little attention to the independence philosophy and sending the wrong signal to "Taiwan independence" advocates by offering sympathy and support to some extend.

The United States has drawn the line for military intervention by "unilaterally changing the status quo in the Taiwan Straits," meaning it will not initiate a military confrontation with the Chinese mainland as long as the other side does not "change the status quo" by use of force.

But the reality is the Chinese mainland is currently fighting against "Taiwan independence" instead of pushing for reunification, whereas the Taiwan authorities have gone all out to change the status quo by attempting speedy independence.

So far, the United States has not officially stated or explicitly declared it would not help Taiwan defend itself if the "Taiwan independence" camp unilaterally changes the status quo.

What is more detrimental to the improvement of Sino-US relations is the fact that the United States is intensifying military co-operation with Taiwan, which not only encourages "Taiwan independence" efforts, but also leaves the impression that its "opposition to unilaterally changing the status quo" is only applicable to the Chinese mainland.

There is the need for the United States to upgrade its strategy related to "Taiwan independence" from the current passive crisis-management and control method to strategic prevention and blocking. This means the United States should oppose not only "Taiwan independence" as the "ultimate conclusion," but also any attempt to push Taiwan towards "independence."

The author is a professor with Renmin University of China.

(China Daily May 12, 2006)


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