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Paul Monk

(Tainan and Ilan, 14/16 April 2004) 

“Many people - including China’s leadership - believe [that] booming trade and investment is pulling  Taiwan inexorably closer to China, making eventual unification more likely. But the burgeoning of a separate Taiwanese identity casts doubt on that theory. At the very least, it suggests that China’s approach to the Taiwanese issue has proved ineffective and needs to be rethought.”

- Far Eastern Economic Review 4 March 2004.

China, Taiwan and Historical Memory.

A long article in Time magazine a month ago, headed ‘What Taiwan Wants’ included a chronology of key events leading up to the present state of affairs. It began with the Communist victory on the Chinese mainland, in 1949. It completely omitted the events of 1945 through 1949, during which Chinese Nationalists forces took over Taiwan, following the end of Japanese colonial rule, and violently suppressed an uprising in February 1947, killing many thousands of Taiwanese in the process.

Such an historical blind spot is rather remarkable in a reflection on why so many Taiwanese reject the idea of reunification with China, especially under duress. Yet time and again, those reflecting on this matter from outside Taiwan exhibit such blind spots. This is true not only of Western politicians and journalists, but of Asians and also of people in China. That the 2/28 uprising should be omitted even in an article plainly sympathetic to Taiwanese feelings and aspirations is especially notable.

     Yet such historical blind spots are very common. In consequence, actual history is, in general, remembered badly, which in turn means that most reasoning on the basis of history starts from flawed premises. The fact that human beings generally do not reason especially well in controversial matters, makes things even worse. Given that much of our political conversation and many of our geopolitical negotiations take place on the basis of broad assumptions about the historical past, bad history and poor reasoning continually get in the way of solutions to political and geopolitical problems.

So it is, I believe, in the case of relations between China and Taiwan. Not only do the majority of people in China not know the history of Taiwan, but in all probability, the policy makers in China do not know the history of Taiwan very well. Indeed, most of them quite certainly do not know the history of China itself very well. I am confident in saying this not simply because the nature of the regime in China has long inhibited the development of serious, critical history, but because even in the United States, or in my own country, Australia, it is clear that most people and most political leaders have very poorly developed historical knowledge of their own countries, to say nothing of their knowledge of others.

Now, consider that those in China who feel very strongly about the future of Taiwan do not know very much about its past. We must allow, though, that they feel strongly about it just because of the understanding they do have of the past. That understanding may very well differ from yours or mine, but unless it is acknowledged and dealt with, there will be endless mutual misunderstanding in discussions about the idea of reunification. Just because they do not see the past as do people in Taiwan, many people in China are at a loss to understand why Taiwan would not accept reunification with China.

I said that ignorance of the 2/28 events and their aftermath seems to be a blind spot among many observers of cross straits affairs. Let me add that I think there are other blind spots at work among those who are concerned with this matter. My biggest concern is that there may be something of a blind spot among native Taiwanese, or Taiwanese nationalists, regarding the reasons why so many Chinese feel so strongly about resuming sovereignty over Taiwan. That blind spot consists in downplaying or entirely overlooking the fact that, from a mainland Chinese perspective, Taiwan was taken away from China by Japan and withheld from integration within the People’s Republic of China by the intervention of the United States.

You may say, but this is not a blind spot! We know they think these things! Perhaps, in a sense, you do know them. But do you make sufficient allowance for the prominent role they play in Chinese thinking? Remember, also, that in China there are traumatic memories of Japanese invasion, going back not only to the terrible years between 1937 and 1945, but to the annexation of Manchuria in 1931, to the Twenty One Demands in 1919 and to the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895. These memories are every bit as powerful in China as 2/28 is here and they generate the insistent belief that resumption of sovereignty over Taiwan by China is both essential to China’s national dignity and something all right thinking people on Taiwan should not only accept but actually desire.

When, therefore, China threatens to use force to prevent the realisation of Taiwanese independence, people here remember 2/28 and the long years of authoritarian Chinese Nationalist rule in Taiwan, before Lee Tenghui became President. But it will help to keep things in perspective if they also remind themselves that China’s leaders are barely conscious of 2/28 or of Taiwan’s internal history before 1947 or since. They are, however, highly conscious of their own history, going back to 1895, 1919, 1931 and 1937. In this historical frame of reference, Taiwan is highly symbolic of Chinese humiliation and frustration.

I should add that, when Americans think about the matter, they have a different set of historical lenses again and are most likely to think of China’s role in the Korean War and the Vietnam War or of Tiananmen Square, without knowing much at all about Chinese, to say nothing of Taiwanese, perspectives. I know that in Australia there is very little knowledge about Taiwan, only a general awareness that it is a young democracy with an uncertain status in relation to China.

I make all these remarks about historical memory and differing perspectives and blind spots, because unless we appreciate these things, we will be prone to misunderstand what is going on in the prolonged stand-off over the future of Taiwan. We will, consequently, be prone to judge the attitudes of others without much empathy or understanding and, therefore, to respond to them in ways that aggravate the situation rather than contributing towards a constructive resolution of the problem at hand.

Let us be clear that it is a constructive solution that we seek here. It would be a tragedy if misunderstandings and radically divergent historical memories precipitated a war in which China attempted to retake Taiwan by force. It would be a tragedy for China, as well as for Taiwan, whichever way such a war ended. It would also be a terrible setback for the development of prosperity and stability throughout the Asia Pacific region.

The Playing for Time Stance.

Surely it is possible to overcome the legacies of the past and to transform the situation so that Taiwan is not subject to coercion, so that China does not feel frustrated or humiliated, so that Taiwan ceases to be a symbol of past Sino-Japanese and Sino-American conflicts, or a pawn in possible future Sino-American rivalries. In the future I am talking about, China and Taiwan will have a flourishing relationship, based on trust and trade and the ghosts of the past will have been laid to rest. Can such a future be created? Why not? Why not?

            In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, my friend Michael Swaine, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has an essay titled ‘Trouble in Taiwan’. In it, he worries openly that “the situation is by no means under control”. He warns, as many others have done, that China would risk and even fight a war with the United States to prevent Taiwan from achieving permanent independence. He states that China’s military deployments along the Taiwan Strait are “intended to deter Taiwan and the United States from closing off the option of eventual reunification.”

             Consider his use of the word ‘option’. After carefully and lucidly weighing up the factors in play in the present impasse, Michael states: “US strategic, political and moral interests” will be best served by seeking “to ensure that reunification between Taiwan and China remains an option.” I suggest that his reasons for taking this position are entirely understandable. Yet the word ‘option’ is meaningless unless other options are also open. Isn’t that so? But China’s position on the matter, as I understand it, is not that reunification should remain an option, but that it must take place, that there is ultimately no other option available to Taiwan.

            Like many other foreigners of good will, Michael believes that the solution lies in convincing China’s leaders to “soften their stance toward Taiwan and make China more attractive to Taiwanese citizens.” It is difficult to disagree with such a suggestion, but so long as independence does not rate as an option for the people of Taiwan, how can the matter be resolved satisfactorily? How can the freedom of the people of Taiwan to choose whether or on what terms they would accept reunification with China be respected?

As has often been remarked, China’s position is tantamount to that of a male suitor who says to a girl, “”Marry me, or I’ll shoot you.” Michael is like some nervous mediator saying that the suitor should use sweeter language and dress in his best clothes in order to attract the girl. The question is, does the girl ultimately get to choose? China’s answer, at present, is “No!” Taiwan’s citizens have made it increasingly clear that they believe the answer has to be “Yes!” Michael and others who hold to his position are, therefore, in the position of mediators who say, “Well, now, let’s not be hasty about it! Let’s just string the courtship out for however long it takes to get the girl to agree and, in the meantime, discourage the fellow from shooting her.”

            This courtship metaphor could be varied, of course. One variant of it would be that China is an aggrieved husband who will not accept divorce and insists that his estranged wife return home, but much the same sort of reasoning would follow in that case. I do not want to dwell on playful or suggestive metaphors, though. I simply wish to draw attention to the fact that, so long as we take what might be called the ‘play for time’ position that Michael holds, we fail to address the fundamental issue that is at stake - the freedom of a self-governing and prosperous people freely to make up their own minds whether or not they wish to be part of China.

Allowing that you, here in Taiwan, should have the freedom to choose is not to preclude the possibility of reunification. It is simply to point out that, in order to be genuine at all, a choice must be open ended. At present the choice offered to Taiwan is not really a choice at all. Consequently, while many in Taiwan feel threatened and indignant, Chinese nationalists actually feel frustrated by the status quo and threatened by manifestations of Taiwanese separatist feeling. This means the situation in regard to China and Taiwan is inherently unsustainable. Sooner or later, something has to give. We should apply our minds to thinking the matter through before something does.

 A US Disposition to Constrain China

Despite the Shanghai communique of 1972, acknowledging that there is only one China and Taiwan is part of it, the United States continues to supply Taiwan with the means to defend itself. Had Taiwan not been an island, separated from China by a wide and choppy strait, it would have been overrun in 1949. Had it not been for the Korean War, it might have been abandoned by the US in 1950. Instead, the ROC on Taiwan has survived, prospered and reformed. It is no longer merely the Republic of China, but a changed political entity. The US shows a renewed disposition to support it, both because it is democratic and because China is seen as an aspiring peer competitor, whose rise the US would like to constrain.

What is not clear is precisely to what extent or under what circumstances the US would fight to defend Taiwan against Chinese use of force. Tom Christensen has argued that there are hidden dangers in this situation, to do with misperceptions and Chinese frustration, which simple realist analyses are prone to overlook. Mike O’Hanlon made the case, in late 2000, that China cannot conquer Taiwan. That is probably still true, but its capabilities and military options are increasing steadily. Christensen’s point, in any case, is that its frustration may lead it to take steps which will pose very awkward policy dilemmas for the United States and could result in a war across the Taiwan Strait. Very serious consequences could flow from such a war, even if it was short and whatever its outcome.

Most observers seem disposed simply to try to manage this dangerous situation. I don’t know of anyone who is proposing a solution, unless it is pressuring Taiwan into accepting reunification on whatever terms it can negotiate with Beijing. Let’s call such an option the Hong Kong Gambit. Under that scenario, Taiwan would be shepherded back into China’s fold as Hong Kong was in 1997. It is hard to see how such an option could be exercised. But, as you will be aware, Taiwan has been abandoned before. If that is not to be how Taiwan is treated, an alternative option must be created.

Taiwan’s Disposition to Maintain De Facto Independence 

In 1949-50, the Truman administration considered abandoning Chiang Kai-shek (and therefore Taiwan) to the Red Army, because supporting him in the Chinese civil war had been a costly failure. The outbreak of the Korean War, in June 1950, changed that. Under Chinag, the ROC on Taiwan insisted that it was the legitimate government of all of China. This soon came to seem fatuous. Lee Tenghui’s decisions in the early 1990s to declare an end to the prolonged state of emergency and to recognise the PRC regime as the government of the mainland simply acknowledged this reality. Moreover, Lee still spoke of the eventual “reunification of China”.

Yet Taiwan has been drifting away from reunification with China ever since Chiang Chingkuo’s decision to legitimatise the Democratic Progressive Party in 1986. This has led to a flowering of civil society and democratic politics in Taiwan of a kind historically all but unprecedented in China. It also, of course, released long-suppressed Taiwanese aspirations to independence from China. These aspirations, as you all well know, have their roots in the deep historical past, as well as in the effects of half a century of Japanese colonial rule. They were deepened by resentment of Guomindang corruption and repression in the 1940s and 1950s, rejection of the chaos of Maoism in the 1960s and 1970s, and revulsion from the repressive practices of the current regime in China in the 1980s and 1990s.

Whatever reasonable claims the PRC might have had to assume sovereignty over Taiwan in 1949 have fallen away with the passing of half a century and the emergence of a distinct, vigorous and free polity on Taiwan. However well disposed one may be to China’s quest for modernisation and revitalisation, it is difficult to see why Taiwan should be required to accept the constraints of incorporation in the Chinese polity when it has already successfully democratised itself.

In 1984, I understand, Deng Xiaoping made secret overtures to Chiang Chingkuo, using one of the sons of Liao Chung-k’ai as an emissary. Recalling their student days together in Moscow sixty years before, Deng urged that the two of them work for national reunification, now that Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong were dead. Using the younger Liao as an emissary was a stroke of genius, since old Liao had been the leader of the Left within the Guomindang before his assassination on 20 August 1925 - and Chiang Ching-kuo had himself been on the Left in the 1920s, accusing his father in 1927 of being a counter-revolutionary.

So long as the principle of one China is acknowledged, Deng’s message went, everything else is negotiable. Yet CCK rejected Deng’s overtures. It is too late, he replied. Too much has changed and the people of Taiwan no longer wish to be ruled by China. They want freedom, they want democracy. He had himself, by that time, undergone a major shift, since the grim days when he was his father’s chief lieutenant. He is said to have remarked that he no longer regarded himself as Chinese, but as Taiwanese. And so he began the remarkable process of political democratisation in Taiwan, setting it further and further apart from the regime in China.

China’s ‘Sacred Duty’ to Resume Sovereignty

China, of course, has never accepted this. A few years ago, Zhu Rongji declared that China has a “sacred duty” to reassert its sovereignty over Taiwan. Watching Chen Kaige’s epic film The Emperor and the Assassin in 2000, I was very struck by the resemblance between statements like this by Zhu and others and the mantra of the zombie-like Master of Rites at the court of Ch’in Shi Huang-t’i: “King Ying Zheng, have you forgotten the command of your Ch’in ancestors to unite all under Heaven?” Indeed, I saw Chen Kaige’s film as an allegory directed at the Chinese Communist Party and its threats to use force against Taiwan.

What is this ‘sacred duty’, to which Zhu Rongji referred? It arises from the twentieth century Chinese nationalist impulse to stand up again, after the disintegration of the Manchu Empire between the 1830s and the 1910s. There is a story of historical grievance behind it. As regards Taiwan, this story is that Taiwan was wrested wrongfully from the Manchu Empire by Japan, in 1895, and that this wrong can only be righted when the island is restored to the sovereignty of the Chinese state.

The problem with this is that Taiwan has long since ceased to be a Japanese colony or protectorate. It is completely different to what Hong Kong was before 1997. Taiwan was  returned to the Chinese state between 1945 (the end of the Second World War) and 1951 (the San Francisco Treaty, settling accounts between Japan and the Western powers), but not to the Chinese Communist state. So Shimonoseki actually should have no bearing on the case.

The issue is whether the Chinese Communist state has any grievance to settle in regard to the anti-Communist state on Taiwan. That state took refuge from Communism on Taiwan in 1949 and has now transformed itself into a democratic republic, which is no more eager than it was half a century ago to be ruled by the Chinese Communist state. This is complicated further by the fact that many of the people of Taiwan resented being subordinated even by the Guomindang and have become considerably more independent in spirit since the 1940s.

Beijing’s real grievance is surely that the ROC claimed for decades to be the sole legitimate government of China and insisted that there was only one China, but when it had plainly lost this argument, it changed its tune and asserted that there were two Chinas and that it deserved to be treated as a state and not as a rebellious province. The PRC has a point in this regard. Let’s concede that. In the late 1980s and even more in the late 1990s, the ROC has shifted the goal posts. The question is, why should the PRC not also agree to shift the goal posts?

Realism and the Significance of the Taiwan Question

The standard argument one gets on this last question is that any government in China which agreed to Taiwanese independence would thereby sign its own death warrant. Mike Swaine has just reiterated this argument, in Foreign Affairs. It would be denounced by its own citizens as weak, traitorous and, to use Deng Xiaoping’s phrase of September 1982 - uttered when Margaret Thatcher suggested he leave Hong Kong in British hands - “no better than Li Hongzhang”, who signed away Chinese territories in the late nineteenth century.

Let us acknowledge that there is nationalist fervour about this matter in China. The problem for the Chinese Communist Party is that, if it makes a misconceived decision to go to war over the matter, it risks humiliation and downfall anyway. And it can hardly expect anyone on Taiwan to be sympathetic to a plea that it will be overthrown if it does not bring Taiwan back within the fold. There is, therefore, no logical way forward along this path.

China still faces all major difficulties in trying to invade Taiwan, even if it is not directly opposed by the United States. Nor are the prospects for coercive diplomacy much better. Plainly, in the elections of the past eight years, Chinese attempts to bully the electorate here backfired, contributing to the very outcomes they were intended to deter: victories at the polls for Lee Tenghui, in 1996, Chen Shuibian, in 2000 and the DPP in 2001. In this year’s presidential elections, China was a little more restrained, but still plainly antipathetic to Chen Shuibian and dismayed by his electoral victory.

The consequence has been the stalling of cross straits dialogue, frustrated rhetoric coming out of China about its determination to achieve reunification whatever it takes and refusal to rule out the use of force. Since the use of force would surely be stoutly resisted and could have seriously adverse and even disastrous consequences for China, this seems to leave Chinese policy in something very close to a dead end - unless Taiwan can be attracted  to reunification by a shift in China’s rhetoric and the use of economic inducements. Yet recent trends suggest that, despite extraordinary growth in Taiwan’s economic interests in China, separatist sentiment in Taiwan continues to grow, to the point where the mere advocacy of reunification with China has become electoral suicide in Taiwanese politics.

Tom Christensen’s Warnings

Tom Christensen warned three years ago that this situation contains hidden dangers of miscalculation leading to a war which could escalate perilously in ways that no party wants or intends. His article remains an excellent analysis of a complex and unstable situation. He concluded:

“It would be folly for Taipei to believe itself safe for ten years because of PLA weakness in comparison to either ROC forces or US forces in the region. This is especially true if this conclusion is drawn for all projected political scenarios, including ones in which Taipei has taken diplomatic steps that aggravate Chinese nationalism, threaten CCP legitimacy, and augur near term or eventual Taiwanese independence if PRC action is not taken. For the same reasons it would also be folly for Washington elites to use balance of power analysis to draw similar conclusions about the low likelihood of war across the Taiwan Strait, the ability of Taiwan to prevail quickly and easily in such a war with or without American help, or the ability of the United States to avoid dangerous degrees of escalation in a military conflict with China over Taiwan. Washington should take seriously both China’s political concerns and military modernisation, and attempt to find the best possible balance of deterrence and reassurance so that war can better be avoided and the likelihood and costs of escalation of any war that should occur can be limited.”

Christensen’s feared the situation could get out of hand more easily and more seriously than balance of power realists imagine, but he did not offer any way out of the situation itself.

Here, then, is how the situation stands. China has a great deal to lose by using force, but fears to renounce the threat of force, lest this lead to an outright Taiwanese declaration of independence. Taiwan fears to declare independence for fear that China will use force, but, as Lee Si-kuen, of National Taiwan University, told Time’s Andrew Perrin, in Tungkang, a few weeks ago, “The only two ideologies in Taiwan now are independence and the status quo - reunification is dead.” . The US declares that it will defend Taiwan against Chinese use of force, but it has a very great stake in not going to war with China. China cannot for the present successfully invade Taiwan, but is building its capabilities and seeking asymmetric means of deterring the US from succouring Taiwan. This entails, the risk of serious Chinese or American miscalculation and consequent confrontation.

China faces an intractable strategic conundrum. So long as it insists that Taiwan accede to reunification it risks frustration at best, war with the United States at worst. Every step it takes to try to shift the odds in its favour risks hardening both Taiwanese obduracy and American support for Taiwan. Indeed, it risks armed conflict with its largest trading partner, the United States, and its largest source of direct foreign investment, Taiwan. Its search for asymmetric advantage is ripe with the prospect of miscalculation and war. Even its most prudent leaders must fear, therefore, that China is damned if its does act and damned if it does not. Under these circumstances regional states look on with unease and look for ways to avoid getting caught in the conflict that could break out.

The Need for a Breakthrough

There is clearly the need for a breakthrough in this matter and current strategic and diplomatic strategies do not offer the promise of one. I submit that the reason for this is that all parties are locked into a zero-sum assessment of the stakes. The key actor is China. The need is to address China’s mind-set  in this matter from a new angle, in the search for a vision in which China would cease to see the subordination of Taiwan as being to its advantage, much less being a ‘sacred duty’.

The great unexamined assumption in China’s mind-set is that, unless sovereignty over Taiwan is regained, China’s prestige will suffer a major blow. I want to suggest that this assumption is actually incorrect. China’s advantage will, in fact, lie in doing precisely the opposite of what it currently declares to be its sacred duty. The paradoxical solution to the Taiwan problem lies not in a unilateral Taiwanese declaration of independence, or a US declaration of support for such defiance of China, but in a Chinese declaration that the civil war is over and Chinese civilisation has won. Within that civilisation there is no need for Taiwan to kowtow. Rather, its achievements are to be admired and a new relationship entered into in which trade, innovation and the revitalisation of Chinese civilisation, not the reconstitution of the Chinese Empire, will be the way forward.

Will China do this? Not as long as its present view of the past holds it in thrall. Is it conceivable that it could bring itself to do this? Yes, it is. It was conceivable in the 1980s that the Soviet Union would pull out of Eastern Europe, but few believed it would do so, as late as 1989 when it was actually happening. It was conceivable in the 1980s that the apartheid regime in South Africa would release Nelson Mandela and dismantle its own grip on power, but few believed it would do so. It was conceivable in the 1960s that China would opt for economic reform and opening, but few believed it would do so.

It is conceivable that China’s mindset will change on the matter of Taiwan. The case has to be carefully developed, however. So far it has not been. It has to be developed precisely in regard to the good of Chinese national dignity, not simply by way of fear or disparagement of China. This can be done. Indeed, it must be done, if a way is to be found out of the present impasse, because, as things stand, the alternatives on the table are either regressive or dangerous.

Rethinking Chinese Nationalisms

There should be no misunderstanding about the depth of feeling this matter can arouse among Chinese citizens, especially old generals and intellectuals with a sense of China’s modern history. Nor can such deep-rooted feelings be very easily changed. What is required is a rethinking of the whole modern logic of Chinese nationalism, going back to the debates of the 1890s and 1910s. What is required is a rethinking of China’s geopolitical outlook at the level of seriousness which was brought to the rethinking of its economic outlook in the 1980s.

Wang Hui, the erstwhile editor of Dushu said, in an interview in 2000, for New Left Review, that what he looked for in China was “an unprejudiced intellectual curiosity”. That is what will be needed in the matter of cross straits relations, if the dangerous impasse at which those relations have arrived is to be transcended. My belief is that such a curiosity needs to be directed at the proposition: would it not be in China’s direct interest to offer Taiwan some form of de jure independence as a matter of good will, realistic strategy and political imagination?

There will, clearly, be a disposition in certain quarters to dismiss this proposition out of hand. What I believe needs doing, however, is to put aside such dismissals and explore the question openly, frankly and critically. If there are disadvantages for China in this, they should be openly tabled and examined. The starting point for this exploratory process is simply the recognition that both China and the world around it have changed enormously since 1949 and that neither needs to be the prisoner of the historical past in shaping a future that works.

The Chinese revolutionaries of 1911 overthrew their Manchu rulers in the name of a modern republic. Territorially, however, the Chinese republicans - both Nationalist and Communist - then set about trying to reconstitute the entire Manchu Empire as the republic of China. Chinese nationalism at the very beginning of the twentieth century was infected, in other words, by the legacies of the Manchu Empire. The time has come to transcend this imperial assumption and its attendant grievances. The time has come to complete the overthrow of the Manchus, by acknowledging that theirs was an Empire, not a nation state; that before they conquered the Ming Empire, considerable areas of what is now regarded as Chinese territory were not parts of the Chinese Empire at all.

One such area is Taiwan. To be sure, this might be disputed, but it doesn’t need to be disputed. The point is that Empires have no everlasting jurisdiction or right to hold on to their provinces and China is no more an exception to this principle than Britain, or Russia, France or Turkey. Other Empires have broken into more than one state. The Roman Empire has long since done so and, in the process, given way to a multitude of independent and vigorous states, which are now freely negotiating to form the European Union. China has the possibility of rethinking its future on similar lines. The time has come to do so.

Four Advantages for China

There are, I suggest, four major advantages which would accrue to China, if it offered Taiwan de jure independence with good will. They are as follows:

v     Taiwan could be converted from an enemy, or at best a wary neighbour into a friend;

v     A serious cause of misunderstanding and tension with the US could be removed;

v     All over Asia, other countries would cease to feel anxious about China and admire it;

v     A constructive dialogue with Taiwan on political reform in China could begin.

At a time when China has joined the World Trade Organisation, is set to host the 2008 Olympics in Bejing, aspires to some form of Asian leadership and faces huge challenges in completing the reform and modernisation of its economy and polity, all these would be immense gains. By comparison, even the peaceful yielding of Taiwan to Beijing’s pressure would do nothing to allay American or regional misgivings about China. Nor would it engender any greater friendliness and trust towards China in Taiwan than currently exists in Hong Kong. And that is in a best case scenario. The possibility exists of far worse scenarios. 

Clearly, this is an option which will need to be brought into being. It is not something one can meaningfully or seriously predict will occur. What is required is not prediction, but suasion. Everyone will have to become persuaded of the merits of the argument. Unless policy makers in China can be persuaded that this course of action is to their clear advantage, they will quite understandably cling to the view that it is simply an invitation to accept defeat and humiliation. As long as that mentality rules in China - and no one should underestimate its sincerity or tenacity - China not only will not take the step I am suggesting, but could resort to irrational and dangerous escalation of the confrontation across the straits, out of what Tom Christensen calls political desperation.

Here, then, is the policy challenge. A case needs to be developed which would make it possible for China to see an offer of de jure independence for Taiwan as being something other than another victory for American hegemonism. Can this be done? I think it can, but not quickly and not without the most relentless honesty. It will require prudence, patience and empathy for the concerns and historical memories of those on the other side of the Taiwan Strait.

I call this approach the Singapore Gambit, on the lines of the Malaysian decision to accept the detachment of Singapore in order to overcome a serious problem. That has worked very well. There is no evident reason why the China/Taiwan problem could not be resolved even more successfully. After all, China does not have to extricate itself militarily or politically from Taiwan, only from a mentality about Taiwan. What this will require, however, is a paradigm shift in Chinese perceptions - looking at the matter from the point of view of future vision, rather than past grievance.

Australia, Independence and the British Connection

I am an Australian. Just on 100 years ago, the British Empire granted full self-government to its colonies in Australia. There was no war of independence, no revolution against the Crown. The consequence has been a century of remarkable freedom, prosperity and close relations between the former colony and the former colonial power. The British Empire had fought unsuccessfully to retain its control over the American colonies in the late eighteenth century. In the twentieth century it conducted an enlightened and remarkably successful retreat from Empire, substituting amicable political and mutually profitable economic ties for the burden of imperial rule.

This precedent has something to offer China in the search for a constructive solution to its problem with Taiwan. Looked at from this point of view, the prospect is actually very promising. So much so, that I believe the Singapore Gambit - or what one might almost venture to dub the Australian Outcome - is a future waiting to happen. All it requires is a transformation in the mind-set which has dominated cross straits politics since 1949.  It’s just that that transformation will take both vision and prudence to bring about. The challenge before you all, as citizens of Taiwan, who wish for friendship not confrontation with China, as well as freedom to govern your own affairs, is to contribute to such a transformation by exercising all the imagination, resilience and political maturity you can muster. I wish you well in that endeavour.