Thinking outside of the One China box ∗ J


Thinking outside of the One China box ∗ J
Thinking outside of the One China box
How to undo the Gordian knot in the Cross-Strait impasse?∗
To be presented at the Inaugural Conference of the European Association of
Taiwan Studies at The London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS),
17–18 April, 2004
This paper starts from the premise that the status quo between Taiwan and mainland China is not stable,
and discusses the resulting pressures for the parties to change their policies accordingly. We suggest a
solution to the stalemate in the form of a “confederation with Chinese characteristics”: a confederation in
form but not in name, based on the unity of Zhonghua (Chinese civilization) having a concrete form in
shared organs and symbols.
Emphasis is put on the choices of Taiwan, as Taiwan appears to be moving towards final separation from
the mainland, which, if formalized, would lead to war. The mainland accuses Chen Shui-bian of aiming at
rewriting the constitution in 2006 and declaring formal independence in 2008. The legitimacy of the
Communist regime is tied to reunification, whereas it is unrealistic to expect Taiwan, a state-like
democracy, to accept direct rule by mainland China. The coming few years present a window of
opportunity, but also potential for disaster.
The key issue to the solution is the concept of One China, which there is no consensus of. There is an
urgent need to create an interpretation of the concept which would meet the concerns of both parties
internally as well as internationally.
The proposed solution would strike a delicate balance guaranteeing the complete self-determination of
Taiwan in a de facto confederation and elevating it to an equal position with the mainland, while creating
an image of a unified China through the establishment of a formal “ceiling” structure, modeled after the
British Commonwealth. In the age old spirit of the Rectification of Names, the creation of a united
Zhonghua could make the reality look like a victory for everyone.
∗ The political solution proposed herewith is based on the ideas presented by the two authors in a
Finnish language article in Kosmopolis 33, No. 1 (2003): 39-58. An earlier, shorter version of this paper
was published in Issues & Studies, Vol. 39, No. 4 (December 2003). – The authors are aware of the
similarities between this paper and an International Crisis Group report, co-authored by Linda
Jakobson, B.A., from Finland, Taiwan Strait IV: How an ultimate political solution might look (26
February 2004, ICG Asia Report no. 75, Beijing/Taipei/Washington/Brussels), as well as an article by
the same author, “Taiwan’s Challenge to China and the World – Part II: A ‘Greater Chinese Union’
offers best political solution” (YaleGlobal, 15 March 2004). The authors wish to point out that the
model proposed in this paper is based entirely on the above mentioned article in Kosmopolis, published
in March 2003, while neither of Jakobson’s publications contain any references to that article.
J YRKI K ALLIO , M.Soc.Sc., Department of East Asian Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland, is a
doctoral candidate currently working on translating pre-Qin texts from Guwen guanzhi (____) into
Finnish. He holds office as Counselor at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Unit for Asia and
Oceania. The views expressed in this paper do not represent Finland’s official policy. He can be
reached at <[email protected]>.
MIKAEL MATTLIN, M.Soc.Sc., Department of Political Science, University of Helsinki, Finland, is a
doctoral candidate and member of the Finnish Graduate School of East and Southeast Asian Studies.
His main research interests are informal political structures and political economy in both Taiwan and
mainland China, and Chinese government strategies for building knowledge-based industries. He can
be reached at <[email protected]>.
The current status quo of the Taiwan question is not stable. Despite extensive economic
links and interdependencies across the Taiwan Strait, there is as yet no sign of any
spillover from economic integration to politics. On the contrary, Taiwan appears to be
moving towards final separation from the mainland. The Chen Shui-bian (___)
government has introduced several initiatives that could be interpreted as “creeping”
formal independence, such as adding the word “Taiwan” to passports, introducing a
referendum law (which Beijing fears will later be used for a vote on independence), and
announcing that a new constitution will be drafted in coming years.
On the political front, time is not working for the reunificationists. On the other hand,
military1 and economic2 realities are not in favor of the separatists. Reunification is the
only acceptable outcome to mainland China. Beijing resolutely maintains that, if need
be, a final separation will be prevented by military means. However, it is unrealistic to
expect Taiwan—a state-like democracy—to accept direct rule by mainland China.
The Taiwan question differs from other cases of a divided state in that neither side has
accepted the de facto division of China, nor has a clear line of separation been drawn
between “West” and “East” China.”3 The current line of demarcation is defined not by
trenches, but rather by different interpretations of China and of how many “Chinas”
there are in existence. The traditional Chinese conception of legitimacy, power, and
1 According to most estimates, Beijing will achieve military supremacy some time between 2005 and
2007. The U.S. government has become increasingly worried that Beijing’s missile build-up is aimed
at a quick military strike to bring Taiwan to its knees. See “Cross-Strait Security Issues,” chapter 8 in
The National Security Implications of the Economic Relationship Between the United States and China,
Report to Congress of the U.S.-China Security Review Commission, July 2002, (accessed March 9, 2004).
2 China has already clearly surpassed both the United States and Japan as Taiwan’s main trading
partner. In 2003, Taiwan’s trade with mainland China (including Hong Kong) amounted to US$62.5
billion (23.0 percent of Taiwan’s total trade). Excluding Hong Kong, Taiwan’s trade with mainland
China was approximately US$46.3 billion. In exports, the dependence on China is even clearer, with
34.5 percent of Taiwan exports destined for mainland China and Hong Kong, as against 18.0 percent
destined for the United States and 8.3 percent for Japan, Taiwan’s other main trading partners. Data
sources: ROC Ministry of Economic Affairs, (accessed March 8, 2004); and
“Cross-Strait Trade Increases to Record US$46.3m in 2003,” Taipei Times, March 8, 2004, 10.
3 Taiwan has not given up and neither has China taken by force the islands of Jinmen (__) and Mazu
(__) close to the mainland. See, for example, Thomas E. Stolper, China, Taiwan, and the Offshore
Islands: Together with an Implication for Outer Mongolia and Sino-Soviet Relations (Armonk, N.Y.:
M.E. Sharpe, 1985).
well-being culminates (especially from the point of the view of the PRC) in the Taiwan
question. The division of the country would mean loss of the legitimacy of the ruler.
In imperial China, the emperor’s true power hardly reached further than the walls of the
Forbidden City.4 In such a setting, the state could remain united only if the emperor
possessed a strong moral legitimacy and if power was highly ritualized.5 As Lucian W.
Pye has aptly stated, China is a “civilization trying to squeeze itself into the format of a
modern state.”6 This aspect of civilization comes forward in the term Zhonghua (__),
used in the official names of both the Republic and the People’s Republic of China.
We believe it is possible to start constructing the basis for modern Chinese unity at the
level of culture, instead of unity as a state. Even Taiwan’s Vice-President Lü Hsiu-lien
(___), a leading independence advocate in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP,
_____ ), which assumed power in 2000, has said that Taiwanese can accept one
Zhonghua but not one Zhongguo (__ ). According to Lü, Taiwanese do not want to
call themselves Zhongguoren (___)—a general term for Chinese, which refers in
particular to citizens of the Chinese state—but see themselves as Zhonghua ernü
(____),7 i.e., the sons and daughters of “Chineseness.”
We believe that a confederation based on one unified Zhonghua, instead of one
Zhongguo, provides a model which would give a ritual form to the unity of Chinese
4 See Ray Huang, 1587. A Year of No Significance. The Ming Dynasty in Decline (New Haven and
London: Yale University Press, 1981) for a vivid illustration of the limits of the Emperor’s actual
5 That is to say, the basis of unity lay in orthopraxy, not orthodoxy. See James L. Watson, “Rites or
Beliefs? The Construction of a Unified China in Late Imperial China,” in China’s Quest for National
Identity, ed. Lowell Dittmer and Samuel S. Kim (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993), 80-103.
6 Lucian W. Pye, The Spirit of Chinese Politics (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992),
Allen T. Cheng, “Being Chinese,” Asiaweek, November 2, 2001,,8782,182319,00.html (accessed March 9,
2004). The mainland Chinese leadership has also used the same term to describe all Chinese on the
mainland as well as in Taiwan. See Jiang Zemin, “Quanmian jianshe xiaokang shehui, kaichuang
Zhongguo tese shehui zhuyi shiye xin jumian” (Zai Zhongguo Gongchandang dishiliuci quanguo
2002), (accessed
November 22, 2003); and “Zhu Rongji shuo, zuguo de wanquan tongyi yiding nenggou zaori shixian,”
G u a n g m i n g w a n g ,
2003, (accessed March 6,
civilization without overly altering the status quo of the Chinese states.
“confederation in form but not in name,” which we depict in this article, would see
mainland China and Taiwan as equal in practice, while both sides would recognize the
formal sovereignty of a unified China as a “ceiling structure.” Such a solution could
ensure the de facto independence of Taiwan, while preventing a final division of China.
In our view, a solution can be found only by clearly separating the symbolical unity
from the practical level and addressing both at the same time. If we postulate that
Beijing cares more about symbolical unity, while Taiwan and the United States are
more concerned about maintaining the actual separation, a solution should theoretically
be possible by separating the two levels. A solution could then be reached in a state
similar to the Nash equilibrium, where neither side any longer can (barring a change in
external circumstances) better its bargaining position by changing its own strategy.8
Chinese, Taiwanese, and American Positions
To mainland China, reunification, modernization, and national security form one
inseparable whole, the basis on which the legitimacy of the Communist Party rests. A
high-ranking Taiwanese official and expert on mainland China urges us to separate
Beijing’s impressively stable strategy (i.e., reunification and upholding “one China”
both internationally and as a model for reunification) from the very flexible tactical
measures adopted by Beijing to reach this goal.9 Beijing’s bottom line is that a final
breakup of China has to be staved off and that China’s territorial integrity and
sovereignty must be safeguarded.10
8 Roger B. Myerson, “Nash Equilibrium and the History of Economic Theory” (published on the
Internet, 1999), (accessed March 10, 2004).
9 Lin Chong-pin, “Beijing’s Agile Tactics on Taiwan” (Paper presented at the conference “The
Political and Economic Reforms of Mainland China in a Changing Global Society,” College of Social
Sciences, National Taiwan University, Taipei, June 2002). In between strategy and tactics, Lin Chongpin identifies “operations,” which are longer-lasting tactical moves. The current Beijing policy towards
Taiwan can be described as an operation. E-mail correspondence with Lin Chong-pin, March 2004.
10 On the domestic constraints influencing Beijing policy toward Taiwan, see Hsu Szu-chien, “The
Impact of the PRC’s Domestic Politics on Cross-Strait Relations,” Issues & Studies 38, no. 1 (March
2002): 130-64, (accessed March 9, 2004).
Following political liberalization, Taiwan has been moving further away from mainland
China politically, while economically the two sides have been moving closer to each
other. Economic ties between the island and the mainland have never been stronger
than today, and in many coastal cities—such as Shanghai and Xiamen—the last few
years have seen a kind of cultural “Taiwanization,” i.e., the Taiwanese have brought
their music, pastimes, snacks, and even business habits to the mainland.11 Politically,
however, the gulf is wider than ever. Taiwan seems to be irrevocably moving towards
final separation from the mainland. While there has long been a strong consensus in
Taiwan to maintain the status quo for the time being, the meaning of the status quo has
subtly been moving towards de facto independence in recent years.12
Both public pursuit of independence and the political support of the United States are
the last aces in the hands of the Taiwanese, since they have progressively lost
international recognition and their economy has become tightly integrated with that of
the mainland. The Taiwanese will not give up these aces easily, as they are effective in
putting pressure on mainland China. Neither are the Taiwanese willing to accept a
political solution that does not guarantee some degree of external security, international
recognition, and (external) guarantees that China will not interfere in Taiwan’s internal
affairs—i.e., a continuance of Taiwan’s de facto independence.
Washington’s bottom line in the dispute is not as clearly laid down as that of Beijing or
Taipei, as Washington’s priorities tend to shift with changes of administration. The
United States has two partly contradictory goals in the Taiwan dispute: on the one hand,
Washington tries to maintain stability in the Taiwan Strait; on the other, it probably
wants for strategic reasons to prevent China from controlling the Taiwan Strait and the
island. Washington’s stated main aim in China-Taiwan relations is to maintain peace
and stability in the area, while not compromising Taiwan’s security.13 It would seem
that Washington’s second priority revolves around keeping mainland China from
11 Hsing You-tien, Making Capitalism in China—The Taiwan Connection (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1998).
12 Cf. Jean-Pierre Cabestan, “Taiwan’s Mainland Policy: Normalization, Yes; Reunification, Later,”
The China Quarterly, no. 148 (December 1996): 1260-83.
13 See note 1 above.
exercising direct involvement in the running of Taiwan affairs, including gaining
control over Taiwan’s technological and financial resources.14 Washington is probably
open to the consideration of political solutions, as long as this premise is not violated.
(Con)federation models and an interim agreement
Western scholars have tended to see the solution to the Taiwan issue as rather
straightforward, comparing mainland China and Taiwan to other divided states. One
oft-heard proposal is that mainland China and Taiwan could reunify under a
confederation or federation framework.15 The PRC leadership has, however, rejected
outright all federational or confederational solutions to the conflict.16 A confederation
would in practice mean the birth of another China, or an independent Taiwan, in
addition to the PRC. Furthermore, a federation or a confederation could inspire political
activists in Xinjiang and Tibet, or leaders of the rich coastal provinces, to seek greater
autonomy for their areas. From Taiwan’s perspective, a federation is the same as
belonging to the PRC, while for Beijing it would mean the beginning of the dissolution
of the state. Neither side accepts this solution. A confederation might do for the
Taiwanese, but mainland China’s policy, or at least its preferred tactic, would seem to
reject that solution as well.
14 Donald S. Zagoria, “Cross-Strait Relations: Breaking the Impasse” (Interim Report, with Policy
Recommendations, on U.S.-China Policy and Cross-Strait Relations), National Committee on
American Foreign Policy, 2000, (accessed March 9,
2004); and The White House, The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, 28, (accessed March 9, 2004).
15 See, for example, Johan Galtung and Dietrich Fischer, “A Chinese Confederation” (1996), (accessed March 14, 2003). Chinese scholars have also
looked into the confederation model. See, for example, Li Jing, “Lun banglianzhi yu Zhongguo de
tongyi,” Taiwan yanjiu (Beijing), 2001, no. 3:44-51. The Kuomintang (KMT, ___), too, has
embraced the idea of a cross-Strait confederation. See “KMT Adds ‘Confederation’ Concept to Party
Platform,” Taiwan Headlines, June 29, 2001, (accessed
March 22, 2004).
“Liang’an guanxi—Beijing kaibuchu xin silu,” China Times ( I n t e r a c t i v e ) , (accessed October 15, 1998); “China
Opposes ‘Confederation’ System in Solving Taiwan Issue,” People’s Daily, April 3, 2001, (accessed March 9, 2004); and “KMT’s Confederation Idea
Rejected by China,” Straits Times, July 11, 2001,
(accessed March 5, 2003).
Several Western and Taiwanese scholars have proposed some kind of interim agreement
as a first step towards solving the conflict.17 During the Clinton presidency, this idea
received some official support.18 The main idea behind the interim agreement has
usually been that mainland China would refrain from using armed force as a way to
solve the dispute, while Taiwan would promise not to seek formal independence. Such
an idea was inherent also in the proposal that to date has received the most attention: the
one presented by China expert Kenneth Lieberthal, formerly of the U.S. National
Security Council.
The second main element of Lieberthal’s proposal was that
reunification would be postponed by fifty years, or as long as the interim agreement
would be in force.19 An interim agreement would stabilize the situation, but only in the
interim, so it cannot form a real solution in and by itself.
As long as Beijing does not treat Taipei as an equal party to the conflict,20 Taipei is not
keen on seeking a negotiated solution.21 However, recognizing Taiwan’s equal status is
almost impossible for China, as it would in practice mean recognizing the legitimacy of
17 Alastair Iain Johnston, “Solving the China-Taiwan Standoff: A Modest Proposal” (Undated), (accessed February 24, 2003);
Robert A. Manning and Ronald N. Montaperto, “Time for a New Cross-Strait Bargain,” The Strategic
F o r u m 103 (Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University, 1997), (accessed March 17, 2003); Chang Ya-chung,
“Liang’an weilai: you guan qianshu ’liang’an jichu xieding’ de sikao,” Wenti yu yanjiu (Issues &
Studies) (Taipei) 38, no. 9 (1999): 1-28; and Ralph N. Clough, “Negotiating an Interim Agreement
Between Taiwan and the PRC,” American Foreign Policy Interests 22, no. 1 (2000).
18 Greg May, “Mending U.S.-Taiwan Relations After State-to-State,” Taiwan International Review 5,
no. 6 (1999): 44-47, (accessed
March 15, 2003).
19 Kenneth Lieberthal, “Cross-Strait Relations” (Paper presented at the International Conference on the
PRC After the Fifteenth Party Congress, Taipei, February 19-20, 1998); and Lin Cheng-yi, “The U.S.
Role in Taiwan-China Military Relations” (Paper presented at the International Conference on United
States-Taiwan Relations: Twenty Years After the Taiwan Relations Act, Institute of European and
American Studies, Academia Sinica, Taipei, 1999),
(accessed March 16, 2003).
20 In handling the issue, Beijing prefers dealing with Washington rather than directly with Taipei, even
as it exhorts the United States not to interfere in the issue. See Joseph Kahn, “Chinese Seek Help from
Bush to Stop Taiwan Referendum,” International Herald Tribune, February 6, 2004, (accessed March 10, 2004).
21 Mikael Mattlin, interview with a high-ranking Taiwan government official, Taipei, August 9, 2002;
and Jean-Pierre Cabestan, “Is There a Solution to the China-Taiwan Quarrel?” China Perspectives, no.
34 (March-April 2001): 4.
the Taiwan government. As a result, no start of direct negotiations based on the existing
models of conflict resolution is in sight.
A Confederation with Chinese Characteristics
We contend that the solution to the Taiwan issue must be sought in the big gray area of
politics. In the Taiwan conflict, too much clarity carries a price, benefiting only hardliners in mainland China and Taiwan. In our view, a workable solution would need to
take into account at least the following points:
The Communist Party’s concern over its legitimacy and sovereignty, the unity of the
country, and the party’s “face”;
Taiwan’s concerns over its internal autonomy including its ability to maintain its own
social and political system, security, and international position;
The U.S. desire that China not gain de facto control over Taiwan.
In order to take all these things into account simultaneously, a solution to the conflict
needs to combine different elements in a creative manner so that they together exceed
the bottom lines of all three parties for accepting a political solution (see Figure 1). Key
to finding any solution to the problem is the proper treatment of the “one China”
principle, which Beijing cannot drop and which Taipei does not want to interpret too
Figure 1. Achieving a win-win-win situation by exceeding the bottom-line of all three parties.
The main concerns of the conflict parties appear outside of the triangle, the minimum needed to
exceed the bottom-lines in the triangle.
Breakup of China,
Mainland interference in
Communist Party’s
loss of legitimacy
Taiwan’s complete autonomy,
security and international
position guaranteed; China’s
unity and sovereignty
safeguarded; no Chinese de
facto control over Taiwan
United States
China’s de facto
control over Taiwan
Taiwan affairs, no security,
no international position
An interim agreement would only freeze the status quo. How would it be possible to
move further towards a more enduring solution? Our own proposal is based on a
confederation model in form, but not in name. Despite all its potential difficulties, a
confederation is still the best available possibility, as only a confederation could
guarantee that Taiwan’s social, political, and economic systems would stay wholly
intact, while still retaining China’s unity at some level. In our model, “one China”
would be realized as a kind of “ceiling structure”—similar to the monarch of the United
Kingdom, who acts as a symbol of the unity of the British Commonwealth.22 This
ceiling structure would be the highest cooperative forum of the confederation, which
formally would represent the sovereignty of a unified China. Under this model, the
increasing de facto independence of Taiwan would not have to imply either the breakup
of China or the coexistence of two Chinas.23
The ceiling structure might find a suitable concrete form in some sort of a joint
presidium or a council of elders or “wise men.” This presidium or council would have
representatives from both the mainland and Taiwan. The powers of the presidium or
council would best be kept symbolic, but the ceiling structure could have its own flag
and national anthem in order to stress unity.24 Taking into account mainland China’s
sensitivity to the issue of unity, Taiwanese would be wise to accept that the presidium
or council would have its permanent location on the mainland (being “the origin of
Chinese civilization”)—if not in Beijing, then perhaps in Xi’an or Nanjing.
22 The idea of a ceiling symbolizing the unity of one China emerged in Taiwan in the beginning of the
1990s. See, for example, Li Shuiwang, “‘Dong-Xi De moshi’ yu haixia liang’an guanxi” and Wang
Xiaobo, “Lun ‘yige Zhongguo’ yuanze yu liang’an guanxi—jian ping Guotonghui zhizao ‘liangge
Zhongguo’ de qitu” (Papers presented at the Second Forum on Cross-Strait Relations, Beijing, 1992).
23 Cf. Jyrki Kallio and Antero Leitzinger, Taiwan—Kiinan tasavalta (Helsinki: Kirja-Leitzinger,
1994), 50-51. A Chinese Commonwealth was proposed inter alia by the former chairman of the DPP,
Shih Ming-teh (___), in 1998. See Donald S. Zagoria, “The National Committee on American
Foreign Policy's Project on U.S.-China Policy and Cross-Strait Relations” (Paper presented at the
International Conference on United States-Taiwan Relations: Twenty Years After the Taiwan Relations
Act, Institute of European and American Studies, Academia Sinica, Taipei, 1999), (accessed March 15, 2003).
24 Chinese authorities have suggested that the symbols of statehood and the name of a new, united
China can be discussed. See, for example, “Zhongguo zhongyang youguan bumen guanyuan: Taiwan
zhi yao chengren yi Zhong, guohao, guoqi, guoge ke xieshang,” Singapore Zaobao (online), November
6, 2001, (accessed November 6, 2001).
In the international arena, the two parties might use the Presidium for joint
representation. For example, in the United Nations there would be two possibilities:
either the Presidium would represent the whole of China in the General Assembly and
the Security Council, or China would maintain its present status in the UN with the
Presidium being given a separate observer status,25 and Taiwan being allowed to
participate as a separate entity in the work of UN agencies other than the Security
Council and the General Assembly. In either case, the two parties could represent
themselves in UN agencies.
Could the United States consent to the birth of a Chinese confederation—would it not
mean the loss of the “unsinkable aircraft carrier”? With the removal, or at least the
diminishment of the threat to Taiwan posed by China, the United States would have to
decrease its military cooperation with Taiwan. In this age of high-tech warfare,
however, the geo-strategic importance of Taiwan has diminished. In addition, a
solution to the Taiwan issue would remove, or at least reduce, the biggest obstacle to
good relations with China.
The Taiwan Relations Act (TRA)26 and the three joint communiqués could conceivably
give way to an interim agreement by which Washington would bind itself to accepting a
political solution negotiated between Beijing and Taipei, while simultaneously
announcing that the United States has a continuing interest in the well-being and
security of Taiwan. Washington would at the same time promise both to observe
closely developments relevant to Taiwan’s security and to ensure the preservation of its
social system during a certain period of time (e.g., thirty to fifty years) without,
however, directly saying that the likelihood of U.S. involvement would be related to
mainland China’s behavior. In other words, the United States would continue to
25 Members with an observer status maintain a permanent representation at the UN and may
participate in the work of the General Assembly. For current members with an observer status, see
Session, (accessed March 13, 2003).
26 On the function of the TRA during different U.S. administrations, see Steven M. Goldstein and
Randall Schriver, “An Uncertain Relationship: The United States, Taiwan and the Taiwan Relations
Act,” The China Quarterly, no. 165 (March 2001): 147-72.
guarantee Taiwan’s security if mainland China does not live up to its part of the
Even without formal mediation between Beijing and Taipei, a solution would probably
be furthered by services facilitating contacts offered on ”neutral ground,” particularly in
the phase preceding actual political negotiations. In our opinion, such mediation would
have to come from countries that do not have an immediate interest in the conflict, e.g.
from the EU. Potential services offered could be from the standard measures of
unofficial diplomacy: facilitating first contacts, various confidence-building measures
(CBMs), Wilton House rules discussions etc. Negotiations would have to maintain as
low a profile as possible, as Beijing cannot let itself be seen as “giving in” to
negotiations on an equal footing with Taipei.
To reiterate, these are the main elements of our solution:
A confederation where Taiwan recognizes the formal sovereignty of the unified China
(and not the PRC) in exchange for continuation of their present de facto independence.
Due to political sensitivities, this confederation would, however, not be called a
A UN solution, whereby a Presidium represents the whole unified China in the General
Assembly and the Security Council, while mainland China and Taiwan have separate
representation in other UN agencies; alternatively mainland China’s present UN
representation is left intact, while the Presidium is given an observer status (like the
Commonwealth or the European Commission), and Taiwan is allowed to participate as
a separate entity in UN organizations other than the Security Council and the General
Continuance of U.S. security guarantees to Taiwan in the form of an interim agreement,
which would be in effect for a predetermined period of time (e.g., thirty years),
combined with a pledge to reduce arms sales27 and a public pledge not to support
Taiwan independence in any form; and
Political negotiations between Beijing and Taipei, which would be conducted as an
internal affair without official external mediators and with as low a profile as possible.
However, before actual negotiations and during their course, other actors can “silently”
offer their help in the form of good offices, in order to facilitate contacts and
27 According to SIPRI, both Taiwan and mainland China were among the five largest purchasers of
conventional arms in 1997-2001. See SIPRI Yearbook 2002: Armaments, Disarmament and
International Security (SIPRI/Oxford University Press, 2002).
The name of the confederation is crucial for symbolical reasons. We suggest that based
on the concept Zhonghua, the two parties could be called “Zhonghua renmin
gongheguo” (_______,
Chinese People’s Republic) and “Zhonghua Taiwan
gongheguo” (_______, Chinese Republic of Taiwan), respectively.28
China could thus maintain its current Chinese name,29 while Taiwan’s name would be a
compromise between those who want a Republic of Taiwan and those who wish to
maintain the cultural link to China. It is also vital from Beijing’s point of view that the
name used for Taiwan imply clearly that the island is not an entirely separate entity, but
part of the larger Zhonghua. The “confederation” could then have a name comprising
the two, such as “Zhonghua da gongheguo” ( ______ , The Great Chinese
A Lost Window of Opportunity?
Chen’s tight victory in the 2004 presidential elections constitutes a water-shed in
Taiwan’s internal politics, despite the narrow margin. With Lien Chan’s (__) victory,
the pan-blue team’s future in Taiwan politics would have looked considerably brighter.
It now seems likely that the pan-greens will receive more than half of the seats in the
Legislative Yuan elections at the end of 2004. Barring any scandal involving the Chen
shooting incident on March 19, the question is not whether the pan-blues can retain their
legislative majority in the year-end legislative elections, but rather whether the DPP
alone—without the help of Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU, ______)—can get 50%
of the vote? If this happens, the DPP will likely rule Taiwan for the foreseeable future.
That would also considerably strengthen Chen Shui-bian’s hand, allowing him to push
through legislative initiatives that previously stalled. Chen and pan-green leaders have
28 As a name for an independent Taiwan the most common suggestion is “Taiwan gongheguo.” Lee
Teng-hui (___) has used the name “Taiwan Zhonghua minguo” to describe Taiwan’s current status,
including reference to the Republic of China and recognition of Taiwanese identity.
29 Note that although the Chinese name of mainland China would remain the same, it could be
translated differently to better suit the character of the new confederation.
30 Note that there is no difference between singular and plural forms in Chinese; therefore, the Chinese
name of the confederation conveys a sense of unity even if the English translation is in the plural.
left little doubt that they are going to push through a new constitution in 2006, and a
referendum on it in 2008, right before the Beijing Olympics. From the point of view of
those in Taiwan looking for formal independence, 2008 forms a line of demarcation.31
After 2008, international attention due to the Olympics is turned away, Taiwan’s
economic integration with the mainland has probably progressed beyond the point of no
return, and the military balance has likely shifted decisively in favour of Beijing. There
is therefore a great sense of urgency among the independence-minded.32
In terms of seeking a peaceful solution to the Cross-Strait conflict, the election result
was probably the worst possible. Chen stays in power and his ability to push through
controversial initiatives strengthened markedly. At the same time, the narrow margin
and the fact that the referendum yes-votes did not exceed 50%, allows Beijing to
continue ignoring Chen, while still living in the illusion that there could be a more
favourable counterpart in the future. What Beijing still does not want to admit, is that
Chen would have more leeway internally within Taiwan to push through negotiations
with Beijing. In Taiwan’s starkly polarized political environment, Lien Chan—not to
mention Soong Chu-yu (___ )—would instantly come under severe pressure and
allegations from the green side of “selling Taiwan out”, if they were to propose
negotiations with the PRC.
Without the pressure for changing the circumstances originating in Taiwan, Beijing
could well afford to wait. Cross-Strait economic integration and the military balance
are inexorably turning in Beijing’s favour. But the constitution and referendum talk by
Chen is now setting a clear timetable in the conflict for the first time, which forces the
PRC to seriously contemplate taking some preventive action before that. Hardball and
brinksmanship are the right words to describe Chen’s tactics.
31 It is noteworthy that Taiwan’s constitution needs a rewrite for several reasons other than those
directly related to independence.
32 Mattlin, interview with Dr Wu Yu-shan, Head of the Institute of Political Science, Academia Sinica,
April 2, 2004.
After the election, China has with an unprecedented sense of emergency communicated
to foreign capitals that if lives and prosperity of their Taiwanese compatriots are
endangered due to the rioting on the island, China cannot remain an onlooker.33
Although one shouldn’t read too much in this statement, it is worthwhile to remember
that internal chaos is believed to be one of the preconditions for intervention34. Could
the international community consent to such an argument by Beijing and, tacitly if not
openly, endorse a “stabilizing intervention” by Beijing? A few years ago the whole
question would have seemed ridiculous. After the recent comments by French, German
and other leaders,35 one hesitates to rule out the possibility.
In these circumstances it is a blessing that mainland China does not have decisive
military supremacy over Taiwan yet.36 A military solution aside, also a political
solution is easier to achieve given that Beijing is not able to dictate it. A new window
of opportunity may, however, arise in 2005, provided that the DPP wins the election.
Then Chen Shui-bian could be expected to revert to more moderate policies, and China
might come to realize that it has to open negotiations with Chen as there is no
alternative to be expected anymore. Next year China’s own reshuffling of its leadership
will have settled down a bit, possibly providing the stability to launch new initiatives.
Finally, there may be a Democratic president in the United States in 2005.
Come what may, Taiwan’s future is tied to the future of the whole of China, not least in
an economic sense. Taiwanese companies have invested heavily on the mainland, and
33 Cf. “Guo Taiban fayanren fabiao tanhua”, G u a n g m i n g w a n g , March 27, 2004, (accessed April 6, 2004).
34 See Paul Lin, “What really is China’s bottom line?”, Taipei Times, January 20, 2004, (accessed April 5,
35 “Germany urges Taiwan to rethink on referendum issue”. Reuters, March 14, 2004. “South Korea
concerned over Taiwan’s referendum plan,” Associated Press February 28, 2004. “France backs China
against Taiwan as it eyes trade deals,” Agence France Presse, January 27, 2004.
36 In the opinion of an observer who has worked closely with the leadership in Beijing, once Beijing
achieves decisive military superiority, a military confrontation may become inevitable. Mikael Mattlin,
interview in Hong Kong, April 25, 2001. See also Guan Jie, “Jiang Zemin de dui Tai mimi baogao,
tidao jiejue Taiwan wenti de shixian shi er-ling-yi-yi nian”, Zhengming (Hong Kong) 2002:3 17–18.
mainland China has already become Taiwan’s most important trading partner. In these
circumstances, it is hard to see how Taiwan can hold out indefinitely on negotiating a
political solution with China. Moreover, if China feels secure territorially and in
international politics, it may well make concessions on the back of its strong position.
In such circumstances, flexibility could be shown even with the current holy principle
of reunification: “one country, two systems” (____),37 especially if Jiang Zemin
(___) has moved on to meet Mao and Deng by then.38 A potential stumbling block
may be the domestic audiences on both sides, neither of which are likely to accept
anything that looks like a “sell out.” The solution, then, will have to maintain a
substantial amount of ambiguity, so that both sides will be able to claim victory
37“Hu, Wen Want Review of ‘One Country, Two Systems’,” Taipei Times, March 8, 2004, 1, (accessed March 10, 2004).
38 Jiang Zemin is still very much an éminence grise behind the Hu–Wen regime, and the line set by
him in relation to the Taiwan Issue cannot conceivably be changed without his consent. Being able to
realize the reunification of the motherland would enable him to go down in history as a comparable
figure to Mao Zedong (___) and Deng Xiaoping (___), an ambition he seems to have as judged
by the latest amendment to China’s constitution, i.e. adding his “Three Represents” in the Preamble.
Cf. Chu Yun-han, “Power Transition and the Making of Beijing’s Policy towards Taiwan”, The China
Quarterly, no. 176 (December 2003): 960–980.
39 Lin Jih-wen, “Two-Level Games Between Rival Regimes: Domestic Politics and the Remaking of
Cross-Strait Relations,” Issues & Studies 36, no. 6 (November/December 2000): 1-26.

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