Recently I've been checking out a book called An Investigation of Security in the Taiwan Strait (台海安全考察) by scholar Li Peng (李鵬), who was at Xiamen University's Taiwan Research Institute. The 2005 work would be seemingly outdated, except it is apparently spot on in a couple of key observations.
I would call your attention to two paragraphs near the end of this book, where options for resolving the cross-strait 'problem' are outlined. One of the two outlined solution gains the author's grudging acceptance as a potentially workable plan.
In January 1998, [American scholar] Kenneth Lieberthal (李侃如) suggested that the two sides of the strait sign an interim agreement that would remain unaltered for 50 years, creating a comprehensive political framework that would normalize development in cross strait relations under the One China principle and guarantee 50 years of peaceful stability in the Taiwan Strait. Under this framework, Taiwan would not seek de jure independence and would acknowledge it is part of China; the mainland would promise not to use force against Taiwan; before unification, both sides would be responsible for both their own internal affairs and foreign policies, subject to limitations set forth in the agreement; and both sides would use different terminology to reduce tensions. The PRC could call itself China, the "ROC" could call itself "Taiwan, China," and both sides could try using the term "Greater China" or other similar language.
I will note that the outline above closely mirrors the direction we seem to be going in now. Ma has announced a détente in foreign affairs, which has for the most part been reciprocated by China. Taiwan has agreed it is part of one China, and Ma's core policy for cross-strait relations is "no unification, no independence, no use of force." Hu Jintao is referring to the upcoming peace agreement as a way to settle the political relations "in this special period before unification." Ma has used terms like "let the next generation decide" and even raised the 50 year time table before, though he is not overly attached to that time frame. All this has been covered extensively on this blog even in just the last couple of weeks. So it seems that it is a plan like this which has become the consensus for how to proceed.
On to what I think is the key part of the other interesting paragraph.
In the 2004 version of his plan [which also suggests China clearly define what constitutes independence and suggests international recognition as the standard], Lieberthal emphasizes that both sides of the strait can use their own language. He says "China can continue to uphold the One China principle, but must renounce the use of force; Taiwan can also continue to emphasize the reality of the sovereign independence of the ROC, but give up seeking de jure independence." To some degree this sort of silent acknowledgment of "actual independence" would be very difficult for the Chinese mainland to accept. Secondly, setting international recognition as the standard for what constitutes "independence" would be difficult for either side of the strait to accept. If the Taiwan authorities openly declare independence, but the international community fails to recognize it, the most we could say is that their declaration had been void; we could not lie to ourselves and others by claiming that Taiwan was not implementing an actual splittist policy of Taiwanese independence. If the Chinese government sat by and did nothing, it would be an excuse for Taiwanese authorities to bellow on about "actual independence" or silent mainland recognition of "Taiwan independence...."Well, this is also certainly true. China still maintains there is no ROC, but at this point they don't really care if Taiwan talks about the ROC as long as they agree to the One China principle at the same time.
So, while there's no startling revelations here, it really does bolster the idea that all of these moves have been part of a coordinated plan to come to an interim agreement, which will be labeled a peace agreement, and which China will really, really want [read: insist] to include a phrase like "during this period before unification."
Now for the question I struggle with and which will inevitably become the debate when the peace agreement is presented: is such an agreement really so bad? Is 50 years of peace and self-administration worth a trade off of just saying we're part of China? Will it really mean the end of Taiwanese independence potential?
I suppose there are two points worth mentioning before trying to come to a conclusion. The first is that the Taiwanese public is about equally averse to drawing Chinese ire with a formal independence declaration as they are to subjecting themselves to Chinese administration; but on everything in the middle, there's probably room to shift public opinion from the current "We're already independent" to "we're a special region of China that rules ourselves." At the same time, we must remember how such an agreement would change the defense, international and domestic education formula.
Second is that, as Rank reminded me in a chat with me the other day, the Taiwanese public will be perfectly willing to elect the KMT to extract maximum concessions from the CCP, and then willingly turn on a dime to elect the opposition if they felt their freedoms or security were in danger.
So is such an agreement worth the price? I doubt it, and I can't see the CCP ultimately accepting anything short of one country, two systems. But this sort of plan just might sell. And even if it does, that doesn't mean the fat lady has sung.