Taiwan’s push for independence

By Dingli Shen | March 25, 2007

Taipei’s recent rhetoric and actions, including a cruise missile test, seem to point to a concerted effort to free itself from mainland China.

For some time, Taiwan’s leadership has seemed interested in pursuing the fantasy of
independence. But lately, it has gone too far. Chen Shui-bian, the island’s head, said on March 4
and again on March 6, “Taiwan wants independence; Taiwan wants to change its name; Taiwan wants a
new constitution; Taiwan wants development.”

In doing so, he openly negated what he pledged at his first inauguration. On May 20, 2000, Chen
vowed, “[I] will not declare Taiwan independence; [I] will not change the name [of the Republic of
China]; [I] will not bring a ‘two-state’ [Taiwan vs. China] argument into the constitution; [I]
will not call for a referendum of independence; and there will be no possibility of abolishing
National Unification Council and Guidelines.”

Seven years later, Chen has broken nearly all of his promises and proven himself a liar and
“troublemaker,” in the words of former President Bill Clinton. In pursuit of self-interest and
political gain, he has disregarded Taiwanese security and his people’s fundamental interest in
peace and stability, which is preconditioned on his government’s honesty and sense of
responsibility. This inevitably escalates the tension across the Taiwan Strait.

As a post-World War II arrangement, Taiwan reverted to the mainland; Taiwan had belonged to
China until Japan defeated China in 1894 and imposed the Treaty of Shimonoseki, which gave the
island to Japan. But in 1945, China and the Allied Forces defeated Japan, and Taiwan was properly
returned to the mainland. Currently, the United Nations and a majority of the countries in the
world–including the United States and Japan–officially consider Taiwan a part of China. Given
mainland China’s ever-increasing hard and soft power, the fantasy of an independent Taiwan is
coming to an end.

However, Chen and the pro-independence crowd in Taiwan is pressing the issue while Chen is still
in power. They believe that the United States will protect Taiwan under any circumstances,
especially given the Bush administration’s temperament; they’re also betting that the mainland
values the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics more than a unified China. Most of all, they understand
that Taiwan will have no chance to gain independence during and after the second decade of this
century given China’s rise.

The mainland indeed treasures hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics, but for reasons of both
sovereignty and technical preparedness, mainland China can, and must, respond to Chen’s

For the security and safety of the Chinese living across the Taiwan Strait, the mainland has
refrained from taking military action. The possibility of U.S. military intervention, which would
violate international law, and the U.S.-Japan security alliance, also complicate the mainland’s war
scenario. But if Chen and his followers further push the envelope, it’s unlikely that Beijing would
allow Taiwan to leave without taking action.

Taiwan’s leader will not only place his people in jeopardy, but also hold the United States
hostage–if Washington honors its promise to “do whatever it takes” to defend Taiwan. This comment
by President George W. Bush in April 2001 has emboldened the Taiwanese government and could
eventually unnecessarily endanger America.

In a bold military move, Taiwan tested its Hsing-feng 2E (Brave Wind) cruise missile earlier
this month. Its range is 600 kilometers and can extend to 1,000 kilometers, threatening Shanghai
and Hong Kong. Reportedly, Taiwan plans to produce 50 Hsing-feng 2E missiles before 2010 and up to
500 in the years afterward.

To be sure, this threatens the mainland. But given China’s relative strength, Taiwan’s pursuit
for independence is hopeless. The mainland is far more resourceful, and in an arms race, Taiwan is
destined to collapse, whether the United States intervenes or not. Ultimately, Taiwan’s security
will come from sanity, not fantasy.

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