A Change of Heart

From the June 2000 Trumpet Print Edition

Less than one week since being inaugurated into office, Taiwan’s new President-elect Chen Shui-bian already finds himself stuck in a hard place with no sign of relief ahead.

Little has changed in Taiwan’s long-time dispute with the Chinese mainland since Chen’s narrow victory in the March elections—the first time a Chinese opposition leader has been handed the reigns in peace. Little, that is, except perhaps the attitude displayed by Taiwan’s president-elect.

China is testing his mettle by threatening war at mere suggestions of Taiwan’s declaring independence. Chen has already learned to tread lightly around his massive Chinese neighbor. Once a fervent supporter of Taiwan’s independence from China, Chen is now looking to appease, rather than jeopardize the future of Taiwan’s citizens, who presently enjoy freedoms unparalleled in China, not to mention per-capita incomes 50 times higher than those in China.

In his inaugural speech, Chen “bent over backwards to diffuse tensions when he vowed Taiwan would only seek statehood if China attacked” (Christian Science Monitor, May 22). He also tried to calm China with a promise to re-examine what he called an “outdated, rigid and inflexible” ban on direct postal, trade and transportation links. (Currently, most trade and investment pass through Hong Kong on their way to China.) “Chen himself has changed greatly,” said a top adviser to the president-elect (ibid.).

Why the drastic change in outlook? Chen knows that, unlike in the past, he will now likely have to compromise if he is to spare Taiwan from the heat of China’s wrath. Taiwan’s shield against invasion has long been a well-equipped military force and a pledge by the U.S. to defend the democratic island. But in light of recent U.S. waffling on whether and how it would come to Taiwan’s defense in the event of an attack by China, little Taiwan has been left rather isolated in the Asian waters.

China has not been placated in the least by Taiwan’s gestures of good will, to the point of even threatening to blockade Taiwan’s key port of Kaohsiung this September, according to secret U.S. intelligence forecasts shared with Australia (Sydney Morning Herald, May 17). These are not the actions of a country ready to negotiate on fair terms.

Even with Chen at the helm, the future of Taiwan does look bleak.