The Debate

China-Taiwan: What Ma Should Say to Xi

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The Debate

China-Taiwan: What Ma Should Say to Xi

Our author’s take on what the Taiwanese president might say at Saturday’s history meeting with China’s Xi Jinping.

China-Taiwan: What Ma Should Say to Xi
Credit: Voice of America

Mr. President (I hope you will respect my correct title as well):

On behalf of the people of Taiwan, I am pleased to meet with you to further the cause of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. This is a historic meeting and I hope we will both be part of a dialogue that will see an end to tensions between our two peoples.

I appreciate that you were willing to meet even though no formal agreements will be possible without the knowledge and consent of Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan and the Taiwanese people in accordance with our democratic system of government.

Still, there are some things we could agree on that I am certain the people of Taiwan would welcome and approve. The first would be your commitment on behalf of the People’s Republic of China never to use force or the threat of force or any other form of coercion against the Taiwanese people.

That would mean that your government would repeal the Anti-Secession Law of 2005. As you know, that measure officially threatens force against Taiwan not only if it formally declares its independence but even if we take too long to accept unification (which you call re-unification even though the PRC has never governed Taiwan even for a day).

You have been quoted as saying that the Taiwan question cannot be passed from one generation to the next. But I say on behalf of the people of Taiwan, Mr. President, that peace and stability must be passed from one generation to another. We each have a moral obligation to our children and grandchildren to ensure that there will never be a conflict bringing death and destruction on both sides of the Taiwan Strait and to others in the region.

You know that I have long wished to see closer political ties between Taiwan and China (what I and many call the Mainland) to match the deepening economic relations we enjoy. But I have never envisioned Taiwan simply being incorporated into the People’s Republic as it is presently constituted, even under the “one country, two systems” formula.

On the contrary, the kind of political union I have envisioned would consist of a fully democratic Taiwan and a clearly democratizing China. I thought that if China followed the gradual political reform progression that former Presidents Chiang Ching-kuo and Lee Teng-hui implemented in Taiwan, there would be a genuine opportunity for a path to unification/reunification.

But the people of Taiwan have made clear their own very different vision for their future. As they see it, Taiwan lived for fifty years under Japanese occupation, then for almost another fifty under my own Kuomintang Party’s dictatorship before we reformed it. After great suffering and sacrifice, we Taiwanese finally achieved complete self-rule in the 1990s and we have no intention of taking a disastrous step backward in our historic political development.

So, I have been compelled by the people who chose me as their leader to adjust my own thinking and to accept their deeply-held view as my own. That means that until China achieves the same level of political freedom, with the same guarantees of democratic rights and the rule of law as Taiwan enjoys, cross-Strait unification is simply off the table. Even then, whether a democratic Taiwan and a democratic China would ever choose to seek some form of political union will be for future generations to decide.

In the meantime, in our generation’s time, there are many ways the governments and peoples across the Strait could work together on matters of common interest – which brings me to the second thing on which we could agree with full confidence that the Taiwanese people would approve.

That is the matter of Taiwan’s participation in international affairs which China has blocked since 1979, depriving the people of Taiwan of the benefits of sharing, and contributing to, a range of activities that concern all humanity. That has meant a great loss to the international community as well, which is denied the remarkable talents and creativity of the Taiwanese people in science, medicine, economics, athletics, the arts, and other forms of human endeavor. With a stroke of the pen, you could end this unjust and counter-productive embargo against human talent and open the way for vast cooperation between Taiwan and China and other countries.

Interestingly, there is one area of international cooperation where our positions are reversed. Taiwan has joined 115 other nations in the Proliferation Security Initiative, which seeks to control the transfer of weapons of mass destruction and the technology to deliver it. Inexplicably, China has chosen not to participate in this critical worldwide campaign even though it has stated its commitment to the cause of nonproliferation. Taiwan has already played an important role by intercepting a North Korean ship carrying contraband materials. We encourage China to join the rest of the world in this effort.

Another extremely important security area where China and Taiwan have common stated objectives but different approaches to achieve them is the maritime domain. We share territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea but China’s building of artificial islands with military capabilities has created greater tensions and instability in the region. We urge China to follow the approach I have outlined in my East China Sea Initiative and apply it to outstanding issues in the South China Sea. In that regard, China should work with ASEAN to establish a meaningful Code of Conduct that will enable peaceful resolution of disputes. Taiwan is prepared to work with China on these issues and, to further our common objectives for regional peace and stability, I urge you to remove opposition to Taiwan becoming a member of ASEAN.

Finally, there is the matter of Taiwan’s national elections in January. While my KMT party is not doing well in the polls and we know of China’s concerns regarding the Democratic Progressive Party, I urge you to refrain from any kind of interference in our democratic process. We know how Beijing’s coercive activities in 1996, 2000, and 2004 all backfired with Taiwan’s electorate. Even my victories in 2008 and 2012 were perceived by many Taiwanese as tainted because Beijing, as well as Washington, made clear their strong preference for the KMT.

The most helpful role China can play in Taiwan’s election is as a quiet and studious observer of our democratic process as a model for the Chinese people to follow in the years to come.

Joseph A. Bosco is a member of the U.S.-China task force at the Center for the National Interest and a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He previously served as China country desk officer in the office of the secretary of Defense from 2005-2006.