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Taiwan : One More Step Towards Independence?; By D.S Rajan

Updated: Dec 27, 2022


Image Courtesy: BBC News


As appeared in www.saag.org


Taiwan independence movement is quite old and yet it is experiencing a new push since Chen Shuibian assumed Presidency in 2000. Bold initiatives with gaining ‘independence option’ as a goal are being witnessed. A national referendum was held in March 2004 allowing the Taiwanese to choose their options. The Constitutional reforms received a kick-start the next year with the abolition of National assembly. Heavy emphasis is now being given on the necessity to adopt a new Taiwan Constitution through the Parliament and Referendum mechanisms.


Considering the trend, Chen’s announcement ( Taipei , February 27,2006) that the “ National Unification Council (NUC) would cease to function” and the “ National Unification Guidelines (NUG) would cease to apply”, has not come as a surprise.


On a closer scrutiny, the scrapping of the two entities marked a U-turn by Chen who, under his famous ” Four Nos” pledge given at the time of inauguration as President, had indeed guaranteed their continuation. A reality check gives the real meaning of the decision- Taiwan from now on would look beyond unification option. The leader’s recent views ( Washington Times, March 13,2006) that Taiwan “ should not exclude neither independence as one of the options nor unification as a possible choice” are a clear pointer to what could be in store for Taiwan if his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) manages to continue in power.


Why is Chen Shibian is queering the pitch for independence option on Taiwan ? The reasons are obvious.


Firstly, the political and military pressure of the mainland on Taiwan has grown enormously now.. The former’s adoption of Anti-Secession Law in March 2005, allowing use of force for reunification and augmentation of missiles deployment along the coast, have made Taiwan realise how vulnerable it has become on this account. The uncertainty over getting continued help from the US which is militarily preoccupied in other parts of the world, also adds to Taipei ‘s fears. As a hint that his patience with respect to the mainland is running out, Chen has himself listed Beijing ’s own terms for negotiations like refusal to talk to Taiwan at Government levels and its efforts to isolate Taiwan diplomatically as other negative factors.


A second reason appears equally valid. Chen’s measures could also be out of domestic compulsions, coming at a time when his own popularity level has been plummeting and the ruling DPP performing badly in local elections. Chen, whose term ends in 2008, may feel that a tough stand against China will help in improving his image as a strong leader among the people and brighten the future electoral prospects of himself and the DPP.


China has reacted with utmost restraint to Chen’s declarations. Its views have of course been strong, but not provocative. For instance, top leaders, officials and media have carefully avoided use of references to ‘ use of force’ as a solution to the Taiwan crisis.


Statements from Premier Wen Jiabao (March 14,2006) as well as the warnings contained in documents like the Joint Statement of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the PRC State Council and the Taiwan Work Office of the Chinese Communist Party (February 28,2006) made no mention about settling the Taiwan issue through force. The farthest that the mainland went in this regard can be discerned in what Wen said at the end of the National People’s Congress (NPC) session. Describing Chen’s move as “highly risky and dangerous’, he disclosed (March 14,2006) that ‘ China is monitoring the developments and making preparations for any eventualities’. China’s muted response this time stands in contrast to the approaches seen in the past, for e.g. Jiang Zemin’s 8-point proposal (January 1995) and the PRC’s anti-Secession Law (March 2005) which did not rule out ‘use of force’ as an option. Also, unlike in the past, no big coastal military exercise was held to intimidate Taiwan , contrary to media speculations on military movements in Military Regions like Shenyang.


Beijing’s caution appears understandable as China wants to make the impending visit to US of the PRC President Hu Jintao in April 2006 a success and realizes that any overreaction could spoil the pre-visit atmosphere.


What is important to understand is that an uncertain situation is developing across the Taiwan straits. A war is unlikely in near future in the face of continuing pressures from world powers on both Beijing and Taipei to maintain status quo in the interest of peace, but the tensions in Mainland- Taiwan relations are not going to disappear soon. Chen’s move in Taiwan towards independence like framing new constitution and Beijing ’s pursuit of drive to create a wedge between the Chen Shuibian and his opponents like those from the KMT, especially by actively wooing the latter would actively prevent further escalation. Also, a breakthrough in talks between the two sides is also unlikely in the near future, with each side insisting on its own conditions (Beijing wants ‘ One-China’ principle as the basis for negotiations with all Taiwanese groups ‘including the ruling DPP’; Taipei instead harps on talks at Government levels ).


(The writer, Mr. D.S.Rajan, was a Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation Chennai Chapter, India . He was formerly Director, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi . email: dsrajan.orf@gmail.com)

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