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Sep 28, 2009

More peace agreement thoughts

Now I've thought a lot about the possibility of a China-Taiwan peace agreement and what it would mean for Taiwan's future.

My early ramblings focused on the challenges of getting anything of substance in the agreement, given the political realities between the two sides. However, The continued cooperation between the KMT and CCP on a number of ideological points reduces the chances a peace agreement would be devoid of substantial changes in the relationship.

Still, any peace agreement will be able to tackle only peripheral political issues -- military CBM, maybe exchange of press and private individuals, etc. Nothing in the peace agreement would be able to tackle the core sovereignty issue at this time, because this is still too difficult for Taiwan or China to handle in a mutually agreeable way.

Which led me to my first major shift in speculation, which was that any peace agreement would explicitly be an "interim agreement" with a time table and an understood final result of unification. Like a treaty with a doomsday clock attached.

As this "interim agreement" becomes central to international understanding, Japan and the US will lose interest in Taiwan's defense; the KMT will scale up promotion the Zhonghua Minzu identity instead of a Taiwan-centric identity, and the CCP will also bombard Taiwan with related propaganda; promotion of Taiwanese Independence or statements that Taiwan is already independent will become increasingly taboo again, if not outright illegal; and at the end of the time table laid out in the "interim agreement," Taiwan will have little choice but to be swallowed up.

Now, I've shifted opinion again. I've just finished reading a paper: Bridge over Troubled Water? Envisioning a China-Taiwan Peace Agreement by Phillip C. Saunders and Scott L. Kastner. The paper is very China-centric in its thinking, but it had at least one piece of info that was news to me:

In private conversations with Western academics, however, Chinese officials have indicated their opposition to an interim agreement with a specified duration. This opposition may be partially rooted in concerns that as an agreement neared its end, it might turn into a de facto timetable for unification that could place future Chinese leaders in a difficult position. PRC officials may also be reluctant to sign an agreement that, in essence, implies that unification is off the table for several decades.
I think this seems quite reasonable. China would not want to have its hand forced and does not want to give up on the unification issue either.

So now, I think the most likely result is a peace agreement that touches on those peripheral CBM/press/exchanges issues we've outlined above and officially ends the state of hostility between Taiwan and China; a KMT/CCP united front of propaganda about Taiwan's Chinese heritage; but, very importantly, no time table for unification or an end to the agreement.

That means the CCP will need to push for separate political negotiations for unification after the treaty comes into place, but that will be a completely separate set of issues and hard to get even the KMT moving on. It could also buy Taiwan the leverage and time it needs to wait out the CCP unification campaign and to more fully consolidate a Taiwanese identity (read: wait for the young people to grow up).

I remain skeptical of KMT-CCP intentions for the peace accord and post-accord development in relations. At the same time, I must reiterate that a peace treaty that reduces Chinese threats while indefinitely postponing any chances of unification/annexation talks might not be the worst possible result. In fact, depending on the details, it might be a pretty sweet deal.

Sugar-coated poison? Probably. But I increasingly suspect the pill would not be fatal. This weekend shows Taiwan is full of surprises.


Anonymous said...

I don't see the reason for your optimism. China wants Taiwan, everything else is off the table for the long run. Now, if you got a peace treaty, this will just contribute to further weaken Taiwan and especially the US commitment to support Taiwans defense. On the other hand, the Chinese will continue to upgrade their military as nothing currently and in the future will be able to prohibit them from doing so.

Tommy said...

I agree. The military is the sticking point. China is upgrading its forces for a reason. Without a much stronger commitment from the US in the medium term, the Chinese will not have to wait for any peace agreement to force the unification issue.

In order for that to change, politicians in Washington would have to come to the conclusion that defending Taiwan is part of the US' national interest. The US-Taiwan relationship would have to be vastly upgraded. Do you see that happening under Ma Ying-jeou and Barack Obama (who, by the way, is quickly beginning to look like the "appeaser in chief" instead of the commander in chief)?

Tommy said...

By the way, I was thinking a bit more about the question you posed a week ago over whether democracy would be a good thing for China or not. I have thought of one good argument for democracy in China, at least in regards to Taiwan.

While it is true that if China had a democratic system where more than one party were allowed to compete with each other the country would not necessarily be more favorably disposed to an independent Taiwan, a China where different interests were allowed to go head to head would certainly be slower at decision making. Right now, the one-party state can rapidly make decisions about troop buildups and military fund allocations. In a democratic system, a separate party might slow things down a bit, if only to ensure that some of that military money went to the poor, for example, or was used for education.

Anonymous said...

I believe the Beijing government is pursuing the strategy you describe here, with one key difference: you believe the "young people" will rally around a Taiwanese identity (defined as something mutually exclusive to Chinese identity), and the Beijing government believes otherwise.

I'm on Beijing's side. I don't believe that future generations of Taiwanese will be satisfied with being citizens of a political/cultural/economic backwater. I believe the best, the brightest, and the wealthiest Taiwanese of future generations will continue to integrate more and more closely with mainland Chinese society (in the non-political sense).

In my view of the world, in 40 years, the best Taiwanese students will no longer aspire to a US diploma and green card... they'll instead target a mainland Chinese residency card.

I don't think I'm overstating the case to say that, if this happens, reunification will be inevitable.

Unknown said...

Dear A-Gu,

I would like to discuss with you the possibility of writing for our Asian newspaper paid or unpaid with no editing. I feel that I can get you a wider audience and we need a well written Taiwan perspective like your own.

Best wishes


阿牛 said...

Anonymous 2,

Your view is fair and a possible direction things will take, though I would not associate Taiwan with the word "backwater."

Time will tell, but either way I think conflict is likely to be avoided.

Daniel said...

Conflict should be avoided and I think it will be avoid. Chinese should not fight Chinese. We've done that before, we shouldn't do that again. The only people that suffer are our own people.

Although we are politically separate there is no denying our heritage and mutual origins. Unification is not a matter of how, but when. It's eventual and we have to work together, to compromise and build mutual understanding.

The mainland needs to give a little, and the island needs to give a little. I agree with Thomas that the parties should be mutually competitive but who says a democracy will the ultimate solution? I'm a supporter of Sun Yatsen's original views; we need a Republic.

I hope conflict can be avoided. No one needs to be 千古罪人。