Recipe for harmony

TAIWAN’S opposition candidate for the March 20 polls, Lien Chan, has created a stir by proposing to sign a free trade agreement with China and also to visit the mainland to resolve the missile issue if elected to the office of president.

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Published: Wed 25 Feb 2004, 1:01 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:15 AM

It is difficult to predict what impact these promises will have on Taiwanese voters, but clearly they are aimed at further distancing his candidacy from that of the present incumbent, Chen Shui-bian. President Chen has arranged for a controversial referendum to be held concurrently with the election on the issue of the 500 ballistic missiles China currently has deployed along its coast targeting the island. The governing Democratic Progressive Party represents the aspirations of the indigenous Taiwanese, whose emotional links with the ‘mother country’ are not as strong as those of the opposition KMT’s supporters, chiefly mainlanders who settled on the island after the defeat of Chiang Kai-shek’s forces in 1949. To the extent that the referendum represents an assertion of Taiwan’s ‘sovereignty’, it will probably go down well with the DPP’s core nationalist supporters. But Chen should have no illusions about the repercussions of both the missile vote and his pro-independence utterances on Taiwan’s future relations with China. Prosperous as it may be, the island’s economy is too deeply intertwined with that of the mainland for its leadership to embark on a collision course with Beijing. By contrast, the policies proposed by his rival sounds like a genuine recipe for political reconciliation. Lien believes that negotiations and closer economic integration could persuade the Communist authorities gradually to dismantle the missiles and put an end to the state of hostilities. A peace accord signed by China and Taiwan could bring about at least 50 years of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, says Lien. This is hardly wishful thinking. Notwithstanding the political tension, Taiwanese companies have sunk an estimated $100 billion into the mainland since the 1980s. Two-way trade between Taiwan and China totalled $41.69 billion between January and November in 2003, up 23 per cent year on year. President Chen says Taiwan’s economy must maintain its independence. “Taiwan can’t be an appendage of Communist China. It should be the centre of Asia,” he says. But neither should it become an irritant for China nor a constant reminder of its as yet unfulfilled goal of reunification. In the final analysis, flexibility, not confrontation, is the answer to Taiwan’s security challenge.

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