Starting with the Three Links
On a more practical level, one of the first ways to build mutual trust and establish confidence-building measures would be to actively pursue implementation of the Three Links (direct trade, transportation, and postal ties.) Both sides have frequently said they support moving forward with implementation, but have too often gotten bogged down in semantics – arguing over the classification of these exchanges.
Despite repeated setbacks, in January 2005, both sides were able to cooperate in organizing charter flights between Taiwan and the Mainland that for the first time in 55 years did not stop over in either Hong Kong or Macao. I believe this step could provide a positive foundation to build upon in the future, especially if both sides could make this an economic issue, and implement the links under the “cross-Strait” label, or some other neutral term.
The Anti-Secession Law
After nearly three years on the job, China’s new leadership under President Hu Jintao remains enigmatic. Particularly in the area of Taiwan policy, Hu seems at times to have taken both hardline and seemingly flexible positions. Most indicative of this, in opinion, is the passage of the Anti-Secession Law.
I believe that the Anti-Secession Law was clearly a mistake and was particularly poorly-timed, considering that there had been an unmistakable easing of tensions across the Strait immediately prior to its promulgation.
However, despite the legal imperative of using “non-peaceful means” in Article 8 of the law, it is notable that the law fails to mention “One Country, Two Systems,” and seems to encourage “consultations and negotiations” at the lower-levels of the two governments.
While I am troubled by the law’s legal imperative to use force, I believe that these more “conciliatory” provisions must not be ignored, and in fact should be used to press China to show more flexibility and compromise in its attitude toward Taiwan and its future status.
Long-term Peace Framework
At this stage, I believe the most constructive approach to ensuring cross-Strait peace may be for the U.S. to assist in brokering a long-term peace agreement between the Mainland and Taiwan that would codify a “mutually agreed-upon” status quo.
This concept, which has been circulating in academic circles for some time, provides, in my view, the most realistic and viable opportunity to prevent a cross-Strait conflict and allow for a peaceful resolution to the Taiwan issue. Even Beijing has begun to admit that the time and circumstances are not right for reunification. And notably, this model would comply with Article 7 of the Anti-Secession Law which calls for “officially ending the state of hostility between the two sides.”
In my view, the Mainland’s willingness to wait on Taiwan as long as the island does not pursue independence provides a golden opportunity to push for a long-term détente. Presumably, this would be based upon promises by Taiwan not to declare independence, while the Mainland would, in turn, foreswear the use of force.
For its part, the U.S. could promise not to sell any additional weaponry to Taipei if China begin dismantling the 700 ballistic missiles now facing Taiwan, along with the 200 or so cruise missiles that it soon plans to deploy. The cessation of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan would also remove one of the greatest points of contention in the Sino-American relationship.
Hopefully, after several decades under this “peace framework,” the political and economic systems of both sides would become better aligned so that it would be possible for the Mainland and Taiwan to reconcile their differences and unify if they so wished, whether it be as a confederation, state, or commonwealth.