One China or Two? page 5 of 6
President Chen's policy pronouncements would appear to demonstrate Taiwan’s good will and pragmatic approach to solving the problem of cross-strait relations.
As for the PRC, it has toned down its rhetoric a bit. In his New Year’s remarks this year, then President Jiang Zemin said he “wished the people of Taiwan happiness and good health in the coming year,” but added that ”the PRC holds firmly to its policy of ‘one country, two systems,’" the policy applied in the case of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese jurisdiction in 1997, which he knows has been consistently rejected by a large majority of the people living on Taiwan.
Of course, there is now a new factor that needs to be considered–the recent change in the PRC’s leadership–a factor that I believe will probably have a positive effect on the future relations of Taiwan and the mainland. The recent ascension to power of the PRC’s fourth generation of leaders with Hu Jintao replacing Jiang Zemin as president and leader of the Communist Party, and Wen Jiabao taking over as prime minister, replacing Zhu Rongji, should also mean a more realistic and progressive handling of this ongoing and sensitive issue. Both men are products of a new generation that is more closely in touch with China’s needs both internally and with the outside world. As yet, there have been no new proposals nor appeals reflecting their thoughts on the subject.
In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 19, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Randall Shriver said, “The United States has been, and should continue to be, a positive influence in bringing about a solution. Taiwan is strategically important to U.S. national interests. Both Republican and Democratic administrations have frequently declared that the Taiwan issue should be resolved peacefully. President Bush and others have emphasized to China that our policy is consistent and unchanged. We are committed to our 'one China' policy and the three communiqués, as well as to our obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act [April 10, 1979], to ensure that Taiwan has an adequate self-defense capability. We do not support Taiwan independence. We have an abiding interest, above all else, in the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait differences. We have urged China to renounce the use of force and open a dialogue with Taiwan.”
For China’s leaders, the political reunification of Taiwan with the mainland would redress the last major outstanding act of foreign aggression of the imperialist era—the unlawful seizure of Taiwan by Imperial Japan—and thus serve as a critically important indication of the renewed power and prestige of the Chinese government. The permanent loss of Taiwan would be viewed as a national humiliation and a clear confirmation of the fundamental weakness and incompetence of that government. The PRC depends greatly on U.S. trade, investment, cultural, and other relations. The U.S. position remains that the question must be settled peacefully, although it is quite clear that we would intervene militarily–as we did in March 1996 when we sent two aircraft carriers to the strait– to prevent any PRC threat of a naval or missile attack.
What is the U.S. role? The U.S. policy on cross-strait relations remains about what it has been with the single exception of President Bush’s declaration that the United States will come to Taiwan’s defense if Taiwan is attacked–removing what has been an ambiguity. I think stated U.S. policy remains basically unchanged because even without Bush’s clarification, it has always seemed quite clear to me that the United States would go to Taiwan’s aid if the PRC attacked. However, I think in practice, the Bush administration shows greater psychological support for Taiwan than previous administrations, and it always seems to be pushing in the direction of more arms for Taiwan and open, direct contact between the Taiwan military and the Pentagon. Simultaneously, Bush & Co. have been careful to emphasize peaceful resolution and to avoid inserting the United States into the position of being a mediator or negotiator.