How to Make “One China” Work: A Modest Proposal

This is a contribution from a guest blogger in Taiwan. Such posts do not necessarily reflect my own thinking. But come to think about it, in this case it does.

“O.K. — Then Let’s Have One China”
by William R. Stimson

“We should be particularly careful of Taiwan authorities trying to use so-called constitutional or legal means through referendum or constitutional re-engineering to back up their secessionist attempt with so-called legality,” reads the draft text of China’s new anti-secession law. In other words, China doesn’t think the elected officials of Taiwan should use their positions to carry out the will of the Taiwanese people.

What a telling statement this is, coming from a government that filters out any information it doesn’t want its people to know about and does everything else it can to control their thoughts. The passage hints at what the world can expect from China in years to come. To an increasing extent, even those of us who live outside China’s historic borders — in America, Europe, Taiwan and elsewhere — are going to have to begin to let the way we think, even about democracy and legality, be defined by unelected leaders of China who operate largely outside the law.

Except for Taiwan — which has a vibrant and contentious democracy, a prospering free enterprise economy and a president who expresses the sentiments of the people — the governments of the world are cravenly kowtowing to China so as not to risk their chance at the Chinese market. Even the few tiny island nations of the Caribbean and banana republics of Central America that in the past have recognized Taiwan
are now turning instead to China and its One China dictate. It would seem One China has won the day. The alternative for Taiwan is to be invaded. Let’s not here dissect the fiction of the One China idea, show it up to be the lie that it obviously is. Rather let us entertain the notion and see if Taiwan can find a way to live with it, if this is what must be.

The only way I can see that this can be done is if we reframe the tenet in a way that’s truthful to the situation between the two nations today. If the people of Taiwan are to be coerced by the world into letting China define the terms of their thinking, then let’s at least not deprive the situation entirely of logic. Clearly, if there is to be one China, it should be ruled by the democratic government in Taipei, not the totalitarian one in Beijing. If there is to be one system it should be the advanced one based on law, constitutionality and sound business, banking and copyright practice — the one currently prospering in Taipei, not the archaic and lawless hodgepodge of “thugs” and “warlords” reigning and conniving behind the scenes in Beijing, whose main interest is in making themselves rich, no matter the cost to the working classes, the farmers, or the nation as a whole. Of course those guys want to extend their playing field by making a grab for Taiwan.

O.K. — maybe we can unite Taiwan with the mainland, if the world insists on letting China force this scenario. But reason has it — this new entity, the “One China,” should be governed from Taipei, not Beijing. So let them lay down their arms then on the mainland, dismantle the missiles, and dismiss their dictator and corrupt party functionaries. The Taiwanese can move in, organize things in a fair way, give the farmers back their land, and the workers their jobs, set up schools for the poor as well as the rich, the girls as well as the boys, democratize locally and nationally, schedule real and fair elections, and let the many peoples of the many Chinas, including Tibet, and other forcibly-assimilated nations, for the first time in their history, have the right of self-determination. One China like this, yes, we can go for that — a One China that is democratic and has legality, constitutionality, legitimacy, equal opportunity for the poor as well as the rich — and freedom for all.

This probably would be no problem for us here in Taiwan.

The Discussion: 23 Comments

Oh. I thought Chiang Kai Shek was dead.

Or to put it another way: this was the official position of Taiwan 15-20 years ago – and more to the point, it is the position that the PRC are demanding Taiwan takes before it is willing to sit down to any cross-strait talks.

March 23, 2005 @ 9:14 pm | Comment

I restrict this comment solely to the sentence “Even the few tiny island nations of the Caribbean and banana republics of Central America that in the past have recognized Taiwan
are now turning instead to China and its One China dictate.”

Why were those republics on Taiwan’s side before? Could they really be interested in freedom and democracy on the other side of the world? After all, they were not exactly paragons of democracy themselves.

It came down to this: money talked. The Taiwan government guys showed up with bags full of money and paid the leaders off.

What is happening now?
The Chinese government guys are showing up with bags full of even more money and outbidding you.

Do not pretend truth, justice, democracy and all that had anything to do with this piece of history. And you can’t blame those banana republics and their leaders for looking after their own interests.

March 23, 2005 @ 10:15 pm | Comment

I seriously doubt the workability of the solution proffered by the article. So what can Taipei do in the face of intensifying diplomatic strangulation by China? Chen’s belligerent threats are counterproductive and alienating ROC further. Better to resume meaningful dialogue under the One-China principle (on whose meaning PRC and ROC agreed to disagree), and seriously consider the more flexible arrangements offered by the Chinese (Qian Qichen’s Chinese Federation concept, recent talk of removing the “PR” from PRC and the “RO” from ROC).

March 23, 2005 @ 10:15 pm | Comment

ESWN’s right. This has never been about principle. And the proposed solution is simple fantasy. Wei Jiang’s short comment has more realistic answers in it than this entire post.

Let’s not hold up Taiwan as the pillar of all that is good and right. While it may be relative to its bigger cross-strait cousins, the implication of a One China that is democratic and has legality, constitutionality, legitimacy, equal opportunity for the poor as well as the rich — and freedom for all. is a particularly rosy and historically skewed view of things.

This idea is basically declaring the Nationalists the winners of the civil war, or the tail wagging the dog. It’s ludicrous.

March 23, 2005 @ 10:58 pm | Comment

I take exception with the term “other forcibly-assimilated nations”. This would seem to imply 2 or more territories that have been historically non-han but are presently territory of the PRC are somehow sovereign or deserve to be or have historically been. Technically there is a distinction between the definition of a nation and that of a state, but few people would recognize it and I doubt this author does either. I presume he is speaking of Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, and perhaps “Manchuria”?

March 24, 2005 @ 12:01 am | Comment

The quoted article strikes me as being an unusually well-spelled troll.

March 24, 2005 @ 12:31 am | Comment

Funny, everybody seems to be dismissing this article as a fantasy – I thought the Swiftian title (“A Modest Proposal”) meant it was intended as satire, and that Taiwanese rule over the mainland is about as likely as the Irish eating their own babies.

Jing, as far as nation vs. state, an ethnic group like the Tibetans are a nation. There’s where the word nationality comes from, which is the English word the Chinese government calls them and the other 55 ethnic groups of China. A nation is a community of people who share a common identity and usually consider a certain place their “home”, though they might not live there (e.g. Jews before the establishment of Israel). As far as a list of possible nations that Stimson might be referring to, I don’t know, maybe he means all 55 non-Han nationalities, though I have yet to hear anything about the forcible assimilation of the Qiang or Di people so maybe he doesn’t mean them.

As satire, the piece still disappointing – not enough moments that made me shoot Coke out my nose. None, actually, except maybe the end where Stimson says administrating 1.3 billion people and totally rearranging their society would be “no problem” for Taiwan. That, actually, was funny. I want everybody to take a moment and think about what it must be like to try to govern, not to mention totally reinvent, a massive, overpopulated country with way too few resources to sustain growth and still dealing with internal transportation and communications problems (for example, Zhongshan has 5 airports within 60 miles but no rail line for goods and resources to flow to and from the inland – and that’s in the heart of the PRD economic cauldron). Don’t forget a habit of law and business being strictly determined by individual power, relationships and circumstances – not by the letter. Did you think about it? Good. Now raise your hand if you think the job sounds anything less than nearly impossible. Wow. Those who did, your kungfu is stronger than most.

I’ll throw my vote in with ESWN and Simon; Taiwan is not exactly a paragon of virtue. How many Taiwanese factories on the Mainland have crappy working conditions identical to those of a Mainland owned one? How many schools are there run by Taiwanese in poor areas like Henan charging people as much as possible for their kid to go to school? How many charitable Taiwanese operations are there on the Mainland? I’ve heard of the factories and I’ve seen the schools, but I don’t hear much about Taiwanese organizations swarming the countryside with free health exams or books. If there are, tell me.

March 24, 2005 @ 12:56 am | Comment


How about Tibet and Chinese Taiwan?

Both of these have existed outside of Chinese rule for a noteworthy period of time and both of them were originally populated by non han minority groups.

How about some of the southern islands too, they were British for about 126 years and had minority group inhabitants.

Yes, this is petty, but it’s true

March 24, 2005 @ 2:02 am | Comment

One China was a convenient phrase thought up so that Beijing wouldn’t loose face, and Washington could get what it wanted without pushing Beijing into a corner that it could concievable throw a nuke out of.

If you want to see a good reason why Chinee Taiwan should be wary of anything that comes out of Beijing regarding unity, you need look no further than the Basic Law of Hong Kong, and the Beijing made decree that all consititutional reforms in Hong Kong had to be approved by the mainland government.

The sad truth is that Beijing has discredited itself with its treatment of Hong Kong.

Forget Seperatism, forget reunification, lets just keep things as they are and pretend that both sides are getting it their own way

March 24, 2005 @ 2:08 am | Comment

Hi guys! I’m William R. Stimson. I wrote this article. Can I participate in this discussion too?

I find some of your comments interesting and intelligent. So much so, in fact, that they prompt me to comment on my own article. I did indeed, as one of you suggested, write it in the vein of Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” Of course this isn’t going to happen and of course I’m not seriously proposing it. The purpose of the piece I wrote is to suggest what blind unquestioning arrogance we find on the part of China’s unelected leaders and they way they’re treating Taiwan. It reeks of the way they’ve treated Hong Kong, or even Tibet for that matter.

I just wanted to present an alternative scenario, which is no more silly than the one the PRC is currently presenting to the world with its presumptuous anti-secession bill – of it moving in and taking over a sovereign nation, that in almost every respect is functioning better than it is. Yes, it’s true what several of you have pointed out – Taiwan is far from perfect. Of course! But the truth remains, this place, for all its defects, is a thriving economy and functioning democracy. It has done much to fuel the current economic dynamism of the mainland. It’s also a very interesting place to live and, if I may add this too, the people are nice. They’re sincere. They’re sweet. I know it sounds stupid, but it’s true. There’s something about people in Taiwan that’s special. They don’t need rockets pointed at them. They don’t need to be invaded. They’re doing just fine the way they are.

The arrogance and unfairness of the PRC treatment of Taiwan is beyond rational belief! To keep it out of the WHO during the time of SARS, to systematically try to prevent it from getting earthquake relief during the tragic earthquake several years back. The things China has done are nothing short of draconian. What’s wrong with you people over there? Nobody likes a bully.

Taiwan is free. You can read anything you want here. You can say anything you wish. Meanwhile, in the internet cafes of Shanghai this week the government of China has installed video cameras to keep its young people from accessing or downloading “prohibited” information. Hah! The notion that a government has the right to prohibit people from learning the truth – So Chinese! So sick!

And so my article, the mood in which I wrote it, was as if to say to the People’s Republic of China, “You guys are doing so many crazy things. What about this proposal of mine? It makes about as much sense. In fact, to me at least, it makes a lot more! Even though, of course, I know in a million years it would never happen.”

When people here in Taiwan read the piece they laugh. They laugh because so much in the article is true, and because, except for formulating an unlikely scenario like this, there’s no way to adequately express all the reasons the native people here on this island do not want to be part of that corrupt dictatorship over there with its huge and glaring social inequalities. The way things are now is a much better deal for us.

What makes the PRC think we would want to give up our freedom? The real joke is the PRC don’t care what we want. All it cares about is what it wants. And it wants Taiwan. Because something very rare and special has started happening here and the PRC is afraid it might spread and start happening over there. That’s why they are so desperate to snuff it out while they still can.

March 24, 2005 @ 4:33 am | Comment

“Meanwhile, in the internet cafes of Shanghai this week the government of China has installed video cameras to keep its young people from accessing or downloading “prohibited” information. Hah! The notion that a government has the right to prohibit people from learning the truth – So Chinese! So sick!”

you have no idea what young people in shanghai net-cafe are downloading! “learning truth”? LOL, they are learning girls and sex.

March 24, 2005 @ 5:23 am | Comment

william, the scenario is good, but where is a workable roadmap?

see, this is the difference between the mindset of an entrepreneur and that of an MBA student – if you can’t offer a workable roadmap, the scenario is a garbage.

March 24, 2005 @ 5:27 am | Comment

I am the one who called this “a modest proposal” because I knew William wasn’t being literal. Serious, but not literal, i.e., he knows this isn’t going to happen, but he’s trying to get us to think. It’s facetious, but it’s serious, too.

March 24, 2005 @ 6:51 am | Comment

more money talk.

recently, the dalai lama suggested that maybe tibet really does not want to be independent, thus upsetting some of his diehard supporters.why?it had something to do with money, again.

apart from nationalism/chauvinism, the other provinces of china would have been glad to get rid of tibet.that place is an economic sinkhole and will continue to be as far as the eye can see. each year, the provinces collect taxes, hand them over to the central government and see billions and billions diverted to tibet for infrastructural development. the provinces wouldn’t mind keep that money to take care of their own problems. if tibet goes independent,is taiwan going to pick up the tab? the u.s.? or must china be stiffed again?

more money talk.

self-determination for independence? shanghai will be the first to go (yeah, we speak shanghainese and we have a different history), and guangdong province next (yeah, we speak cantonese and we have a different history too), because they’ve got the money and they don’t want to hand it over to the other poorer provinces. places such as the ningxia autonomoous region will be dirt poor as far as the eye can see (unless taiwan wants to pick up the tab).

March 24, 2005 @ 7:08 am | Comment

Mr Stimson, I have my own very modest proposal: let’s look at Taiwan only through rose-tinted goggles and the mainland only through shit-tinted goggles. I suspect we’d come up with roughly what you proposed, but we’d still be just as far from reality. Or another idea: Let’s read what all the other commenters wrote, throw in an honest study of the history, and start working out a solution based on the facts. Maybe that way we might defuse one of the world’s bigger timebombs. Just as likely as your modest proposal, but so far as I can see, a little more realistic.

Y’know, as a Pakeha Kiwi I can, and perhaps even should, sympathise with those Taiwanese who would prefer independence. But the facts don’t change just ‘cos you want them to. If Taiwan wants independence, it knows the price it must pay. No amount of re-interpreting historical, legal, social or cultural fact will change that.

Oh dear God, let us please find a peaceful solution to this mess.

March 24, 2005 @ 7:46 am | Comment

Perhaps you are unaware Mr. Stimson, that this situation was the inverse of what it presently is for over 2 decades following ww2. With Taiwan the seat of the RoC and the mainland that of the PRC which was not recognized by most due to the Cold War and all. Taiwan has been the staging point of several aborted attacks against the mainland up until the 70’s. Frogmen, sabotage, you name it. Even an attempt to open up a southern front via Burma if I recall. Now one may astutely note that the poltical zeitgeist of the RoC has changed, and an invasion of the mainland is no longer a feasable alternative, yet this does not diminish the security risk posed by Taiwan’s independent existance to China. Afterall an independent Taiwan, on the terms of the green separatists, will mean a permanent emnity with the mainland. Taiwan’s security will not become any more teneable as a de jure Republic of Taiwan, but less so. To safeguard an independent Taiwan from any possible mainland invasion, whether communist or otherwise, will inevitably require foreign military presence of significant scope either in extreme proximity or on Taiwan itself. For the mainland, this is simply an unacceptable security arrangement to have hostile forces so close (Korea redux anyone?) and will escalate militarily in kind.

My train of thought doesn’t neccessarily start or end at the PRC, but rather the long term future of China after the communists are no longer in power. You may rest assured Mr. Stimson that any conflict that results in Taiwan declaring independence in the immediate future will not be the last one of its kind(well depending if it goes nuclear). I believe that too many people mistakenly assume that any conflict over Taiwan will lead to the demise of Communist power and the political collapse of China ending the matter. It could, but I find this view rather short sighted, any initial war would only be the prelude to a greater one. The desires, aspirations, and fears of the mainlanders have been too easily brushed aside in your rush to euologize Taiwan independence but they have no desire nor willingness to allow an independent Taiwan either (sentiments not altogether unfamiliar even in Hong Kong). Too many people have focused so heavily on the justifications and desires of the communist party without looking at the broad strategic implications to any Chinese state. While the ideologies of people may change in the long run, geography does not. China will not allow an independent and hostile Taiwan in the same vein that the United States is so hostile against Cuba, except in this case, Taiwan is closer and the fears of military threat are genuine and historically validated.

March 24, 2005 @ 11:28 am | Comment

One must not over simplify a complex situation and forget the closely contested nature of the latest election in Taiwan. Taiwanese society is deeply divided on the independence question. While the independence movement no doubt has it hardcore following, this is by no means a overwhelming majority. In fact, Chen Shuibian won by a plurality, not a majority, of the popular vote to his first term in office. As usual in most democratic elections, the latest US election notwithstanding, it is the swing vote from the mushy middle that usually determines the outcome. Beijing’s clumsy sabre-rattling before the latest elections in Taiwan no doubt contributed to a hardening of attitudes among the swing voters in Chen’s favour and a second term in office with a slim majority.

March 24, 2005 @ 7:52 pm | Comment

eswn – “Money talk”. What you’re saying is that if Taiwan were to unify with the mainland it would be expected to subsidise these poorer provinces? Not the most convincing reason for most Taiwanese – they’re already investing pretty heavily over there anyway.

Jing – a ‘hostile Taiwan’ is one of the most arse-backwards arguments I have ever heard. The overriding reason for any hostility is the threat of war by the PRC. Take that away, and you’re left with a valuable friend, ally, and of course trading partner. A threatened Taiwan is hostile. An invaded Taiwan is hostile (albeit less of a military threat). An independent Taiwan would spend all its time slashing their military budget and discussing ways to move closer to the PRC.

March 24, 2005 @ 8:05 pm | Comment

I’m sorry David, but I must vehemently disagree. I feel you do not quite understand the nature of the beast and the ideological underpinnings of separatism. An independent Taiwan that is a valueable friend and ally and trading partner of mainland China? All I have to say is HA! If the pan-greens had their way, Taiwan would cut all their trade with the mainland and would be conducting most of their business with Japan and bristling with U.S. military bases to boot.

March 24, 2005 @ 8:58 pm | Comment

money talks continued. taiwan should not be expected to pay the bill upon unification in general.
but the stimson proposal in the last paragraph is to invite the taiwanese people, let them take charge and then everything will be fixed. then everything had better be fixed because they have promised so! and the answer to most problems is ‘money’.
why are the peasants poor? there are too many farmers, too little land and they don’t have the education or training. the answer isn’t new taiwan administrators, or re-distribution of land. everybody knows that it requires huge infusion of money for education. where is that money going to come from? it’ll be nice for taiwan to come up with it, but they obviously don’t have the kind of money to make a difference.

of course, the whole notion of putting taiwan people in charge is numerically ridiculous. how many people are in taiwan? 20 million. they have to lead 1.3 billion. suppose you ship half of the adult population of taiwan to become government administrators in china. what does it mean? the elementary school teacher in a small town in taiwan might have to be put in charge of all the elementary schools for 1 million people in the city of Lijiang in Yunnan. you think this person will have a clue how to run the system? suppose the school principals say to the new adminstrator, “We don’t have books and pencils,” what is the answer? “Oh, but you have legality, constitutionality and freedom! So get lost!”

March 24, 2005 @ 9:59 pm | Comment

Jing, you’re talking about a radical fringe as if they are mainstream. You don’t really believe that half of Taiwan is violently opposed to any sort of links to China do you? At most, you’re describing the TSU – who make up ~5% of the legislature at the moment.

The CCP is doing a good job of alienating the Taiwanese recently – but it’s still got a long way to go before it has made real enemies of anything more than a handful (who are, admittedly, very vocal in their opposition). [By which I mean people who actively hate China, rather than disliking the current policies of the PRC towards Taiwan]

March 25, 2005 @ 12:20 am | Comment

I agree with some of the concepts behind this piece. Yes, it would be great if a union between China and Taiwan resulted in the mainland moving towards Taiwanese levels of democracy, rather than crushing it. However, the thought of the Taipei government, which would struggle to organise a piss up in a brewery, running a nation of 1.3 billion people is a little bit disturbing. Tyranical they may be, but Beijing’s leaders are doing a decent job of holding this country together. Those in Taipei haven’t even suceeded in coming up with a decent Romanisation system, are unable to achieve consistency with street names in their capital, and can’t even get through one day of parliament without a fist fight.

March 25, 2005 @ 2:49 am | Comment

Hahahaha…great piece!

And I anticipated the reaction correctly. Even after Mr. Stimson’s very detailed explanation, not one of the mainlanders gets it. It went right over your heads.

You can’t even see that this is not fundamentally about WHICH government (PRC or ROC) can or will truly govern China better (although from my experience with both the Taiwanese are certainly getting the better deal at the moment). Yet you still keep sending responses like…”Ha! The Taiwanese can’t do such a great job… Ha! isn’t this a silly article for suggesting….”

Riiiiiiiight over your heads. Of course, in all fairness, I doubt most of you have read the original Modest Proposal. I suggest that all of you read that essay to understand the truths of Mr. Stimson’s piece. THEN make your comments…if you understand what “satire” is of course.

March 26, 2005 @ 3:47 am | Comment

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