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Taking advantage of the status quo
Paul Lin

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China has recently raised doubts about US policy on Taiwan-China relations and has been issuing a series of bellicose statements to this end. In a seminar held on Nov. 18, the vice minister of the Taiwan Affairs Office, Wang Zaixi, reiterated that if the "one China" principle is violated, it would not rule out the possibility of military force.

Using tougher language, a director of research at China's Academy of Military Sciences, Luo Yuan, said that if Taiwan amends its Constitution so that its territory only covers Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu, then that would be the constitution of an independent Taiwan, which would cross China's line in the sand and invite war.

The interesting thing is that former president Lee Teng-hui's "special state-to-state relations" model and President Chen Shui-bian's "one country on each side [of the Taiwan Strait]" platform both deny "one China," yet China has not used military force.

Prior to Taiwan's presidential election in 2000, then-Chinese premier Zhu Rongji and Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission Zhang Wannian warned that electing a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) president would mean war, but that war did not eventuate.

Beijing's new bottom line is that Taiwan cannot change the territory stipulated in its Constitution, which China has refused to recognize anyway. Such are Beijing's infantile games.

Does this mean that China considers itself and the Republic of Mongolia to be under the jurisdiction of Taiwan's Constitution? If so, then it's China that has to do some constitutional amending.

Regardless, the US takes the games of infants very seriously and wants to prevent China playing with fire. US State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli has said that using force to resolve cross-strait differences is "unacceptable." He has also said that the US opposes any attempt by either side to unilaterally change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

Replying to a journalist's questions, the US Deputy Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, Randall Shriver, repeated a statement by National Security Council Advisor Condoleezza Rice recently. At a press conference on Oct. 15, Rice had said: "It is our very strong belief that nobody should try unilaterally to change the status quo."

So what is the status quo across the Taiwan Strait? Rice said differences across the strait must be resolved peacefully. Shriver also said that the cross-strait status quo is one in which differences of opinion should be dealt with by peaceful means. The role of US policy would be to create an environment for peaceful dialogue.

In short, they emphasized the "differences" first and only then mentioned peaceful solutions to the differences.

The so-called differences exist between China's "one China" principle and Taiwan's "one country on each side" platform. They apparently result from the fact that Taiwan exists as an independent country. If Taiwan is unwillingly and forcibly annexed by China, that would mean that the status quo had been changed.

The status quo does not include changes to the two sides' domestic political situations. For instance, China can amend its Constitution or even create a new one; Taiwan certainly can, too. Taiwan can strengthen democracy through use of referendums; China certainly can, too. It is unlikely the US would voice opposition if China pushed for democratic reform. All these are the domestic affairs of two independent, sovereign states.

In a recent interview with the Voice of America network, American Institute in Taiwan Chairwoman Therese Shaheen said that in regard to cross-strait problems, the US cares about the process, not the outcome. She said the outcome would be decided by the two sides, but the process must be peaceful.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage emphasized later that a peaceful resolution of the conflict is the premise on which the US bases its cross-strait policy.

He added that all those responsible for maintaining peace in the region should not pour oil on the fire. It is clear that "peace" is the keynote of the US' cross-strait policy. The statements of Armitage and Shaheen are consistent with one another.

Taiwan has never intended to launch war to change the status quo. All domestic reform has been conducted peacefully. The current government has never used violent means to punish the opposition. The "five noes" policy President Chen unveiled at his inauguration is based on the premise that China will also make an effort to maintain peaceful relations.

But if Beijing aims at changing the status quo by repeatedly threatening Taiwan with the use of military force, wantonly interfering in Taiwan's domestic politics and opposing Taiwan's push for political reforms to eliminate instability and strengthen democracy, then Taiwan would be forced to adopt counteractive measures -- peacefully, of course.

As a leader of world democracy, the US would support Taiwan's embrace of peace and democracy and stop China from imposing its totalitarian system on Taiwan through war. But in return, Taiwan must strengthen its communications with the US, and at the same time understand the difficulties facing the US. This would help reinforce Taiwan's friendship with the US and promote stability and peace across the Taiwan Strait.

Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.

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