Debunking the Myth of Inevitability in the Taiwan Strait

Unification between Taiwan and China is not inevitable; in fact, it is no longer an option
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J. Michael Cole
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For decades academics and politicians have sought to find ways to untie the Gordian Knot in the Taiwan Strait. Almost every solution proposed has at its core contained some reference, howsoever worded, to “one China.” Thinkers in China, and within both the green and blue camps in Taiwan, have toyed with variations on the theme — “one China, two constitutions,” “1992 consensus,” “one China, different interpretations,” “greater one China,” “constitutional one China,” “one country, two systems,” and so on. Creativity, they hoped, would help avert war in the Taiwan Strait. The problem with all these proposals is not only that the underlying assumption of unification as an inevitable outcome is deeply flawed, but that it is a myth that was created by Chinese propagandists to limit Taiwan’s options — to lock it in, in fact.

More recently, with the prospect of a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) comeback in 2016, some intellectuals have argued that future stability in cross-strait relations will be contingent on the DPP agreeing to freeze its “independence clause.” Others have more recently opined that the party’s “Resolution on Taiwan’s Future,” which after its adoption on May 8, 1999, replaced the “independence clause,” must also go.

Tung Chen-yuan (童振源), a former vice chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, is among those who have articulated such views from within the green camp. And like the ones that came before it, Beijing seems more than happy to help its authors broadcast their views.

According to Tung, who now teaches at National Chengchi University, the DPP shouldn’t only abandon the Resolution, but also propose a new platform for cross-strait exchanges stipulating that the party would be amenable to unification with China but only after the latter has democratized. Let’s call this the “democratic cross-strait unification” argument. Failure to do that, Tung warns us, could quickly lead to the deterioration of the cross-strait relationship.

“Using the word ‘democratic’ to modify the term ‘unification’ is in line with Taiwan’s fundamental values and interests, and it would also give China hope that unification might occur,” Tung wrote in a recent op-ed. He continues:

In addition, it could turn unification into an active force for initiating Chinese democracy. Taiwan could say it would only discuss democratic and peaceful unification with a popularly elected Chinese government. Only if Beijing implements democracy could it and Taipei form a council for democratic, peaceful unification in which they could discuss the contents of that union and methods for bringing it about.

There are many faults with Tung’s proposal, not the least if which is the fact that it appears to have been inspired by an earlier editorial in the pro-unification Want Daily. Furthermore, it regards, as have many before him, Taiwan as a means to an end, as a pathway to the democratization of China. We are to believe that having achieved this outcome (a highly uncertain one, I must add, as China has had plenty of opportunities to learn from and about democracy elsewhere, but has nevertheless moved in the opposite direction), Taiwan would then be ripe for sacrificing and ready to be subsumed into a “re-united” China. If identity and sense of nation were solely contingent on the nature of a political system, we would expect Belgians would be wholeheartedly amenable to becoming part of France, which is evidently preposterous.

Tung falls into the same trap as his predecessors: He regards unification as inevitable; politics stand in the way, and once the dispute is resolved, the path will be clear for a coming together. He even plays word games by substituting “democracy” for “unification,” a device that is unlikely to fool Beijing and that would lead to the same outcome anyway.

The even more serious flaw in his argument is that it completely ignores the will and wishes of the Taiwanese people, as if a democratic China would magically change their desire to remain masters of their own fate. In a unified China, Taiwan’s 23 million people would go from the majority in their own country to a minority within China — approximately 1/60th of the overall population of 1.4 billion. It takes a momentous leap of faith to assume that, as a small minority, Taiwanese would be able to ensure that their needs, shaped by more than a century of non-Chinese rule, are met under a unified China. In fact, we could argue that a democratic China would be less likely to meet the needs of the Taiwanese than a non-democratic one, as the latter system would conceivably make it easier for Beijing to make exceptions for Taiwan and to impose them on the population.

Ultimately, the greatest weakness in proposals such as that made by Tung is that his idea is a non-starter. The DPP would never be able to present that to its constituents and not lost its support base as a result. The problem is actually more severe: “one China” will not work for the Taiwanese, period. Unification with China, democratic or otherwise, has at most 10 percent of support among the Taiwanese population: the rest either favor independence or the “status quo,” which itself is a euphemism for independence, if only de facto.

Longstanding trends in identification, combined with events in the past year, including the Sunflower Occupation to the results of the Nov. 29 “nine-in-one” elections, point to the ongoing, and in my opinion unstoppable, consolidation of Taiwanese nationalism, despite pressure from China and the global community. The genie is out of the bottle, and however inconvenient this might be, barring a military takeover by China Taiwan will continue to exist as a distinct political entity.

So why this insistence in almost every alternative model proposed, on the inevitability of unification? I would argue that Chinese propaganda, aimed not so much at the Taiwanese but rather at the international community, is the principal cause. Undoubtedly, by creating a sense of inevitability the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) hopes to break the will of the Taiwanese. Beijing’s clear signal to Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) that he would only be allowed to visit China if he expresses support for the “1992 consensus” — a condition that Wang Kung-yi (王崑義) of Tamkang University, an ideological ally of Tung, speculates might extend to other DPP mayors wishing to travel across the Taiwan Strait — seems to support that conclusion. Agree to “one China,” or your municipality will be excluded, and you won’t reap the benefits of dealing with China, it warns.

However as we just saw, such a strategy seems to be failing; key indicators on self-identification and support for unification versus independence attest to that failure. Instead, China’s propaganda efforts are intended to isolate Taiwan internationally by narrowing the question to a choice between war and unification. By presenting the image of unification as inevitable, the CCP maintains the lie that the Taiwan “question” is nothing more than the continuation of an internal dispute between two sides of the same family rather than a deep disagreement between two distinct nations. This has important ramifications for conflict resolution, as the mechanisms that are necessary for intervention are markedly different. By continuing to mischaracterize the nature of the conflict (as “internal” rather than “between states,” which the notion of inevitably helps reinforce) we ensure that the wrong instruments will continue to be used to resolve the conflict.

We therefore face a choice: Either we change the paradigm under which we address the crisis in the Taiwan Strait, which is long overdue, or we continue to ignore the essence of the conflict and impose a stillborn solution on the Taiwanese and thereby create greater trouble for the future. Unification is not inevitable; in fact, it is no longer an option.

 

J. Michael Cole is editor in chief of Thinking Taiwan, a senior non-resident fellow at the China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham, and an Associate researcher at the French Center for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC) in Taipei.

 

破解台海前途歷史必然的迷思 (Trans. by William Tsai)

台灣與中國的統一絕非必然。事實上,它已經不再是選項。

數十年來,學者和政治人物都費盡心思要為台海兩岸的死結尋求解套方式。至今提出過的一切解決方案,其核心都必定涉及「一個中國」的概念,無論用詞上作何表述。中國的智庫學者,以及台灣的藍、綠兩陣營,在這一點上挖空心思創造出各種詞彙:「一國兩憲」、「九二共識」、「一個中國各自表述」、「大一中」、「憲法一中」、「一國兩制」,諸如此類。他們期望運用這樣的發明創造避免台灣海峽再起戰端。但所有這些提案最大的問題,不只在於「統一是歷史必然」這一基本預設本身就漏洞百出,更在於這種基本預設完全是中國傳聲筒一手炮製出來,既限縮台灣選擇餘地,更把台灣和中國捆綁在一起的迷思。

目前,隨著民主進步黨2016年重回執政的前景看好,部分知識人開始主張民進黨凍結「台獨黨綱」對於台海兩岸的和平穩定至關重要,還有一些人最近更認為,民進黨也必須一併廢除1999年5月8日通過,用以取代台獨黨綱的「台灣前途決議文」。

前任行政院大陸委員會副主委童振源是綠營內部提出這種主張的論者之一。一如先前其他類似的論調,北京當局看來非常樂意大力宣揚這些論者的觀點。

在政治大學任教的童振源認為,民進黨不只應該廢棄「台灣前途決議文」,更要提出一個全新的兩岸交流平台,明文規定民進黨願意接受和中國統一,但必須以中國實現民主化為前提。我們姑且稱它為「兩岸民主統一論」。童振源也警告我們,要是做不到這點,兩岸關係就很有可能急速惡化。

「以『民主』這個字修飾「統一」一詞,完全符合台灣的根本價值與利益,並且讓中國繼續對統一抱有期望。」童振源在《台北時報》近日刊出的對頁評論中寫道。他接著說:

「此外,這也能夠讓統一成為開展中國民主化的積極力量。台灣可以宣佈自己只和人民普選產生的中國政府討論和平民主統一問題,唯有在北京實行民主之後,它和台北才能開會談判和平民主統一事宜,商討統一的具體內容及進行方式。」

童振源的提議有不少缺陷。如果這個提案確實是受到極力促統的《旺報》早先刊登的一篇社論啓發,這甚至還不成問題。更嚴重的是,他的說法和先前許多人如出一轍,把台灣當成了達成特定目的的手段,是通往中國民主化的途徑。他想讓我們相信,一旦這個結果實現(但我不得不說,這個成果十分渺茫,畢竟中國有太多機會向世界其他民主國家汲取民主經驗,卻從來不曾向民主前進一步),台灣自我犧牲,回歸「統一中國」的時候也就到了。倘若認同與國族情感是決定政治體制性質的唯一因素,那我們應當期望比利時人心甘情願地成為法國的一部份,但這再荒唐也不過了。

童振源和他的先進們掉進了同一個陷阱:他也認為統一是歷史必然,只是政治糾紛作梗,一旦爭議獲得解決,統一也就毫無阻礙。他甚至玩起了以「民主」替換「統一」的文字遊戲,但這種手法豈能騙過北京當局?換得的終歸還是同一個結果。

他的論證更要命的缺陷,則是徹底無視台灣人民的意志與期望,彷彿民主化的中國就會不可思議地自動放棄主宰台灣人命運的渴望。回歸統一的中國之後,台灣2300萬人口也就從自己國家裡的多數,成為全中國之下的少數,在全中國14億人口裡面差不多只佔了六十分之一。要假定只佔這麼少數的台灣人還能在統一的中國之下,確保一百多年來不受中國統治的經驗所產生的需求能繼續得到照顧,需要比孤注一擲更強大的信念。實際上,我們甚至可以斷言,民主化的中國比起不民主的中國更不可能照顧台灣人的需求,因為可想而知,實行專制的北京當局提供台灣破格待遇,並且強要中國人民接受是更輕而易舉的。

最後,童振源等人提出的這一類構想,最大的致命傷是根本缺乏可行性。民進黨決不可能向選民提出這種構想而不喪失民意基礎的。問題其實更加嚴峻:「一個中國」對台灣人就是行不通,如此而已。無論是以民主還是其他方式,台灣人對於和中國統一的支持度充其量只有百分之十,剩下的要不就支持獨立,要不就維持「現狀」,而維持現狀本身就是獨立的委婉表述,就算只是事實上的獨立。

長久以來的認同趨勢,加上過去一年發生的諸多事態,包括太陽花運動佔領立法院,以及11月29日九合一選舉結果,都指出了台灣國族主義即使受到中國及世界各國的壓力,仍然持續鞏固強化,而在我看來,這一演變是不可阻擋的。木已成舟、覆水難收,除非中國出兵攻佔,否則台灣會繼續作為一個獨特的政治實體而存在。

那麼,為何至今提出過的幾乎每一套替代模式,始終堅持要以中國統一的必然性為前提?我以為主因還是中國方面的宣傳,宣傳的對象倒不是台灣人民,而是國際社會。毫無疑問,中國共產黨想要製造出不可避免的必然感受,好瓦解台灣人的意志。北京當局對台北市長柯文哲明確示意,只有表態支持九二共識才允許他訪問中國,似乎足以證實這個結論,觀點和童振源相同的淡江大學教授王崑義推斷,這個條件很可能一體適用於其他有意造訪中國的民進黨籍縣市首長。中國是在警告:認同「一個中國」,否則你治理的城市就會被排除,得不到和中國往來的利益。

然而,正如前文所述,這樣的策略看來是失敗的。自我認同、以及統一對獨立支持度的各項關鍵指標都足以證明這個失敗。相形之下,中國的宣傳策略則力圖在國際上孤立台灣,將台灣的選擇限縮到只能戰爭與和平二選一。中共運用「中國統一是歷史必然」的概念,堅持複誦「『台灣問題』不過是一家屋簷下兩兄弟內部鬥爭的延續,而非兩個不同國家深刻歧異與衝突」這樣的謊言。這對於衝突的化解產生了嚴重影響,因為處理這兩種狀況所需的介入調停機制明顯不同。持續錯誤呈現衝突本質的結果(必然性概念強化了台海問題是「國內衝突」而非「國與國衝突」的認知),也就確定了我們要繼續運用錯誤的工具解決問題。

於是我們面臨一個抉擇:要不就改變早已過時的處理台海危機範式,要不就繼續無視台海兩岸衝突的本質,將無效的解決方案強加於台灣人,從而製造出更大的後患。台灣與中國的統一絕非必然,事實上,它已經不再是選項。

9 Responses to “Debunking the Myth of Inevitability in the Taiwan Strait”

January 27, 2015 at 6:47 am, sofuank said:

I think there is still a lot of uncertainty in the 2016 election. All these talks about the prospect of the Democratic Progressive Party winning is premature. What I also mean is that the pressure on the DPP to clarify its China policy is uncalled for.

In the last election in 2012, the DPP candidate ran on the platform that Taiwan and the Republic of China are mutually interchangeable (at that time a Taiwan consensus). This proposal was nothing new and the same as the party’s basic platform since 1999. It was not a surprise to everyone and any DPP candidate would have said the same. However US vetoed this idea, hinting to the Taiwanese that the two are not the same. The Taiwanese taking the cue and dismiss this idea. This is rather unfortunate because at that time I thought the idea was reasonable and predictable.

My suggestion to the DPP candidate in 2016 is actually say Nothing and clarify Nothing. I would bet that the 3 largest powers bordering Taiwan, all 3 of them, publicly would want DPP to “clarify” to show their “concern”(meaning, their influence, their weight, and that they have a finally say) But honestly though, what do these 3 powers really want deep in their hearts? They want the DPP to say Absolutely Nothing.

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April 16, 2015 at 10:39 pm, taibazi said:

[deleted] Taiwanese would think they can resist the power and pull from China?
What a joke.

Unification is the only option, NO choice, either by military taking-over or slow and peaceful economic integration

Face reality, tai-ba-zi, this is your destiny.

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April 17, 2015 at 7:54 am, Quentin Bonaventure said:

I really don’t get why historical arguments should be so meaningful. Especially when it is noticed in another article from the same author that a lot if not most of Taiwanese people are “dumb about their history”… History only is what people what people want to make out of it. One may claim everything and its opposite using historical facts, I am even more lost when it come about “time” : it is even more easy to find “good arguments” when using how long it has been like this compared to how long it is not anymore. Some people claim a 50 years old fact is more important than one that spans couple centuries, others will claim that the longer the meaningful. Following this, I may claim aboriginal only should have an auto-determination right : they spent thousands years in this island, before being colonized by Chinese immigrants who are now making 97% of the population ! Or maybe we may have fun redrawing everything in the Old Continent, since our history has always been made of unification and war ! Why should Portugal be independent ? why is Scotland not ? Why Germany reunited but not Czechoslovakia ? Why Yugoslavia exploded while we go against Russia’s claim over Ukraine ? How about Macedonia ? Provence ? Sicilia ? Switzerland ? Belgium ? Alsace ? Moldavia ? Why is Algeria not anymore part of France while Savoie is, despite the last became part of it decades after Algeria ? Is that cultural and istorical differences ? But c’mon, we used to share a common history with North Africa, as far as the Roman Empire and Carthage. It is “OUR SEA”, the one in the middle of us, why should later Arabian invasion cut off our cultural and historical links to the so-called Maghreb ? Oh well, it may depends if we consider the Roman Empire has something to do with France history too…

What is the “extent” to which Czechoslovakia can be consider as one but not Taiwan and China ? That’s totally subjective and dishonest ! Being subjective and dishonest, I may argue that the ROC is older than the PRC, so… Greater China ought to be ruled by ROC, especially since the ROC constitution states it for more than a century ! Why should 23 million people forbid 1 600 millions people to reach their fate as ROC citizens ? Is that because the CCP kicked the KMT out ? Well, if considering war is a good argument, then Beijing has the strongest arguments about military solutions over Taiwan ! China uses historical facts to serve its claims, if that is so wrong, why to go the same way ? Is that trying to use the same weapon to fight back ? So it should recognized as such, honestly !

It is as superficial as Lee Teng-hui talking about Austronesian genes inside Taiwanese people DNA in order to create a Taiwanese nation, and then criticizing Ma Ying-jeou for emphasizing blood ties with mainland Chinese in his book. Is that good arguments ? All I see is dirty and dangerous political arguments to serve their own goals. Researchers should never take part of that… In this article comments, Hal made some good points to which I agree, but he also felt into this awkward “blood” argument, that is even more “ridiculous”…

The most important point is future, nobody cares of past. What will become Taiwan if reunited with nowadays China in the middle of nowadays world ? Putting in simpler words : what are the goods and bads of reunification for Taiwanese people (and those citizens only) ? That is the only question ! Should China become a democratic, peaceful and wealthy country, well, certainly Taiwan ought to be part of it without even thinking… If global power countries such as the USA don’t think it is a bad things for them and try convincing Taiwan not to reunite with China but reinforce cross-Atlantic ties to counter China’s power… Or if Taiwanese people cherish their own liberty than wealth, and that’s the main reason why the reunification question will always haunt everybody : we know that people may easily give up liberty if it means an increase of wealth or security. No matter “thinkers” hate that fact, China rulers are smart enough to know that and how to put it in work. It is easy to claim your thoughts are directed to the “people” and their well-being, but if doing so, it should start from what those people say, not “teaching” them what they should be or think… Especially when not being a citizen !

Oh, and I don’t think reunification is a good deal for Taiwan today, but I may change my mind tomorrow, especially if Taiwanese people feel like it is the way to go. As I always say : “Taiwan is more Chinese than the PRC, but the PRC is China, and China will always be more Chinese than any other countries”, this sentence alone set most arguments, either pro-independent or not, to a null value. It includes every historical or cultural or whatever arguments one may make.

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