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More than 80 percent of Taiwanese reject China’s ‘unification’ plan

President Tsai Ing-wen delivered an address regarding the decision by the Republic of Panama to end diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan). (Presidential Office Building, Taiwan)
January 17, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

More than 80 percent of Taiwanese would reject unification with mainland China under the Chinese Communist Party’s proposed “one country, two systems” model already in place in Hong Kong and Macau, according to a recent opinion poll.

The results came after Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen rejected calls from Chinese President Xi Jinping for the democratic island to “unify” with the People’s Republic, saying its people have no wish to give up their sovereignty.

In the poll of 1,074 Taiwan residents, more than 61 percent of respondents expressed satisfaction with Tsai’s response to Xi, while more than 80 percent said they disapproved of the notion of “one country, two systems” according to Beijing’s formulation.

More than 85 percent of respondents supported Tsai’s four key conditions for any talks to begin with Beijing: namely, that the People’s Republic of China hold formal, state-to-state talks with Taiwan while recognizing its status as a sovereign nation, the Republic of China that fled to the island in 1949 after losing a civil war to the communists on the mainland.

In addition, China would have to “respect Taiwan’s freedom and democracy, deals with the country on peaceful and equal terms, and communicate only on a government-to-government basis,” Tsai said.

She said Taiwan “utterly rejects” the idea of “one country, two systems.”

Beijing is highly unlikely to agree to such conditions, as it regards the island as a renegade province awaiting “unification,” although the Chinese Communist Party has never ruled Taiwan.

The survey by Taiwan’s Cross-Straits Policy Association was intended to measure public response to recent statements by Tsai and Xi.

In a Jan. 2 “Letter to our Taiwan compatriots,” Xi was insistent that China must be “unified.”

“It has been a historical and unavoidable duty of the Chinese Communist Party, Chinese government, and the Chinese people to resolve the matter of Taiwan and unify the motherland ever since 1949,” Xi said in the statement.

But he made scant reference to public opinion among the 23 million inhabitants of Taiwan, and said that China would make no promises not to use military force.

Veiled threat

Many in the region have viewed Xi’s “no promises” comment as a veiled threat to Taiwan, and the notion of “one country, two systems” has found little favor even among the opposition nationalist Kuomintang (KMT), which has traditionally sought to improve relations with Beijing.

KMT lawmaker Chiang Wan-an on Tuesday said he was against Xi’s proposal for the island, and that he supported Tsai’s conditions, known as the “four musts.”

“Taiwan is not Hong Kong,” he said, adding that most Taiwanese would not accept unification under the formula.

The “one country, two systems” model was promised to Hong Kong after its 1997 handover to China as an alternative to the direct imposition of Communist Party rule.

However, that city’s autonomy has been eroded in recent years by a series of high-profile interventions from Beijing, according to U.S. and U.K. officials, Hong Kong’s Bar Association, and international rights groups.

According to Fan Shih-ping of National Taiwan Normal University, Washington is unlikely to want to see Taiwan assimilated into China, either.

“If Taiwan did wind up as part of one country, two systems, that would leave a big hole in U.S. … strategy for surrounding and containing China in the Pacific,” Fan said.

“The U.S. probably sees Tsai Ing-wen and the [ruling] Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as the most likely to resist this,” he said.

Fan added that saber-rattling by Beijing has typically always boosted the DPP, come the next election.

Wang Chih-sheng, secretary-general of the pro-DPP Cross-Strait Policy Association, said the DPP is right to try to build a consensus in Taiwan.

“If the DPP continues with its Taiwan consensus policy … including cross-party support, the youth and the elderly, then they will be able to build a policy platform that the majority of citizens buy into,” Wang said.

“It doesn’t matter what they call it; but … we could make a new consensus to use when Beijing tries to … force the situation,” he said.

‘A sacred land’

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s indigenous people said they have been on the island for 6,000 years, and have no wish to be assimilated into a Chinese nation and treated as “ethnic minorities.”

“Taiwan is a sacred land where generations of our ancestors lived, and protected it with their lives,” they said in an open letter to President Xi. “It has never belonged to China.”

“We have fought against imperialism and every foreign intruder of our land. We have suffered military suppression from colonial and authoritarian regimes,” it said. “We have never given up our rightful claim to the sovereignty of Taiwan.”

“No government, political party, or organization has the right to negotiate with any foreign power in an attempt to surrender the control of the traditional territory of ours, the indigenous peoples of Taiwan,” the letter said.

Tseng Hwa-teh, a member of the Paiwan community, said his people were in favor of self-governance and self-determination.

“It is the fundamental and only idea that will allow different ethnic groups to live in happiness and mutual appreciation and respect on the earth,” Tseng said. “It’s no longer in keeping with the spirit of the times for us to swallow past oppression.”

Officially, Taiwan is still known as the Republic of China, which controls the four islands of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu.

But Beijing has refused diplomatic ties with any country that also recognizes the Republic of China, and actively encourages Taiwan’s partners to switch recognition.

Taiwan was ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was handed back to the 1911 Republic of China under the KMT government as part of Tokyo’s post-war reparation deal.

The island began a transition to democracy following the death of Chiang’s son, President Chiang Ching-kuo, in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.