Inspired by Korea, Taiwan leader invites China's Jiang `to join hands'

Appeal is rejected by Beijing government

June 21, 2000|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BEIJING - Taking a cue from last week's successful summit between rivals North and South Korea, Taiwanese leader Chen Shui-bian invited Chinese President Jiang Zemin yesterday to join him for their own summit.

"I sincerely invite the leader of China, Mr. Jiang Zemin, to join hands and work to create a moment like the handshake between North and South Korea," said Chen, referring to the warm meeting last week between the leaders of the divided peninsula. "If North and South Korea can, why can't the two sides of the [Taiwan] Strait?"

Chen said Taipei might support Beijing's bid to become host to the 2008 Olympics and co-host to sporting events.

As expected, the Chinese government rejected Chen's appeal.

Repeating long-standing preconditions for such talks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said Taiwan must first agree that Taiwan is part of a single China before leaders can travel back and forth and hold discussions.

"We are sincere about having dialogue," Zhu said in a regularly scheduled briefing yesterday. But "on this major matter of right and wrong, we cannot give in."

"Our leaders have stated explicitly our position on many occasions. We ask the Taiwan leaders to recognize the `One China' policy."

China and Taiwan are at semantic loggerheads over how to define their fractious relationship. Beijing insists that Taiwan - a de facto independent country - is an inseparable part of China. Taipei claims both sides agreed in 1992 that there is one China but defined it differently.

Chen's invitation yesterday was not entirely new. After his election victory in March, he encouraged Chinese leaders to visit Taiwan.

Chen's gesture toward Jiang yesterday seemed to be a clever way to put pressure on China to be more conciliatory while boosting his image as a statesman.

Analysts worried that Chen's election would worsen relations between Taiwan and China because his Democratic Progressive Party has supported Taiwanese independence in the past.

Since taking office, though, Chen has called for reconciliation and talks with the mainland, earning widespread praise for a sober approach to the volatile "Taiwan Question."

China has regarded Taiwan as a wayward province since Nationalist Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and his supporters fled the mainland in defeat at the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. The mainland has vowed to take the island by force if necessary.

Beijing's hard-line demands for reunification with Taiwan contrast sharply with the recent approach of Kim Jong Il, the dictator of North Korea, who until last week was seen as one of the world's most eccentric and reclusive leaders. After more than a half-century of bitter division, the leaders of the two Koreas met last week and agreed to work toward peace and reunification in a summit marked by hugs, smiles and handshakes. For two governments technically at war, the scenes were remarkable.

Chen sought yesterday to compare relations between the two Chinas and the two Koreas but did not point out some fundamental political and economic differences.

Although the two pairs of countries are divided by war and political systems, the balance of power differs.

North Korea is a poor, Stalinist state devastated by famine. Reaching out to the world and archenemy South Korea for food and financial aid might be its only chance for self-preservation.

China, in contrast, is in a far more commanding position. It is the world's most populous country and has the seventh-largest economy. It has nuclear weapons and is building an arsenal of conventional missiles in what analysts say is an apparent plan to force Taiwan to the bargaining table in a few years.

Taiwan is a wealthy, successful democracy 100 miles off the mainland coast, but it is too small to resist China on its own. An island of 22 million people, Taiwan probably would have been absorbed by the mainland earlier but for military and political support from the United States.

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