Carnegie Web Commentary- Posted April 26, 2004
· Chen Shui-bian and the Pan-Green alliance are now a force to be reckoned with in Taiwan politics. Chen has increased his support by over ten percent in four years, despite poor administration performance and a unified opposition.
· At present, we see a highly polarized power structure and society in Taiwan, but this bipolar structure might transition to a largely unipolar, Pan-Green-dominant polity in the next 2-3 years, if the Pan-Blue alliance continues to decline in power.
· Some observers believe that the rancor and divisiveness of the presidential election and the furor over the assassination attempt have undermined faith in fairness and due process, thus reinforcing the zero-sum, "no-holds-barred" feature of Taiwan politics. Others point to the absence of violence during and after the election and assert that the integrity of the process and of Taiwan's political institutions remains sound. It is probably too soon to tell which view is correct. One indicator of the integrity of Taiwan's political system will be the response of Taiwan's courts to such divisive issues as the assassination investigation, as well as the reaction of the public.
· The December 2004 Legislative Yuan (LY) elections will provide a major indicator of the shifting political power structure.
· The Pan-Blue alliance needs more charismatic and responsive leadership if it hopes to retain its current majority in the LY. It also needs to cooperate in selecting candidates for the December LY election, as well as a more effective political message. Heretofore, its message has been inconsistent, defensive, and largely reactive.
· When Lien Chan and James Soong step down as leaders of the Pan-Blue coalition will depend on the outcome of the current challenges to the presidential election and the assassination investigation. If these challenges fail, they must step down; but this could take some time, something the Pan-Blue alliance does not have much of. But some observers argue that the retirement of Lien Chan and James Soong could fragment the KMT and the alliance.
· If Chen Shui-bian is not viewed as provoking a crisis in cross-Strait relations between now and the December LY elections, and if the Pan-Blue alliance cannot coordinate its strategy for nominating candidates, Pan-Green will probably win a majority in the Legislative Yuan. The populace is tired of a deadlocked government and will interpret the absence of a crisis as Beijing's willingness to accept a Pan-Green-controlled government.
· Since winning reelection in March, Chen Shui-bian has shown few signs of moderating his rhetoric regarding Taiwan's sovereign status and the positions he took during the election campaign on the issue of future referenda and a new constitution:
· He has interpreted his razor-thin victory as confirmation of a supposed "consensus" among the Taiwan public regarding the island's status as a sovereign and independent nation, and a clear repudiation of any "One China" concept.
· He has implied that all of Taiwan's citizens accept the need to establish (and by implication to maintain) Taiwan's status as a sovereign nation. In reality, polls suggest that a significant number of individuals remain open-minded about the future, and especially about Taiwan's relationship with China.
· He has reaffirmed his definition of the "status quo" as the consolidation of Taiwan's existing status as a sovereign and independent nation since 1912, entirely separate from China. This interpretation significantly distorts Taiwan's status in the international community.
· He has asserted the need for Beijing to accept this "reality" and to open up political talks with Taiwan on the principles of peace, equality, and reciprocity.
· He has reaffirmed his commitment to move forward with a popular referendum on constitutional reform by 2006, and to enact a new constitution by May 2008. Chen insists that any changes to the constitution will merely correct structural irregularities and not alter Taiwan's status quo. However::
· Chen Shui-bian has not addressed the implications of using unconstitutional procedures (i.e., a referendum) to make basic constitutional changes, or to establish a new constitution. These efforts would bypass the Legislative Yuan and establish the people of Taiwan as the source of sovereignty of the Taiwan state. This would constitute a major unilateral change in the status quo.
· Chen Shui-bian has indicated that, even though language relating to the Republic of China's territorial expanse contained in the Preamble and Article Four of Taiwan's current constitution will be retained, this language will be subject to "reinterpretation." This clearly suggests that any new or revised constitution will be reinterpreted as referring only to the island of Taiwan and its nearby areas, not, as currently is the case, to mainland China. This would constitute another major change in the status quo.
· Senior advisers to Chen Shui-bian have indicated that the ultimate disposition of the constitution will be subject to the will of the people, suggesting that the Chen Shui-bian government is open to even more drastic changes.
· Members of Chen Shui-bian's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) have suggested that Chen will seek to make his initiatives more palatable to Beijing by moving forward to enact the Three Links as soon as possible in his second term. However, significant resistance to the Three Links remains within the DPP and among pro-independence forces in general. Chen Shui-bian will nonetheless most likely push for the Three Links with minimal, if any, preconditions-both to placate Beijing and in response to intense business pressure, and also to show the populace that his second term can produce advances in cross-strait relations.
CHINA AND THE UNITED STATES
· With respect to China, there is a strong assumption within Chen Shui-bian's inner circle that Beijing must now accept the reality of a Chen Shui-bian/DPP-dominated power structure on Taiwan, drop its One China precondition to cross-strait talks, and open up contacts with the Chen government. I believe that Chen Shui-bian will attempt to convince Washington of the need to encourage or pressure Beijing to drop its One China precondition and open up such talks.
· It is virtually inconceivable that Beijing will do this. The Chinese leadership will first see whether the Pan-Blue alliance is able to hold onto power in the December elections and thereby consolidate support among at least half of the Taiwan electorate. Beijing will also wait to see how the public, the Pan-Blue alliance, and the Legislative Yuan will approach the issue of a constitutional referendum (the Taiwan public has already shown some hesitancy on the issue of referenda, as witnessed by the failure of the March referendum). Beijing also will seek to strike a contrast between its more cooperative stance with Washington and the difficulties that Washington is experiencing with Chen Shui-bian and Taiwan, in order to convince Washington of the need to place more constraints on the Chen Shui-bian government.
· If they are smart, the Chinese will refrain entirely from any threats or military gestures, but will instead communicate clearly and decisively to Washington that China cannot tolerate unilateral changes in the status quo via referenda and constitutional revision. They will seek to pin Washington to its commitment to oppose such unilateral change.
· It's too soon to tell how willing Beijing might be to move forward with the Three Links during a second Chen Shui-bian term of office. My guess is that, if Chen actually agrees to establish the Three Links without insisting on direct government-to-government contacts, Beijing will probably go along, in the belief that this will increase the pull exerted on Taiwan by economic forces.
· With respect to Washington, I expect that Bush retains little tolerance for potentially destabilizing behavior by either side, and especially not by Chen Shui-bian. My sense is that there is considerable frustration with and some distrust of Chen and his intentions among senior Bush administration officials.
· The Bush administration will continue to encourage the Three Links and a cross-strait political dialogue. However, any U.S. effort to pressure China to drop the One China precondition will only alarm Beijing and provide ammunition to those in the Chinese leadership who argue that Beijing must reduce its reliance on the United States to restrain Chen Shui-bian.
· I have been told that the U.S. government will adopt a far more "forward" policy toward the Taiwan problem, but I do not know what this will consist of: more concerted pressure on Chen? A clearer and more ominous message for the Taiwan public? Initiatives toward Beijing?
· U.S. behavior will depend to a great extent on how Chen Shui-bian and Beijing behave in the near term. If Chen Shui-bian continues to press for a referendum on a new constitution, and if Beijing becomes highly agitated in response, yet avoids making any concrete military threats, then the United States will probably get tougher with the Chen government. But if Beijing begins to threaten or apply military coercion, Washington will likely place greater emphasis on deterring Chinese behavior.
· The ultimate danger in all this is that Beijing and Washington will view the so-called "red lines" regarding both Chinese and Taiwanese behavior very differently. For example, concerning Taiwan, the U.S. might focus primarily on whether or not Chen Shui-bian explicitly violates the Five No's and take a "wait-and-see" attitude on the issue of popular views toward or votes regarding a referendum or plans for a new constitution. In contrast, Beijing might focus less on the Five No's and more on Chen Shui-bian's efforts to alter the juridical basis for independence, as described above. Beijing also might insist that it cannot wait to see the results of a referendum or similar actions, arguing that once they occur, it will become virtually impossible to reverse them. Concerning China, the U.S. might view any use of military coercion by Beijing as a provocation, while the Chinese leadership might view such action as necessary to communicate the credibility of their opposition to Chen Shui-bian's behavior
· Overall, many uncertainties and potential dangers lie ahead. The Bush administration will need to follow events in the complex P.R.C.-Taiwan relationship very closely and seek to deter both sides from undermining the status quo. It will need to pay particular attention to events in Taiwan.