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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek

MARCH 31, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 12

Peace, Not War
That's the logical choice for both Taiwan's new leader and China

Will there be war? The question rippled not only in the Chinese world, but also throughout Asia and beyond, in the wake of last weekend's political earthquake in Taiwan. After all, had not Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji sternly warned just days before that blood could flow if the island's voters picked a president who would take Taiwan toward independence? Nonetheless, they chose as their new leader Chen Shui-bian, whose Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), long the chief local opposition force, formally advocates the establishment of a sovereign "Republic of Taiwan." The island's watershed election will indeed produce seismic consequences - but war is not likely to be one of them.

 
  ALSO IN ASIAWEEK

COVER: Seismic Changes
Can president-elect Chen Shui-bian meet the historic challenges posed by a changing Taiwan - and by China?
The Challenge: Now comes the hard part
Reality Check: Beijing will have to deal with the new Taiwan
Profile: Chen's split personality

Editorial: Taiwan and China have reason aplenty to make peace
Editorial: Asia needs new policies to combat prostitution

THE NATIONS
South Asia: Clinton to India and Pakistan - Start Talking
'Limited War': Don't let the term fool you
Philippines: Sister Christine vs. Estrada - yet another scandal
Extended Interview: Salamat Hashim calls for independence
Myanmar: Behind the secret "Chilston" meetings
Inside Story: Asia's "Insiders" - four people who have blown the whistle on wrongdoing
Viewpoint: A Malaysian race for Islamization?

ARTS & SCIENCES
People: Sumo's big brother calls it quits
Heritage: The struggle to save Penang's old George Town
Art: Digital works blur the line between tech and expression
Books: Why healthcare was so bad in Suharto's Indonesia
Health: Noni - The craze over a smelly green fruit
Newsmakers: Thai "List of Shame" riles the privileged

TECHNOLOGY
Games: Microsoft's X-factor
Computing: IBM's Deep Blue man is now into e-commerce
Cutting Edge: An e-book horror story

BUSINESS
Bankruptcy: The court-ordered restructuring of TPI suggests Thailand is coming to grips with deadbeat borrowers
Room to Improve: Inadequate laws in Indonesia and Korea
No Hype: Can Singapore's Pacific Internet regain investor favor?
Renong: The Malaysian conglomerate sells off key assets
Business Buzz: A deal to lift Singapore's spirits

Investing: How rising U.S. interest rates will affect Asia

Given the vast political and economic stakes involved, just about the only thing that will propel Beijing toward serious military action is definite moves toward independence by Taiwan. And that is simply a step Chen will not take. No one understands better than the president-elect himself that he lacks the mandate to steer the island on such a course. He won the election with a mere 39% of the votes in a three-way contest. More than 60% chose not to vote for the perceived pro-independence candidate. Indeed, opinion polls have consistently shown that about two-thirds of Taiwan's people prefer to maintain the political status quo.

In the days since his election, Chen has gone out of his way to dispel war jitters. He vowed not to declare independence unless Taiwan is attacked by China. A native of Taiwan, he pointedly called his electoral triumph a "victory for the Chinese people." Chen has invited mainland leaders to visit Taiwan and indicated his readiness to negotiate with them over expanded economic, transport and communication links. Remarkably, he has even pledged to distance himself from DPP activities. Indeed, the party's leaders are deliberating a proposal to revise their charter and strike out the inflammatory reference to a "Republic of Taiwan."

Besides, the president-elect has enough on his plate domestically without taking on China. His first task is to put together a new government - in a political environment undergoing its first change of ruling party in half a century. He needs to form a working alliance in the legislature, where the DPP holds only a third of the seats (and the defeated Kuomintang has 56%). To fulfill his campaign pledge to fight corruption and money politics, he should work with reformist forces outside the DPP. Above all, Chen must try to heal the gaping rifts in Taiwan society opened by an extremely divisive election, along both party and ethnic lines. Toward this end, his proposal to bring all key groups into the governing apparatus is a step in the right direction.

On the economic front, Chen must come to an accommodation with a business community that has long had close relationships with the KMT and harbored deep reservations about the left-leaning DPP. One imperative is to give his party a more pro-business image, to reassure both domestic and foreign investors. So it is no surprise that Chen should seem even more eager than his election rivals to expand commercial relations with the mainland. "We want peace! Let's make money," he proclaimed. Faced with such a herculean agenda, Chen will need to bring all the imagination, sensitivity and finesse he can muster to the task.

In the near term, the most important challenge in cross-strait relations is to reopen talks broken off after outgoing president Lee Teng-hui declared last September that Taiwan had a "special state-to-state relationship" with China. Notable progress has since been made. In the run-up to Taiwan's election, Beijing, amid its belligerent warnings against independence, made an unprecedented offer to talk with Taiwan on an equal basis, assuming both sides accept the principle that there is only one China. And the day after his win, Chen proffered his own compromise by expressing a willingness to discuss the "one-China" notion. The goodwill gestures open the way for the two sides to further explore potential common ground in the effort to resume their dialogue.

To give peace a chance, China must desist from bellicose statements and menacing military action in the Taiwan Strait. Its low-key response to Chen's election is an encouraging start. It not only boosts the chances of productive contacts with the new Taipei government, but also lessens the odds that the U.S. Congress might reject China's World Trade Organization accession deal or legislate to sell advanced arms to Taiwan.

For the longer term, Beijing needs to rethink its whole approach to Taiwan and national reunification. Last week's election clearly showed that the island's people are independent-minded, if not necessarily independence-minded. Threats are not the way to win them over. Moreover, Communist leaders' traditional ideas of party-to-party talks between themselves and the Nationalists are plainly obsolete, now that the KMT has been ousted and is unraveling. To foster more understanding and trust, Beijing should seek ways to open contacts with Taiwan's disparate political forces. Above all, though, China needs to begin reforms of its own that will produce greater political and civil liberties. That, in the end, is the only way it will be able to get Taiwan's people to accept reunification without a catastrophic war.

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