Monday, February 27, 2006

I Double Dare You

If this continues, China might opt for the physical challenge.

Defying warnings from China and the United States, Taiwan eliminated its National Unification Council Monday, saying only the Taiwanese people can decide whether they want to rejoin the mainland.

The decision was expected to have little immediate impact on how the independence-minded President Chen Shui-bian governs; The 16-year-old council has long been dormant, and there is no prospect of reunification anytime soon.


Chen had promised repeatedly since his ascension to the presidency in 2000 to keep the reunification body in place. The promise was one of several undertaken by Chen to allay fears that his ardent nationalism could lead him to make reckless decisions that would raise the danger of conflict in the Taiwan Strait. His decision on the council raised fears he could be tempted to go back on other issues as well, such as revising the constitution, for instance, or changing the island's formal name from Republic of China to Taiwan.

This is a really bold move for Chen. The details point to it all being a symbolic move, but it's one hell of one. Even if the Unification Council did little in theory, its existence created some sort of unification process and implementation at least on paper. That Chen booted it with a bold statement of self-determination, after promising to the mainland to keep it intact, is a spit in the face to China. Not that I don't support it, I think it's a stance of admirable integrity and one full of meaning for democracy. I just wonder whether it's a smart one. The U.S. hasn't been so great about supporting Taiwan as of late, and China could easily decide to make moves against Chen. They could revoke his Presidency, suspend future elections, or more. And the "or more" could be uses of force if the situation slips out of control.

Abiding China's strnaglehold and going with its plan may be more like negotiating the terms of surrender, but when you're backed into a corner you may not have any other options. I hope Chen's move has positive results, and that China doesn't react to it with the ham-handed communist oppression they wrote all the books on, but I'm not optimistic in this case. And, as all things China vs. Taiwan, it continues to put the U.S. in an awkward position, especially when China's support against the looming threat of Iran is becoming critical.