Washington’s Status Quo Approximates Beijing’s One Country, Two Systems
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 20, 2016
Executive Summary: The East Asian and global strategic situation is changing. Relations between Washington, Beijing, and Taipei are sure to become more turbulent. Taiwan has no say in the changes that may be coming. The only thing it can do is clarify its position, drop anchor, and avoid being tossed by the waves. Taiwan must grasp two principles. Principle One. It must continue to issue goodwill gestures toward the Mainland, and improve public understanding. Two. Its diplomacy must be independent. It must not opportunistically cozy up to the United States and Japan. The status quo closely approximates one China, two systems. Therefore it must not lightly depart from the status quo.
Full Text Below:
During a year end White House press conference, President Barack Obama talked about relations between Washington, Beijing, and Taipei. He said Washington’s one China policy has maintained the status quo among Washington, Beijing, and Taipei. Obama stressed that Washington’s one China policy ensured stability in the Taiwan Strait. He hoped to dispel Donald Trump’s doubts about the One China Policy. But Obama also blurted out the “unmentionable secret” in the three-way relationship among Washington, Beijing, and Taipei.
According to Obama, Washington’s one China policy acknowledges that both sides of the Taiwan Strait insist that there is only one China, and as long as people on Taiwan enjoy a certain degree of autonomy, they will not declare independence. Since Washington and Taipei broke off diplomatic ties, Washington has been using the one China policy to control cross-Strait relations. It has urged Beijing to resolve the Taiwan issue peacefully. It has also urged Taipei not to go down the road toward Taiwan independence.
Taiwan independence elements are indignant. They think Obama disrespected public opinion on Taiwan. But their criticisms selectively ignore Taiwan’s political realities. During the presidential election, candidates from both parties either sent representatives to Washington to explain their cross-Strait policy stance, or went there in person. Had Washington concluded that their stance was contrary to US policy, it would have objected publicly. This could have impacted the election.
Tsai Ing-wen’s defeat in 2012 was a clear example. During the 2016 election, Washington vetted Tsai Ing-wen. That was a clear example of the opposite result. In fact, if a sitting ROC president defies US policy, the US will also “manage” him or her, the way it did when Chen Shui-bian was president. In other words, no political party on Taiwan, advocating any sort of policy, can refuse to “maintain the status quo” in cross-Strait relations. The US government is committed to safeguarding the principle that “Both sides of the Strait are Chinese, both sides of the Strait are one country”. It is also committed to the premise that “The two sides each have their own model of government. Taiwan has its own mode of development”.
Specifically, the US presents two-way guarantees and norms for the two sides of the Strait. For the Mainland, the US acknowledges that both sides of the Strait are part of one country. Washington may not be involved in resolving the Taiwan issue. But it clearly makes every effort to ensure that Taiwan does not move toward independence. The United States is committed to maintaining the status quo on Taiwan, without interference from the Mainland, and to ensuring that Taiwan enjoyes a high degree of autonomy.
To some extent, the One China Policy maintained by the US over the past 40 years amounts to “one country, two systems”. That “both sides of the Taiwan Strait insist that there is only one China” implies “one China”, and “autonomy for Taiwan” implies “two systems”. The real dispute is merely over who represents China? The Mainland has never repudiated one country, two systems. Deng Xiaoping said that under one country, two systems, Taiwan could retain its military. Some worry that one country, two systems would reduce Taiwan to the status of Hong Kong. But Xi Jinping has said that Taiwan’s one country, two systems would differ from Hong Kong and Macao’s. In other words, what sort of entity would Taiwan be? The Mainland has not actually delineated this.
For the Mainland, when it comes to Hong Kong, Macao, or Taiwan, the key issue is sovereignty and national unity. As long these remain under the one China framework, internal differences will be respected. That is the core meaning of one country, two systems. Unfortunately, it has become Politically Incorrect on Taiwan, rendering rational evaluation and debate impossible.
Throw off the shackles of “us vs. them” thinking, and one country, two systems will not be as intolerable as people on Taiwan have imagined. One country, two systems has run into problems in Hong Kong. But it has been in effect nearly 20 years, and maintained freedom and prosperity for Hong Kong society. This shows that the system is sound. Furthermore, the Republic of China exercises sovereignty over the Taiwan Region and its nationals. Any arrangement or change involving sovereignty would require the consent of the entire population. This is entirely different from the transfer of sovereignty from Britain to the Mainland in 1997. Taipei must consider the pros and cons of one country, two systems objectively. It must establish the most favorable conditions under such a system, rather than rejecting it out of hand.
The key is the DPP government and whether it is willing to reach a consensus with the Mainland on the one China principle. According to Obama, cross-Strait relations and the Washington Taipei relationship are based on the one China framework. If the DPP government insists on rejecting the one China framework, it will lose any footing it might have had in cross-Strait relations. More troublesome still, cross-Strait relations are now riddled with uncertainty. President elect Trump has indicated his willingness to make a deal with the Mainland over the one China policy. The Mainland has two choices. One choice is to make a deal with the US. The US would abandon its one China policy. Taiwan would be forced to accept “reunification without dignity”. The other choice is to issue a warning to Taiwan, or even move against Taiwan, and deprive the US of its bargaining chip.
The East Asian and global strategic situation is changing. Relations between Washington, Beijing, and Taipei are sure to become more turbulent. Taiwan has no say in the changes that may be coming. The only thing it can do is clarify its position, drop anchor, and avoid being tossed by the waves. Taiwan must grasp two principles. Principle One. It must continue to issue goodwill gestures toward the Mainland, and improve public understanding. Two. Its diplomacy must be independent. It must not opportunistically cozy up to the United States and Japan. The status quo closely approximates one China, two systems. Therefore it must not lightly depart from the status quo.