"Greater Chinese Union" - A Political Solution to the Impasse in the Taiwan Strait?
Linda Jakobson explores possibilities for peaceful reconciliation
Published: Tuesday, November 02, 2004
In a talk on October 18 sponsored by the UCLA Center for Chinese Studies, Finnish researcher Linda Jakobson outlined what a possible, ultimate, lasting political solution between the People's Republic of China and Taiwan might look like.
Is a Political Solution Possible?
Jakobson defined a "political solution" as "a mutually agreed upon peaceful settlement, one which would establish a framework for a non-antagonistic relationship between China and Taiwan. The de jure independence of Taiwan is not a political solution if we are looking at the timeframe of fifteen to twenty years. . . . It is unrealistic to assume any regime in Beijing would accept a full-fledged Taiwanese state with international recognition." Similarly, Jakobson noted, "reunification along the lines of Beijing's one country, two systems framework cannot be looked upon as political solution. . . . It is unrealistic to assume that the majority of Taiwanese voters would accept this reunification model with the next fifteen to twenty years."
At the moment, all three sides to the issue -- China, Taiwan, and the United States -- have repeatedly stated that they wish to maintain the status quo. In addition, "opinion polls in Taiwan indicate very clearly that the overwhelming majority of Taiwanese would like to see the status quo continue." The status quo Jakobson described as: Taiwan is an independent society, it has its own political system, its own currency, its own army, but it lacks de jure independence and it is to a large degree isolated in the international arena because of Beijing's opposition."
Nonetheless, Jakobson argued, one can foresee a possible change in the status quo -- a reconciliation of China and Taiwan -- within the next fifteen to twenty years if certain conditions, or prerequisites, are met.
Prerequisites for a Political Solution
The first prerequisite for any enduring solution, in Jakobson's view, must be a confident, broad-minded leadership. "Any lasting political solution will require that both Beijing and Taipei have leaders who are confident about their own power base. At the moment these qualities are not evident in either Beijing or Taipei. Without a flexible approach, there will be no lasting political settlement in the Taiwan Strait."
"Timing is also crucial," Jakobson noted. "Both sides have to be willing to stretch out the olive branch at the exact same time. The past decade has provided ample evidence of missed opportunities for mutually acceptable compromise."
"Democratization in China is a prerequisite for any political integration," Jakobson contended. "However, that alone is not going to solve the problem. For one, en route to becoming a more open and pluralistic society, I think China will experience very dramatic incidents, one's that will evoke repulsion in Taiwanese society (as happened with the Tiananmen incident in 1989), and so therefore witnessing the process of democratization in the mainland will not necessarily make the Taiwanese any more supportive of the idea of cementing their future with China."
In addition, "the Taiwanese political system needs to transform quite a lot before a lasting political solution is possible," Jakobson contended. "At the present, in a three-way race for the presidency, a candidate can be elected with less than 50 percent of the popular vote, as we saw in 2000. The presidential election procedures need to be changed before we can talk about a lasting settlement."
The Role of the United States
Jakobson stated that scholars and officials in both China and Taiwan have often argued that "the United States does not want to see any change in the Taiwan Strait, that the status quo is in the U.S. interest, and that a political solution is not in the interest of the United States." However, Jakobson went on to note that "several U.S. administration officials have rejected this stance. Recently a Pentagon official said: 'In today's age of modern technology, Taiwan is not strategically important.' Another official, with the Bush administration, said in private 'If Taiwan is comfortable with the mainland, what could we, the Americans, do about it? We ourselves would in all probability be comfortable with that type of China too."
"No one is predicting," Jakobson stated, "that the United States is going to turn its back to Taiwan by abandoning its commitment to Taiwan if Beijing resorts to coercion. But Taipei could become increasingly pressured to enter into a dialog with Beijing if the Chinese government is perceived by Washington as more responsible and reasonable. Of course, this is precisely what the Taiwanese today fear."
In addition, there are "analysts in the United States who say that in time American support for Taiwan will erode simply because the younger generation of American politicians . . . who are oblivious of Cold War considerations just do not have a sense that Taiwan needs to be defended."
Economic relations between China and Taiwan, Jakobson noted, "have never been better. The relationship will continue to grow and integration will continue to deepen unless there is a major crisis between the two sides. However, if we look ahead fifteen or twenty years, Taiwan's economic dependence on China is certainly one of the most critical -- if not the most critical -- factors for political integration. If Taiwan's economy deteriorates, and Beijing 's economic pressure is successful, then Taiwanese voters might conceivable be persuaded by a broad-minded leader to accept a union of sorts, provided there are guarantees that this would lead to fundamental improvement in Taiwan's economic prospects, and at the same time not compromise Taiwan's present political system. [By the same token] if Taiwan's economy continues to flourish for the next decade or two, and Taiwan retains its economic supremacy, the desire for political integration will be much weaker."
The Lure of Greater China
Aside from the economic attraction of China, "one has to take into account the growing numbers of Taiwanese -- tens of thousands -- who are now studying in Chinese universities or have become part of the art scene, sports scene, entertainment scene on the mainland. This can be expected to foster a mutual sense of belonging to the same entity."
"If in the next fifteen or twenty years China impresses the outside world by implementing genuine political reform, on par with what it has done in the past twenty years in the realm of economic reform, then China would certainly be a markedly different society. I admit," Jakobson stated, "this is a big if. But . . . one has to take into account the possible repercussions of China's transformation into a more pluralistic, tolerant, and perhaps somewhat 'civil' society."
"Economic integration took place because Taiwanese companies sought profit. But also, unquestionably this interaction was facilitated by common denominators: language, customs, geographic proximity, and so on. So perhaps one can surmise that once the differences in political systems are reduced, and the development of a separate identity in Taiwan slows down, cultural commonality could be regarded by the Taiwanese as a foundation upon which to build their future. At the present so much emphasis is put on the stark contrast between the two political systems -- with good reason -- that it sometimes obscures the fact that Taiwan's social base is identifiably Chinese. Southern Fujian today feels more like Taiwan than northern China. Temples are devoted to the same deities, people eat the same delicacies on holidays, and so on." Jakobson quoted Antonio Chiang (Jiang Chunnan), the former dissident who is now the deputy secretary general of Taiwan's National Security Council, to the effect that "'when Taiwanese speak of a separate identity, they mean we have to preserve our democracy.' So it is still, at the end of the day, a political question [which divides Taiwan from the mainland] not a question of cultural heritage."
Models for Political Integration & a Greater Chinese Union
In envisioning possible political integration between China and Taiwan, scholars and others have offered innumerable alternatives: "federation, confederation, federacy, associated statehood, union, cross-Strait common market, commonwealth, etc."
The model that Jakobson favors -- which she says uses "all the above mentioned models" -- is a Greater China Union.
Scholars at Qinghua University, Jakobson stated, have openly stated that China needs to move away from a single-party system. Aside from this, there is a need, in Jakobson's view, to find a demilitarized solution to cross Strait relations. Jakobson discussed the federacy between the Aland Islands and Finland. The Aland Islands, which are located between Finland and Sweden, are of strategic importance to Finland, Sweden, and Russia. But the islands have been demilitarized by international treaty. Furthermore, the residents of Aland, "have a very strong local, separate identity. . . Aland has its own parliament, its own tax laws, its own flag, its own postage stamps, etc."
"The international community, especially the US and EU, has a role to play in promoting a long-term solution. Besides remaining firm in their opposition to the use of force by Beijing and the pursuit of full-fledged recognition of independence by Taipei, Western leaders should impress upon their Chinese counterparts that the 'one country, two systems' formula needs to be replaced. Beijing has to be encouraged, nudged, even pressured.
"A good starting point could be deriving inspiration from imperial China's philosophy of governance in the vast and diverse Ming and Qing empires: Orthopraxy (correct practice) was traditionally more important than orthodoxy (correct belief) -- form before substance. A recent report by the International Crisis Group," for which Jakobson was a lead author, "suggests as a model the loosest of loose unions, with all the ceremonial trappings necessary to facilitate the image of a unified China. For instance, the union would have its own anthem and flag. Ritualistic meetings of a supreme council, formally in charge of the union, could be held annually on historic anniversaries.
"China and Taiwan would be equally represented in the supreme council, with each entity being responsible for the jurisdiction and governance of its own territory -- just as they are today. China would remain the sole occupier of the 'Greater Chinese Union's' seat in the United Nations' General Assembly and Security Council, but Taiwanese delegations, under the heading 'Taiwan, Greater Chinese Union,' could work within UN sub-organizations like WHO, UNESCO, etc."
In this way, Jakobson argued, "Taiwan would give Beijing 'face' in its quest for unity by belonging to a 'Greater Chinese Union.' In return, Beijing would acknowledge Taiwan's need to safeguard its political system and enjoy more international space. 'One China' has to be defined in the most abstract of terms, along the lines that China's Qian Qichen touched upon in July 2000: In the world there is one China, and both mainland China and Taiwan are part of China. In Chinese, the character used for 'China' (hua) can also refer to Chinese civilization or culture, not necessarily the Chinese nation."
"International safeguards will be a Taiwanese condition to a union of any sort. Beijing, after all, very much depends on the international community to uphold the status quo, despite its claim that the Taiwan question is an internal affair. Why should Taipei not insist on outsiders' involvement in its future? On this point too, Beijing officials privately acknowledge the need for modification of China's stance."
However, Beijing also must convince ordinary Taiwanese of its sincerity when it claims to respect Taiwanese society. "At present," Jakobson stated, "Beijing's Taiwan policy relies on pressure from the United States against perceived moves toward de jure independence and on the lure of economic prosperity. Beijing is convinced that the more dependent Taiwan becomes economically on the mainland the more willing the Taiwanese will be to accept unification. Already today, Taiwanese investments in China exceed $100 billion, and a million Taiwanese live on the mainland. But economics alone will not woo the Taiwanese over to China's side.
"China needs to be more inclusive, not exclusive, in its Taiwan policies. Beijing's attempts to isolate Taiwan internationally understandably infuriate Taiwanese. Wherever Taiwanese venture in the world . . . Chinese officials try to ostracize them, lecturing outsiders on the 'one China' principle. Taiwanese belong to a well-educated, democratic society; there is no reason for other countries - fearful that access to the Chinese market will be denied - to permit Taiwanese to be treated as pariah.
"Embarking on a diplomatic charm offensive, as Chinese leaders successfully did in Southeast Asia last year, would be an impressive beginning to a fresh unification drive by Beijing. Allowing the Taiwanese to indulge in the euphoria of the 2008 Summer Olympics by granting them the baseball event could foster a feeling of Chinese-ness among Taiwanese, something Beijing so intently hopes for. Inviting along a Taiwanese taikonaut [astronaut] on a Chinese space mission would be another ideal sphere of bonding.
Finally, if Beijing were to acknowledge the Taiwanese voters' choice of Chen Shui-bian as president with a series of goodwill gestures toward Taiwan and, above all, if it were to offer a new unification formula, "China's leaders could slow down the growing trend of animosity toward Beijing among Taiwanese and start a genuine process of political integration. It will be a long road."
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Linda Jakobson, the daughter of a Finnish diplomat, grew up in New York. She is now a senior researcher, based in Beijing, with the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. She spent close to ten years (1987-97) in China, as a student of Chinese language, an English teacher, a researcher, and lastly as a correspondent for Suomen Kuvalehti (1992-1997), Finland's leading weekly news magazine. She is the author of several books about China. The Finnish edition of A Million Truths. A Decade in China (New York: M. Evans, 1998) won the Finnish National Publication Award (1998). Her latest book, co-authored with Marja Sarvimäki, depicts East Asian middle class societies in Beijing, Taipei, Seoul, and Tokyo (Helsinki: WSOY, 2002). Jakobson co-authored the Taiwan Strait IV report on cross-Strait relations for the International Crisis Group.