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Colors and Strategic Ambiguity


Colors and Strategic Ambiguity


By Hau Pei-tsun


The Republic of China was founded on January 1, 1912.  On October 10 this year, the nation will celebrate the centennial anniversary of the Chinese Revolution of 1911 that toppled the Manchu Dynasty.  Over the last century, the country has passed three historical stages.  After the founding of the republic by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, Yuan Shih-k’ai started the Northern Government stage, which came to an end with the Northern Expedition led by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.  During the second stage, the nation fought the War of Resistance against Japan and saw a civil war raging.  The third stage began with the removal of the government of the Republic of China from Nanking to Taipei.  This stage is devoted to the reconstruction of Taiwan.


Although the life of the nation has been marked by vicissitudes with their resultant changes in its world status in these stages, the sovereignty of the Republic of China as an independent country has never been questioned. Neither is its historical legitimacy as the heir of Chinese civilization.  The Republic of China has never stopped striving for realization of Dr. Sun’s nation-building ideals.  This is fully consistent throughout all four stages.


The first day of March 1950 is an epochal day in the history of the Republic of China.  It is the day when President Chiang Kai-shek, who had lost the mainland of China in the civil war and retired, resumed office in Taipei, the capital of the province of Taiwan that is part of the integral territory of the Republic of China according to the Constitution.  The survival of the Republic of China was ensured on that day, ushering in the era of China ruled separately by the governments on either side of the Taiwan Strait.  Developments in relations between the two sides have since been pivotal to the future of the Republic of China whose nucleus problem it is to bring that historical relationship to a mutually satisfactory end.


Two foci are woven into a strategy to solve this nucleus problem.  They are the clearly emblazoned colors unfurled and strategic ambiguity.  The two foci coexist sometimes; but they may also be far apart in conflict with each other.  Ahead of the Republic of China now lies a long way it has to go before it can strike a balance between the coexistence and the conflict for a compromise in different stages of development in cross-strait relations.


The colors are the symbol of one’s national identity and loyalty to that nation.  The nation has to have a strategy to create the strength that it can put to best use.


After all, what is the nature of relations between the two sides of the strait?


First, let us talk about how the world’s power politics has shaped the cross-strait relations and how it affects the settlement of the question of Taiwan. Fundamentally, international politics is power politics. Power politics is a way to determine right or wrong by power, not the rational way to do so. It is the power politics the world powers played that is one most important factor contributing to the shaping of the relations across the strait we see today.


The Republic of China has fallen victim to international power politics time after time since its inception.  After the Second World War, in particular, the victor that had been ravaged by war longest and in the widest of its territory was sold out through the Yalta Agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union.  The secret agreement turned the Republic of China into the worst Pyrrhic victor that could not recover Manchuria promised to be returned by the Cairo Declaration of 1943 and lost Outer Mongolia with a territory of more than a million square kilometers.  Because of the slipshod postwar reconstruction the Kuomintang presided over and the split in its ranks, President Chiang failed to keep his base for the eight-year War of Resistance and moved his government to Taiwan, making the Republic of China a divided country in the process as it is now.


Another example suffices to prove the play of power politics in the shaping of relations between the two sides of the strait.   Shore batteries of the People’s Liberation Army fired on the islands of Quemoy on August 23, 1958 to start a long artillery duel, which has come to be known as the Battle of the Taiwan Strait.  Inasmuch as the troops were engaged in the artillery duel, the Quemoy Crisis is a battle the Chinese fought against the Chinese.  So far as the weapons and equipment employed in the armed conflict are concerned, it is a proxy war between the United States and the Soviet Union, American artillery against Russian artillery.  My experience as a divisional commanding general on a Quemoy island has convinced me that the cross-strait relations are no internal affair pure and simple.  Nor are they a pure international problem.  They are an internal affair of the Republic of China influenced by an international political factor.  This very state of affairs has not changed so far.  It will not change in decades or even a century to come.  Otherwise, how can American presidents excuse the United States for forbidding any unilateral change in the status quo of relations between the two sides of the strait as Washington defines?


How, then, shall the separation of Taiwan and the Chinese mainland be defined?  Is it due to a dispute over sovereignty?  Or over the different systems of rule?  The answer can be found in history.  Dr. Sun founded the Kuomintang, which founded the Republic of China.  The Kuomintang fought the Chinese Communist Party led by Mao Zedong for decades to rule China.  The China they fought to rule is the China with all its inherent territory the Republic of China inherited from the Ta Tsing Empire ruled by the Manchu Qing Dynasty.  The dispute between the two parties therefore is not over sovereignty but over the systems of rule.   There are arguments for defining the dispute as one over sovereignty.  Their proponents insist that the armed rivalry between the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party came to an end in 1949 with Mao Zedong’s proclamation of the People’s Republic of China and that there exist two countries separated by the Taiwan Strait.  Those arguments fade away in the eye of law and are at variance with the reality.


The rivalry between the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party has gone through four stages over the past eight decades. 


The first stage, which lasted from 1927 to 1949, saw an armed conflict on the mainland of China for 22 years.


During the second stage, which lasted three decades from 1949 to 1979, is marked by an armed confrontation across the Taiwan Strait.


A cease-fire across the strait was in place throughout the third stage from 1979 to 2008.  Confrontation continued for 29 years.


The fourth stage began in 2008.  It marked the beginning of peaceful development of relations across the strait, particularly after the signing in 2010 of an economic cooperation framework agreement between the two sides.


The developments in the four stages resulted by and large from the combined implementation of the principles of the clearly emblazoned colors unfurled and strategic ambiguity under the influence of international politics.  One significant factor is the three joint communiqués issued by Washington and Beijing.  The three communiqués, on the other hand, sum up the two principles.


In the Shanghai Communiqué of 1972, President Richard M. Nixon declared four conclusions the United States had drawn vis-à-vis the Taiwan question.  They included:

 – That the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are Chinese;

 – That the United States does not contest that all Chinese on either side of the strait maintain there is but one China;

– That Taiwan is part of China, and the United States does not challenge that position; and

– That the Taiwan question should be peacefully settled by the Chinese themselves.


The United States and the People’s Republic stated their respective positions in the joint communiqué of 1972.  Through statements with strategic ambiguity, the communiqué settled the question of Taiwan’s unsettled status in international relations.  A few international law experts, however, have continued to argue for an unsettled status of Taiwan on grounds of their claimed demise of the Republic of China in 1949 with the proclamation of the People’s Republic at the end of the Chinese civil war for the purpose of providing a legal basis for independence of Taiwan.  Needless to say, the arguments are totally groundless.


President Jimmy Carter declared the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and the People’s Republic on January 1, 1979.  Beijing declared a formal end to the artillery bombardments against the offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu on the same day.  Beijing’s announcement is tantamount to a unilateral declaration of truce, marking the beginning of a new stage in the development of cross-strait relations.  Of course, it is a ponderous gesture the Chinese Communists made in response to a U.S. call for peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question.  Perhaps, it might be a condition President Carter had laid down for agreeing to normalize relations between Washington and Beijing.


As a matter of fact, there is no truce agreement between the two sides of the strait.  The reason is simple: The Republic of China, a belligerent, did not go to the negotiating table.  But the realties of the matter, political as well as military, are that the truce is in Taiwan’s favor. As Washington did not inform Taipei of the cease-fire thus arranged, the Republic of China could not, in line with President Chiang Ching-kuo’s three guiding principles of “no contact, no negotiation and no compromise” between Taipei and Beijing, formally announce an agreement to the truce.  The only action the Republic of China could take was to let the Ministry of National Defense order all commanding officers on the offshore islands not to bombard the Chinese mainland by artillery as from January 1, 1979.


This unwritten and unsigned agreement, concluded without any preceding negotiations, has remained in effect for more than three decades thanks to both sides of the strait taking their respective due actions to enforce.  Success is due to strategic ambiguity.  Then a question may be asked.  Can the two sides sign a peace accord?  It is impossible.  For that involves the question of the colors trooped by either side.


Still another communiqué was issued on August 17, 1982. This communiqué on U.S. arms sales to Taiwan is a typical document of strategic ambiguity.  The August 17 Communiqué was not signed or even initialed by U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig.  Subsequently, President Ronald Reagan stated that the communiqué was predicated on the assumption that the People’s Republic agreed to a peaceful solution to the Taiwan question.  After Haig stepped down, the Department of State declared the communiqué does not provide for the termination of arms sales to Taiwan.  Thanks to strategic ambiguity, the Republic of China is able to replace the second generation weapons and equipment of its armed forces on Taiwan beyond the limitations placed on U.S. arms sales by the 1982 communiqué.


The Red Cross associations on both sides of the strait met and signed an agreement on Quemoy in 1990, turning the offshore island from the battlefield to the arena for dialogue. One good innovation to avoid the highly sensitive political issue of dating the document was for the Taiwan side to apply the official calendar of the Republic of China and for the mainland Chinese side to date it according to the Gregorian calendar. The year in which the copy for the Taiwan side is dated is “in the seventy-ninth year of the Republic of China.”  The copy for the Chinese side is dated “1990 A.D.”  This innovative arrangement is the wisest expression of the principle of “one China with different interpretations,” the foundation for the “Consensus of 1992” under which both Taipei and Beijing are agreed that there is but one China, whose connotations can be orally and individually explained.  The consensus reached at Hong Kong between the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and its Chinese counterpart Association for Relations across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) in that year is now the one among Taipei, Beijing and Washington to improve relations across the Taiwan Strait.  Should one try to find evidence of “one China with different interpretations,” the dating of the Quemoy agreement of 1990 might be of help.


To the best of my understanding, the principle of one China with different interpretations reflects the best of political wisdom by fusing the dichotomy of the colors unfurled and strategic ambiguity.


Cross-strait relations improved markedly after the Quemoy agreement had been signed, the SEF and the ARATS set up, and their summit meeting held in Singapore.  It is no mean achievement made possible in line with the principle of one China with different interpretations.  On the other hand, the quasi-official SEF and ARATS are the symbols of the uncompromising position displayed by unfurling their respective colors.  Unfortunately, the détente across the strait was short-lived.  President Lee Teng-hui’s proclamation of a special state-to-state relationship between Taiwan and China put an abrupt end to the burgeoning détente and cross-strait relations subsequently plunged to a record low with the stalemate even showing a sign of a rollback. 


Fortunately, after President Ma Ying-jeou succeeded Chen Shui-bian in 2008, Taipei, Beijing and Washington began to improve their triangular relationship on the basis of the principle of one China with different interpretations enunciated in the Consensus of 1992.  A new page was turned in the history of peaceful development of cross-strait relations.


People identify themselves with their country by unfurling their colors.  There may be political parties with different political beliefs in every democracy in the world, but its people never doubt their national identity and are consistently loyal to their country.  In Taiwan, however, there is an internal crisis of political infighting and attrition occurring almost ceaselessly, everywhere and on whatever flimsy excuse as a result of political manipulation to make people doubt their national identity.  It weakens Taiwan’s soft power to peacefully develop relations between the two sides of the strait.


The historical legitimacy of the Republic of China as the heir of Chinese civilization has been successfully defended over the past century.  It can never be allowed to be suspended through the spurious claim of its demise in 1949 or separation of Taiwan from China by the strait as the legal as well as historical basis for independence of Taiwan. Neither can it be made a new strategic ambiguity for independence advocates.  They should not be allowed to make their colors unclear by strategic ambiguity.

The people of Taiwan have to rally under their clearly emblazoned colors.  The colors they troop to stand united are the Constitution of the Republic of China.  The Constitution gives the Republic of China its historical legitimacy to develop peaceful interchange across the strait rationally and realistically.


Anti-communism is not the same as rejection of or opposition to China.  The Republic of China is China per se. The people of Taiwan are Chinese just as the people on the other side of the strait are.  The English name of the country, the Republic of China, explains it all.


The future of Taiwan is inseparable from that of the Republic of China.  They do not contradict each other.   To love Taiwan is to ensure the security, freedom, prosperity and dignity of the people of Taiwan.  This realization on the part of the people of what to love Taiwan for is the greatest accomplishment the Republic of China has made in the last six decades and a half.


The people of Taiwan are kind and dutiful.  They are sincere, honest, and enterprising. They are the cream of the Chinese nation.  Political leaders who have intuitive knowledge and are compassionate should not mislead or cheat these good people by resorting to fanciful slogans or dubious play of words to continue the endless political infighting and attrition in Taiwan.  They should know that the ideology of Dr. Sun, the founder of the Chinese republic, is ever in the mainstream of the long river of man’s history.


Taiwan needs peace, prosperity and dignity.  Constitutional systems constitute the strategic supremacy of Taiwan’s soft power.  The Chinese nation wants to grow rich, strong and happy. The people on both sides of the strait have to work together to put the internecine war of the Chinese fighting against the Chinese to an eternal end.  There should never emerge any regime out of the barrel of the gun again.


Legislative and presidential elections are drawing near.  I wish all candidates will unfurl the clearly emblazoned colors of the Republic of China in the forthcoming elections.  After all, the most potent superior power the people of Taiwan can exercise in the peaceful development of cross-strait relations is to show how to mould a model for democracy and how to consolidate the democratic systems of a high quality.  That also shows the only way to ultimately solve the question of Taiwan.


This must be the consensus of Taiwan.  It is Taiwan’s highest core value as well.  If those engaged in politics who place Taiwan’s interests above all else could organize a Democratic Party of China (中國民主黨) or Chinese National Democratic Party (中華民主黨), they would have a chance to come to power in the Republic of China.  The new party they may choose to form may also have a chance to rule China from Beijing some day in the future.  That must be the self-confidence all the people of Taiwan should have in their democratic systems.




Hau Pei-tsun served as president of the Executive Yuan or premier from 1990 to 1993.                         


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