Hongkong: President Lee teng-hui has provoked Beijing again with a reference to state to state relations. He is doing no more than describe the Two China reality. But Beijing sees a hidden Taiwan independence agenda. 

by Philip Bowring

Hongkong: The sound and fury emanating from Beijing over
President Lee Teng-hui's remarks about China consisting of
"two states" makes the words more significant than they really
are. However, the provocation was deliberate and the reaction
illustrates the depth of Beijing's distrust of Lee who, it
fears, is pushing Taiwanese independence under the guise of a
Two Chinas policy.

Lee clearly intended to push the envelope of separate
political identity a little further. However, the differences
between these latest words and previous formulations is
largely semantic. He has done no more than espouse what is
reality: that if one assumes that Taiwan is part of China, 
China consists of two separate, legitimate and functioning

For most of the past fifty years both entities refused to
acknowledge the legitmacy of the other, or entertain the idea
that China could be two states in the same way as Korea is and
Germany was. Under Lee, the state in Taiwan has shifted to a
more realistic view while Beijing has stuck with its ideology
of the indivisability of China. Its size and importance have
enabled Beijing to impose its version of One China on most of
the rest of the world. But it is no more realistic than for
Arab states to continue not to acknowledge the state of Israel
simply because they view the process of its creation as

Hitherto, Taipei's view was that there was one China but two
equal political entities. Beijing admitted the existence of
two entities but neither the legitimacy and certainly not the
equality of the Taiwan government. Now, according to Lee,
Taipei is saying these two entities are "states" within one

This nuance is really quite slight but has touched a very raw
nerve. The two states notion has always been offensive to
Beijing's assumption of its own sole legitimacy. But having
recognised the reality of two Korean states it is on rather
weak ground denying similar status to a part of a divided
China. Indeed, it could be argued that unification would be
easier if Beijing acknowledged the reality of two states
within China and that not doing so promotes the concept of
independence for Taiwan. Independence is quite different from
"two Chinas" as a goal. Taiwan as a nation-state would be
as separate from as Vietnam is from China or Austria from Germany.

Beijing is not only too mesmerised by its own self
importance to recognise two states. It also fears that Lee's hidden
agenda is to use Two Chinas as a stepping stone to Taiwanese
independence. Lee's very persona, his identification as a
Taiwanese and his close ties with Japan, is seen as the
embodiment of separatism.

The timing of Lee's two states remarks seems to have been
designed to entrench his tough line in official policy well
before he steps down next year. Whoever succeeds him is
unlikely to be as forthright. Indeed, Beijing has been
preparing the ground for what it hopes will be better
relations once he has gone. The planned visit of Wang Daohan,
head of Beijing's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan
Strait, can be seen as designed to entice Taiwan into being
more flexible, for example by accepting direct shipping and
air links with the mainland without a political quid pro quo.

But Lee's remarks have pushed Beijing into a milder version of
the threatening gestures it made prior to the 1996
presidential election -- and which proved so helpful to Lee's
campaign. No aspirant president in Taiwan can afford to be
seen as unwilling to stand up to Beijing. Lee's move is a
particular challenge to James Soong, the renegade
presidential candidate. Soong is personally very popular and
leading the official KMT candidate, vice president Lien Chan,
in opinion polls. But as a mainlander who favours cross
straits links, he will now be more vulnerable to accusations
of lacking commitment to maintaining Taiwan's separate status,
however defined.

Lee has been deliberately provocative for reasons of domestic,
cross straits and international politics. But that does not
detract from the accuracy of his statement that China
currently consists of two legitimate states.




E-mail me 
IHT Articles 
Other Articles