China Refuses Taiwanese Olive Branch


China on Friday swiftly rejected Taiwan’s attempt to repair relations, returning--unopened--a letter that explained President Lee Teng-hui’s controversial call for “special state-to-state” ties.

Lee’s declaration this month that Taiwan should be recognized as a “special state” and not a renegade Chinese province infuriated Beijing, which interpreted it as a move toward independence. Beijing hinted that it would suspend planned talks unless Taipei “clarified” the statement.

The letter from Taiwan’s top envoy for China relations, Koo Chen-fu, tried to defuse tensions by reaffirming Taiwan’s desire to unite with the mainland and asking that talks scheduled for this autumn proceed. But it didn’t back away from Lee’s contentious view that Taiwan and China are separate but equal “special states.”

“What we see as ‘one China’ is something for the future,” Koo wrote in the letter, which he read at a news conference Friday. “China at present is divided and ruled separately by two equal sovereign states in existence at the same time, hence a special state-to-state relationship.”


Beijing dismissed the explanation as “a grave violation . . . of the ‘one China’ principle, and we reject it,” a spokesman for China’s Assn. for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, or ARATS, said in Beijing. China holds that Taiwan is a part of the nation and that the Taipei government has the status of a provincial leadership. Chinese President Jiang Zemin is determined to bring Taiwan back into the fold before he likely steps down in 2002 and refuses to give ground to what he considers an upstart province.

Beijing signaled Sunday that bilateral talks set for autumn in Taiwan between Koo and ARATS chief Wang Daohan may be off. “If we are not talking about ‘one China,’ then there is nothing to talk about,” an ARATS spokesman said last week. But Beijing has not yet formally canceled the talks, leaving the door open for Koo to try again.

Washington is urging Taiwan to reframe the “special state” assertion to minimize regional tensions. Beijing has vowed to use force if necessary to reclaim Taiwan and has splashed pictures of military exercises across TV screens and newspapers.

The U.S. dispatched two aircraft carriers after the last cross-strait flare-up in 1996 and doesn’t want to have to do it again. In the days after Lee’s July 9 statement, U.S. envoys to Beijing and Taipei urged both sides to resolve the dispute peacefully.

Beijing’s rejection of the letter puts the ball back in Taiwan’s court, but officials in Taipei say they do not plan to clarify the clarification.

“Both sides have a ball,” said Su Chi, chairman of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council. “Both sides can serve.”

But analysts fear that cross-strait relations will remain frozen until spring, after new presidential elections in March put Lee’s successor in the negotiating seat.

“As long as there is no military action,” said C.V. Chen, the founder of Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation, “March may solve the problem.”