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Northeast Asia Peace Initiative

Peace Across the Taiwan Strait

Relations across the Taiwan Strait can be improved based on a shared commitment to peace and harmonious development. This was the conclusion of the 20 scholars who attended the December 15-17, 2007, conference in Macau, China, organized by the Cross-Strait Peace and Development Federation. Participants came from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea, and the United States. The off-the-record conference was held in a roundtable format and in a particularly candid atmosphere, with representatives expressing their personal views rather than those of their institutions. The Universal Peace Federation supported this conference as part of its Northeast Asia Peace Initiative.

Taiwan’s election and referendum

The mainland side pointed out that Chinese President Hu Jintao’s speech at the 17th Chinese Communist Party Congress in October expressed a subtle shift in policy toward Taiwan. His suggestion to end hostilities and seek a peace framework provided an opportunity to reduce tensions, although recognition of one China remained a precondition. 

Participants voiced concern that tensions were likely to rise between the two sides in connection with Taiwan’s referendum on joining the United Nations, to be held along with its presidential elections in March 2008. The mainland side viewed this as a serious provocation and warned that Taiwan should not underestimate Beijing’s response if the referendum is passed. It should not believe that it is safe to test Beijing’s resolve because of the need to maintain peace ahead of the summer 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

The Taiwan side explained that the vote could not be stopped, but that the referendum was highly unlikely to receive enough votes to pass. It also pointed out that the vote alone would have no real impact, and should not be taken so seriously. Both sides viewed the referendum as a tactic designed to garner votes for Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DDP). The Taiwan side voiced confidence that the Chinese Communist Party would react calmly, but the mainland side seemed less confident about this.

The Taiwan side also said the Kuomintang (KMT) candidate appeared most likely to win, but that the situation was unpredictable since the Democratic Progressive Party has a history of using last-minute surprise tactics to win votes and this could happen again.

The Taiwan side explained that the island is politically highly divided but socially stable. China’s wise policy toward Taiwan could help stabilize the island politically. The Taiwan side recommended that Beijing take a confident and generous approach, and also that it should engage with members of all parties in Taiwan in order to win the hearts and minds of the Taiwan people. One-sided favoritism will breed resentment. China should be preparing its response for whichever side wins the election, aimed at winning over the new leadership and the majority of the Taiwan people. The Taiwan side also said it was important that both China and the United States refrain from interfering in the election. China should not appear to be using the United States to control Taiwan, as this would likely work against Beijing’s long-term interests.

Obstacles to be overcome

The two sides identified several obstacles to be overcome in order for progress to occur in cross-strait relations. A decision on the meaning of “one China.” Possibilities include:

  • A return to the 1992 Consensus (agreement that each side can have their own definition)
  • A concept of “Greater China” that could include both sides of the Strait
  • A concept that focuses on the Chinese people (hua-ren)

A decision on respecting Taiwan’s international space -- this would demonstrate China’s confidence and generosity and promote long-term positivity toward China on the part of Taiwanese. Options include:

  • Allowing representation in international organizations like WHO as “Chinese Taipei”
  • Respecting Taiwan’s flag; allowing it to be flown at sports events
  • Refraining from humiliating Taiwanese representatives in international settings
  • Ignoring Taiwan’s few diplomatic allies, rather than attempting to change their allegiance

Suggestions for improving relations

A number of innovative ideas were put forth to promote cross-strait relations at the nongovernmental level:

  • Create a fifty-year roadmap toward unification, including steps to be taken in 10-year increments.
  • Begin with economic and cultural initiatives, proceed toward military stand-down and political agreement.
  • Create a CEPA (Closer Economic Partnership Agreement) between China and Taiwan.
  • Develop cooperative cultural projects with an economic aim, focused on shared Chinese culture and aimed at the mainland, Taiwanese and international audiences.
  • Create joint commissions to research options and submit to governments, with perhaps ten Taiwanese and ten mainlanders on each commission. Three commissions were recommended: on legal affairs, on international space issues, and on economic cooperation.
  • Create a Beijing representative office in Taiwan and Taiwan representative office in Beijing, possibly under the name of “Chinese Taipei Office.”
  • Initiate religious exchanges between Confucian, Buddhist and Daoist groups.
  • Increase academic exchanges in order to keep constant dialogue going so the two sides will come to know each other more intimately.
  • Create a free economic zone between Taiwan and Shanghai to facilitate Taiwanese business investment in Shanghai.
  • Encourage cross-strait marriages between young people.
  • Engage women in the peace process through exchanges of women’s groups and women leaders.

Korean peninsula issues

A session on peace and stability on the Korean peninsula was also held as part of the conference’s overview of Northeast Asia. An American academic expressed confidence that North Korea would fully denuclearize as it agreed to in the Six-Party Talks because, in the end, the North’s possession of nuclear weapons, which all its neighbors oppose, was a potential threat to North Korea’s leader himself, who is the country’s most valuable asset. However, he expressed less optimism that full dismantlement as well as disablement could occur by the end of the Bush administration. North Korea is fulfilling a strategic decision, made by the late President Kim Il Sung in his final years, to normalize relations with the United States as a means to lessen the pressure upon it of its closer neighbors.

A Taiwan academic focused on the October 4, 2007 inter-Korean summit and noted that overall it accelerated the prospects for peace and cooperation on the peninsula. North Korea must be offered security assurances to enable it to follow the right track. Republic of Korea president-elect Lee Myung Bak would do well, he said, to improve engagement with North Korea rather than return to a policy that would tend to increase the North’s sense of isolation and add to the pressures upon it.

Both sides stressed the importance of US involvement in the cross-strait relationship. The following suggestions were made for the three governments in Beijing, Taipei and Washington.

Recommendations for China

  • Peace and development should be the highest priority and baseline for Taiwan policy; an end to hostilities and work toward a peace agreement should be the goals.
  • Beijing should adopt a calm attitude in keeping with President Hu Jintao’s important message at the 17th Chinese Communist Party Congress. It should not overreact to actions by the DPP leadership, especially as the leadership is about to change. Also, the government should keep reactions by the military, the media and public emotions under control.
  • Take a practical, flexible and forward-looking attitude toward cross-strait issues. Use Chinese wisdom and dialogue to move forward. Remember that China’s policy sets the tone for the relationship.
  • Work to develop mechanisms for ongoing dialogue. Legal, economic and cultural channels for dialogue should be opened.
  • Establish a CEPA with Taiwan. This could include a special economic zone in Fujian or Shanghai. Work with Taiwan to maintain China’s long-term international competitiveness.

Recommendations for Taiwan

  • The DPP should be aware that it has taken a dangerous road, which is a threat to the people of Taiwan. The next government should not pursue this way.
  • The hope lies in the Taiwan people and strong social foundation. Taiwan has a strong economy and strong social institutions. These are the basis for a strong relationship with China. Develop economic and cultural exchanges. See the future as bright for all Chinese people.
  • The new Taiwan leader cannot stop the referendum, but should downplay its significance in his inaugural address. Give it a positive interpretation to minimize the damage to cross-strait relations.

Recommendations for the US

  • Continue playing an important role in cross-strait relations because peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait is a vital US interest.
  • Limit weapons sales to Taiwan. Do not send wrong signals that would encourage a belligerent attitude on the part of Taiwan.
  • Take an active role in facilitating peace talks between the two sides. The US could act as mediator, or help build low-level private channels for discourse that could proceed to the top level.

The conference concluded with all participants agreeing that their discussions should continue. It is hoped that an ongoing mechanism could be set up for this to happen. Also, specific recommendations should be made to all three governments after the election in Taiwan, once the new leadership is clear.

All parties agreed that 2008 presents a unique opportunity for improved cross-strait relations, with new leadership in Taiwan and the Olympics coming in Beijing, lending a more open atmosphere. This opportunity should not be missed. All sides must show flexibility and creative thinking in order to make full use of this unique time.

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