Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Historical tide can't be reversed

By Shen Dingli ( Updated: 2015-01-07 16:20

Historical tide can't be reversed

Twin Oaks Estate in Washington seen on snowy Tuesday. A ceremony raising the Taiwan flag here on Jan 1 drew a protest from the Chinese government and disappointment expressed by the US government. Chen Weihua / China Daily

On January 1, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in the United States held a ceremony at Twin Oaks to "raise the flag". It was the first time it has done so since Washington severed its official relations with Taipei in 1979.

However, the significance of this event is being exaggerated. The US State Department on Tuesday denounced the flag-raising ceremony, saying it violated a long-standing pact on US-Taiwan ties.

Since the US normalized relationship with Beijing, Washington has not allowed the Taiwan flag to fly on any official occasions in the US, because the US does not regard Taiwan as having legal statehood. Therefore, TECRO at most is an "official organization" of a non-state entity. Obviously TECRO cannot raise flag in the US on formal occasions where the US officials would be present.

"Raising the flag" does not accord Taiwan any statehood internationally, it is merely self-amusement.

But there is an aspect to the incident that is of concern, Washington may have tolerated the flag. It is hard to believe that the US government was not informed of the event prior to its happening. The Obama administration seems to have tacitly allowed TECRO to signal a change in the US’ established position.

China and the US have built, over the past 35 years, their official partnership. With their three communiqués establishing the One-China Principle, China and the US have largely stabilized not only their bilateral ties but also the balance in the Asia-Pacific, fostering peace and prosperity in the entire region. Past experience shows that as long as the US honors that commitment, all stakeholders in the area benefit from the status quo. "Raising the flag" in this way on American soil violates the US commitment to the One-China principle.

At a time when US President Barack Obama is eager to show that he is not a lame duck, the tacit consent given TECRO’s raising of the flag can only be counterproductive. A president of honor would not permit his country’s commitment to the three communiqués establishing the One-China Principle be undermined in this way.

This logic applies to Taiwan as well. With the election last year, the political situation on the island is in a similar situation. It is possible to understand the current grim check-and-balance situation in Taiwan’s local politics, but to resort to such antics does not help promote the legitimacy of the outgoing government or leave an historical legacy. Indeed, the real legacy is the improvement in cross-Straits relations that have been made.

China has pursued a peaceful approach to Sino-US relations and cross-Straits relations, but with an unshakeable commitment to One China. The Chinese leadership has been promoting the new type of major-country relations with the US, stressing trust and equality.

It will take time to build such a partnership given the mistrust that exists, and it is unhelpful to allow any provocation by others sabotage this process. After all, the rise of China is unstoppable. TECRO’s trick of "raising the flag" will not deter the historical inevitability of China’s national integration.

The author is professor and associate dean of Institute of International Studies, Fudan University

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