Peking Presses Taiwan to Talk : Wants Negotiations Over Island’s Future
In recent weeks, China has begun to carry out an intensive new campaign to persuade Taiwan’s Nationalist Party leadership to enter into negotiations over the island’s future.
The campaign has included a renewed threat by Communist Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang that China may someday use military force to retake Taiwan. Chinese officials are also seeking to enlist the help of the U.S. government and overseas Chinese to bring pressure to bear on Taiwan, though the United States is resisting the role of intermediary.
According to Chinese sources with access to the country’s top leaders, the regime headed by Deng Xiaoping has decided in a recent series of meetings that China should try to break the stalemate with Taiwan now, while Taiwan President Chiang Ching-kuo remains in power.
“Deng wants to take advantage of the political situation on Taiwan,” said one of the sources. “This is the major topic on Deng’s agenda right now, working on Taiwan.”
Another source said Chinese leaders have decided that the next two to four years are “a critical time” in their effort to reach a settlement with Taiwan because they are uncertain how committed Chiang’s successors may be to the cause of reuniting China and Taiwan.
Control of Macao
Two weeks ago, China surprised Portugal by indicating its willingness to take back control of Macao, the tiny colony near Hong Kong, which China had previously said it did not want.
The Chinese sources said one of the main reasons for this change of position was China’s desire to further isolate Taiwan and to keep up the momentum for reunification of China created by last December’s Hong Kong agreement. Under that accord, China will regain control of Hong Kong in 1997.
The Chinese leadership is said to be increasingly nervous about future political developments on Taiwan. Chiang, the son of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, is now 75 years old and his health is not good. No clear-cut successor has emerged to take over for him.
It has been more than 35 years since the Nationalist (or Kuomintang) Party fled to Taiwan, yielding control of China to the Communists. Chiang Ching-kuo and his contemporaries are the last generation of leaders on Taiwan who spent some of their early adulthood living and working on the Chinese mainland.
After Chiang, leadership may pass to a younger group of Kuomintang officials who have lived on Taiwan since they were children. The Communist leadership in Peking apparently is concerned that this new generation of Taiwan leaders might no longer be so interested in the mainland and might instead devote its energies to advancing Taiwan’s economy.
Separate Political Entity
Taiwan also has a small independence movement which is opposed to the control of the island by Nationalists from the mainland and believes that Taiwan should be a separate political entity. Chinese Communist leaders in Peking have said they would not tolerate any effort to establish an independent Taiwan.
Last week, the Hong Kong magazine Bai Xing published an interview with Hu, China’s Communist Party secretary, in which he said China does not have the power to regain Taiwan by force right now because “military might depends on a strong economy.”
However, Hu continued, “in seven or 10 years’ time, when our economy becomes strong, our national defense is modernized and the majority of the (Taiwan) people want to return (to China), we may take some strong action.”
The party secretary was echoing earlier remarks by Deng, who has repeatedly refused to rule out the use of force against Taiwan. In his most recent statement on the subject last October, Deng said China does not have the ability to invade Taiwan now, but does already have the power to blockade the island.
Right to Preserve Army
The Communist regime has offered Taiwan’s leaders a deal comparable to the one adopted for Hong Kong, under which Taiwan would be permitted to maintain its capitalist economic system and its own autonomous government under Chinese sovereignty. China has also offered Taiwan the right to preserve its own army, a right that Hong Kong did not obtain.
Taiwan has repeatedly refused to negotiate with Peking, and Chiang at one point said he felt that talking with the Communists is “tantamount to bargaining with a tiger for its skin.”
The Chinese sources said Deng and his aides will not be making a new offer to Taiwan, but will instead attempt to persuade the Nationalist leaders that now is the time to negotiate.
“You have to work on the personal connections between Nationalist officials on Taiwan and their family or old friends from the mainland,” one source explained. “That’s really important here.”
In recent weeks, Deng has met with a former professor at National Taiwan University and with the publisher of a Chinese newspaper in New York City. In both cases, sources here say, Deng was seeking information about Taiwan and was maneuvering for the support of overseas Chinese.
“They (Chinese leaders) pay a great attention to (Chinese) intellectuals in the U.S.,” one source said.
Despite the efforts of American officials to keep the Taiwan controversy at arm’s length, China has reportedly been seeking to win U.S. support for its effort to bring Taiwan to the bargaining table.
A Chinese source here said that last December, when British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher stopped here to sign the Hong Kong agreement while en route to a meeting with President Reagan, Deng gave her a personal message to Reagan concerning Taiwan. The message sought to enlist Reagan’s help for a peaceful settlement between China and Taiwan.
American sources here confirm that Deng did try to send a message about Taiwan through the British prime minister, but they say it was vague. Both Chinese and American sources indicate that nothing came of the effort.
Last week, in an interview with the Associated Press, Han Xu, China’s new ambassador to the United States, complained that the United States is moving too slowly on its 1982 commitment to gradually reduce its arms sales to Taiwan.
The United States sold Taiwan $760 million in arms in fiscal 1985, down from $780 million the previous year.
“A cut of $20 million per year--by this speed it would take 38 years more,” said Han. “The speed is too slow. We expected it not to be so slow.”
The 1982 communique between China and the United States on arms sales did not contain any definite timetable for phasing out U.S. arms sales.
Last month, plans for the first port call by U.S. warships in China since the Communist takeover had to be postponed because of a dispute over the American policy of refusing to say whether the ships might carry nuclear arms. Chinese and American officials both say China never attempted to raise the subject of Taiwan during the negotiations over the port call.
One American official, who spoke on condition he not be identified, said he thought the United States would continue to resist all efforts to be drawn into any new dispute over Taiwan.
“The U.S. is not going to be a pawn in this game,” this official said. “They’re going to have to work it out for themselves.”