Taiwan "president" Chen Shui-bian has taken a more risky step toward independence by attempting to use referendums to write a new constitution for the island.
Stimulated by the forthcoming "presidential" campaign and his deep-rooted pro-independence essence, Chen openly claims the election will be a choice between his "one country on each side" theory and the one-China principle advocated by his political competitors.
With less than four months away from the election, Chen's daring move toward "Taiwan independence" is obviously a challenge not only to all Chinese people but also to the United States, Taiwan's staunchest backer.
It is worth considering why Taiwan separatist forces have stepped up efforts to promote independence in the face of numerous obstacles.
Chen's recent irresponsible and risky actions were stimulated by "election tactics."
Since 1949, the mainland has expressed a consistent position that it pins the hope of reuniting itself with Taiwan upon the island's people and expects to reunify the motherland by relying on the strength of the Chinese people.
The recent political situation in Taiwan has shown that all political parties on the island compete with each other by putting forward irresponsible platforms. To gain more votes, they have not hesitated to write blank cheques to Taiwan voters.
In this way, they are going to take the Taiwan people down the wrong road.
The Taiwan people have turned out to be the cards the politicians are playing with.
According to Chen's unveiled independence timetable, he would complete referendum legislation by 2003, carry one out in 2004, create a new constitution by 2006 and bring this new constitution into force by 2008.
Fearing they would lag behind in the votes race, Chen's political adversaries, the Kuomintang (KMT) and the People First Party (PFP), have also joined the rank.
The two parties said they would revise the constitution, including the referendum clauses, by November of this year. They then pledged to conduct a referendum and put a new constitution in effect through referendum by 2005.
Moreover, the KMT also claimed it is not opposed to Taiwan independence through referendum and to changing the name of the "nation."
As the main political parties in Taiwan, Chen's pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the KMT and the PFP are seemingly engaged in a race to accelerate the pace of independence.
The reason why the DPP, the KMT and the PFP -- the latter two of which once favoured the one-China principle -- expect to attract votes by peddling an independence proposal is that they have labelled the independence proposal with "democracy" and "freedom." These are two topics that the Taiwan people are concerned about.
Besides, these political parties well know that what they have promised is only a blank check. They are well aware of the cost of independence.
By pushing for an independence-oriented referendum, Chen has mortgaged the life and property of the Taiwan people. He is also taking advantage of the mainland's patience and desire for peace.
It is the mainland's long-held stance that it pursues a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question while reserving the right of using force against Taiwan separatists forces and foreign intervention.
Since the 1990s, the mainland has asserted many times that independence only means war.
However, the mainland's solemn warnings have failed to reach independence diehards.
In fact, Chen's latest independence moves are aimed at testing the mainland's policy bottom-line.
Last August, the pro-independence "president" put forward "one country on each side."
Recently, he made another move to push for a referendum and a new constitution, aimed at separating Taiwan from its motherland and creating an independent state.
The use of force is a last resort for the mainland to maintain the country's sovereignty and integrity. But the mainland is also concerned the use of force will possibly cause huge damage to the interests of the large number of Taiwan people. This also explains why the mainland has been extremely cautious about the solution of the Taiwan question.
Obviously, Chen has taken advantage of the mainland's concern again and again to sound out on the issue.
Meanwhile, the United States' ambiguous attitude has also contributed a lot to the rampant and daring attitude of Taiwan separatist forces.
Truly, the Bush administration has made some efforts against Taiwan independence. It has also warned Chen against causing trouble many times.
But the administration has also sent the wrong message to Taiwan independence forces.
On the one hand, the Bush administration claimed the United States would adhere to the three Sino-US Joint Communiques and not support Taiwan independence. On the other, it also stressed the United States would keep its commitments in the Taiwan Relations Act, and even sees the bill as the main pillar of the US policy toward Taiwan.
The administration has also given a nod to large-scale US arms sales to Taiwan and provided opportunities for Taiwan leaders to make stopovers which were utilized as platforms to disseminate Taiwan independence pamphlets.
In April 2001, US President George W. Bush claimed the United States would do "whatever it took to defend" Taiwan.
Supports from some US pro-Taiwan hawkish forces have also fuelled Taiwan authorities' independence programme.
The author is a researcher with the Institute of International Contemporary Relations.
(China Daily December 13, 2003)