Within such a framework of intense political impasse between the two sides of the Straits, a new phenomenon of non-governmental exchanges has emerged. It has manifested itself in four areas:
Exchanges between the mainland and the political parties that oppose Chen Shui-bian in Taiwan have markedly increased. Before the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) came to power, Beijing had sometimes sent congratulations to the Kuomintang (KMT) when it held a party congress and had make some contact with the New Party. However, whether it was the KMT or the New Party, none dared to raise the banner of exchanges with the mainland for fear of being labelled "betraying Taiwan". Since the DPP came to power, the KMT, the People First Party (PFP) and the New Party have raised the banner of "exchanges between political parties" and lavishly organized delegations to visit the mainland for tours, dialogues and exchanges.
In the past year, a continuous stream of prominent figures from Taiwan's opposition parties visited the mainland. Apart from the "lawmakers" affiliated with the three parties mentioned above, who have organized delegations to visit the mainland repeatedly, incumbent KMT Vice-Chairmen Vincent Siew, Wu Poh-hsiung and Chiang Chung-ling; KMT former secretary-general John Chang; former economics "minister" Chiang Pin-kung; PFP veteran Liu Sung-fan; New Party veteran Fung Hu-hsiang; political standout Lin Yang-kang; and DPP former Chairman Hsu Hsin-liang all appeared in Beijing. In terms of the political profiles of the visitors and of the number of such visits, the past year was unprecedented.
On the issue of upholding the "one China" principle (the three opposition parties from Taiwan insist on adding the clause "each side can interpret it respectively"), and of returning to the "1992 consensus", the mainland has reached a consensus with the three opposition parties from Taiwan, and they have jointly exerted pressure on Taiwanese authorities. This is a rare phenomenon, one not seen in recent years.
Promoted by the KMT, the vice-mayor of Taipei and the vice-mayor of Shanghai visited each other. During the mutual visits and exchanges, the mainland addressed Taipei's vice-mayor in his official capacity. This also was unprecedented.
Although the mainland refuses to have official dealings with the DPP, when DPP Chairman Hsieh Chang-ting said that "according to the constitution of the Republic of China, Kaohsiung and Xiamen are two cities of one country", mainland officials immediately invited him to visit Xiamen. When Hsieh was blocked by Taiwanese authorities from making the trip, the mainland allowed the mayor of Xiamen to go to Kaohsiung for a visit. Although ultimately Xiamen's mayor was unable to make the trip, either, this kind of inter-city exchange has already become a new way of dealing across the Straits, and I am sure that this kind of exchange will play an important role in improving cross-Straits ties and that these exchanges are significant because they are no longer purely non-governmental but have some official capacity.
At present, Taiwanese authorities have agreed to allow mainland reporters to stay in Taiwan to cover news. Although it is only a matter of completing and implementing a policy set by the KMT administration, it has enabled cross-Straits journalistic exchanges to move into a new stage.
During the past year, cross-Straits economic and trade exchanges have developed rapidly. In 2000, the amount of Taiwanese investment on the Chinese mainland increased 108 per cent compared with 1999. Meanwhile, Taiwan-funded enterprises on the mainland have changed from labour-intensive to capital- and knowledge-intensive. They are mainly to be found in electronics, information and other high-tech sectors.
The enthusiasm for making investments on the mainland among business people and industrialists in Taiwan has forced the authorities to announce that a "new perspective", characterized by "active opening and effective management", will be used to adjust the "go slow, be patient" policy.
Although Taiwanese authorities have yet to take some substantive measures, and the "mini-three links" are only an expedient measure for making a gesture, the momentum of economic integration between the two sides of the Straits is one which cannot be stopped by anyone. After both sides of the Straits join the World Trade Organization, Taiwanese authorities will find it more difficult to continue to use the "go slow, be patient" policy to resist such a tendency.
'Unification or independence'
Inside the DPP, "another kind of reflection" on the controversy over the "unification or independence" matter has emerged.
Before the DPP became the ruling party, some members had sensed that the party's "independence" platform was a burden, and it began a "great China policy debate". However, the party members who advocated a change, such as Hsu Hsin-liang, Shih Ming-teh and Chen Wen-chien, were kicked out of the party, and the DPP had to carry the burden of "independence" on its back but could not make any move until last year.
Becoming the ruling party, however, put the DPP at the forefront facing the mainland, a position requiring that it come up with some pragmatic and workable policy towards the mainland to be able to satisfy the people's demand for better cross-Straits ties and to stabilize Taiwan's economic and political situations.
For this reason, more and more people in the DPP have begun to ponder the issue of an adjustment to mainland policy, and various kinds of suggestions have been made. Chen Chao-nan was among the first to suggest an amendment to the "independence" platform, and the Welfare State Alliance (a faction) proposed the idea of "one China in terms of constitution". It was under that concept that Hsieh Chang-ting said, "According to the constitution of the Republic of China, Kaohsiung and Xiamen are two cities of one country."
Thereafter, Hsieh and his colleagues said, "the DPP does not exclude the possibility of unification", and then Chen Shui-bian said, "both sides of the Straits were originally a family", and "according to the constitution of the Republic of China", "'one China' was initially not a problem" when explaining his "theory of integration".
These new proposals were all meant to be "probing". Not only did they probe whether the mainland could accept them, but they also probed whether they could be accepted within the DPP. The result of such probing was that the mainland "can accept, though is not satisfied with", some of these proposals, as was illustrated by the invitation to Hsieh Chang-ting for a visit.
But the problem is that these new proposals were not accepted within the DPP and failed to become a consensus of that party. Both Hsieh Chang-ting and Chen Shui-bian interpreted them differently when facing their party members. Seeing this, the mainland felt that they were using a "two-faced strategy", explaining things one way to the outside and another way to the inside. It felt that in the final analysis, the nature of "Taiwan independence" remains unchanged, and the "new proposals" are only smoke screens to cover up this nature. That is why the mainland lost interest in these "new proposals".
Let us change our angle. How easy is it to demand a political party to change its nature in a short period of time? So long as that party changes in a direction towards reunification, we on the mainland should welcome it. The facts that the DPP had advocated "Taiwan independence" before becoming the ruling party but dares not talk about it after becoming one, and that it has to seek those "new proposals" to distance itself from "independence" and move closer to reunification, shows that "Taiwan independence" is indeed a dead end. It also indicates that the DPP is not an iron plate but a party capable of change. Is DPP former Chairman Hsu Hsin-liang not saying openly that he agrees with "one China" now? So long as the DPP can change to show a willingness to share the goal of reunification, and to recognize that Taiwanese are Chinese, peace between the two sides will immediately have a basic guarantee.
There have been subtle changes in public opinion on the island, with an increasing number of people agreeing with "one country, two systems".
Against the background that non-governmental exchanges across the Straits took place in a new atmosphere and that the DPP kept raising new proposals, Taiwan's public opinion also went through subtle changes.
We know that, in any society, a "political correctness standard" (PC standard) exists. In a society, remarks and ideas that are politically correct will be approved by the dominant values of that society and will find a place in the language of that society; those which are not politically correct will be viewed as heresy.
Lee Teng-hui's biggest contribution to "Taiwan independence" was that during the 12 years of his reign, he gradually reversed the "PC standard" for the issue of reunification. It was a crime to advocate "Taiwan independence" during the days of the Chiangs, and then it was a "betrayal of Taiwan" or "collusion with Communists" to talk about reunification during the later days of Lee's administration. But "independence" could be discussed lavishly. The reversal of the "PC standard" and the psychological changes in society associated with it were one of the important reasons that Chen Shui-bian could come to power.
However, what is ironic is that, since Chen took office, a trend to "negate the negated" has emerged. It is no longer a taboo to talk about reunification, and not only the political heavyweights in the opposition alliance are daring to talk about it, but even Chen himself has to advocate "integration".
Recently, several organizations with different political backgrounds in Taiwan have carried out opinion polls to gauge the feelings towards independence and reunification. They have reached a common conclusion: The number of people supporting reunification is on the rise. The opinion poll conducted by the Mainland Affairs Council is particularly noteworthy, for it shows that as high as 15.6 per cent of respondents support the concept of "one country, two systems" - a record high in five years.
The poll, it must be pointed out, was conducted by the Mainland Affairs Council, and so some respondents who actually wanted reunification dared not say so, plus the fact that some favoured reunification but did not want it to take place under "one country, two systems". If these two groups are added in, we may say that at least 20 per cent of the population support reunification. Of course, 20 per cent is not a majority, but if we compare this with the 3 to 4 per cent who in 1991 said they supported "one country, two systems", we may say that public opinion on the island has experienced subtle changes which are conducive to reunification.
United front worldwide
A united front is being built by Chinese associations around the world to promote reunification and oppose "Taiwan independence".
During the past year, many overseas Chinese have built organizations to oppose "Taiwan independence" and promote reunification. They have called on Taiwanese authorities to return to the principle of "one China" and begin talks with the mainland as soon as possible. In Australia, Europe and the United States, these organizations staged large-scale gatherings which were attended by mainland scholars. This shows that an alliance of Chinese around the world oppose "Taiwan independence" and promote reunification, is taking shape.
My conclusion, then, is as follows:
Of the eight points mentioned above, the first four (Editor's note: See yesterday's China Daily for a discussion of the first four points) have a negative impact on cross-Straits relations; the rest have a positive effect. Comparing the two sets, I would say that the former is having a bigger influence, the latter four characteristics can play only a limited essential function.
Therefore, I hold that the worsening trend of cross-Straits relations has not been arrested, and that although things are calm on the surface, a bigger and more serious crisis is brewing.
The only way to solve this crisis is to create space for ambiguity. Before reunification takes place, to avoid the tragedy of a "head-on collision" between the two sides, both sides should observe a basic rule of the game; that is, they must refrain from challenging each other's bottom line. What I mean by "creating space for ambiguity" is establishing a buffer zone between the bottom lines of the two sides.
Since Chinese Vice-Premier Qian Qichen explained the "one China" principle as "the mainland and Taiwan together belong to one China" last August, a bigger space for ambiguity has been created for the "one China" issue, and a buffer zone has been established that can better accommodate the positions of both sides.
On the island, the opposition alliance, which represents a majority of the people's will, has expressed explicit support for the "one China" principle and the "1992 consensus".
Meanwhile, senior officials of the DPP have made remarks such as "the constitution of the Republic of China is a one China framework", and Xiamen and Kaohsiung are "two cities of one country". This indicates that if Taiwanese authorities were to accept the "one China" principle and the "1992 consensus", there should not be insurmountable resistance on the island. We may even say that there has been a majority of opinion supporting them. Therefore, when the mainland requests Taiwanese authorities to accept the "one-China" principle and the "1992 consensus", it is not trying to make them do things they cannot do.
Once Qian made the above-mentioned new clarification, the mainland had no more room to back down. If Taiwanese authorities cannot even accept an interpretation of "one China" in such a way or do not want to recognize themselves as Chinese, then the mainland will have no choice but to prepare for the worst, including military preparation and the psychological preparation for dealing with a strong enemy till the end.
From the above analysis, we can see that when it comes to current cross-Straits relations, the mainland has not challenged Taiwan's bottom line, but Taiwan has already pounded at the mainland's bottom line. Therefore, the "ball" which can determine whether cross-Straits ties will relax, is in Taiwan's court. Heightened tensions in cross-Straits relations, if they persist for a long time, will certainly hurt the interest of Taiwan. Even if it is not for the purpose of reunification, but just for Taiwan's own interest, it is time for Taiwanese authorities to change course.