Mainland Affairs Council: Two Decades of Change
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
January 28, 2011
The Executive Yuan Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) is about to celebrate its 20th birthday. The past two decades have been filled with intrigue, and wracked by vicissitudes. Twenty years is not that long. But the changes are too numerous to count. During that time, clashes have brought us to the brink of war. Cross-Strait relations have gone from indeterminate to inseparable. We should review our journey, reflect on the errors in our thinking, in order to formulate a better cross-Strait policy for the future.
The MAC did not appear out of nowhere. It was Taipei's reaction to the end of the Cold War. The Cold War officially ended when the Soviet Union imploded. The year was 1991. The Mainland Affairs Council was established early that year. The MAC was born amidst the Tiananmen Incident, the collapse of Eastern Europe, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The ice which had covered nearly half the earth melted, almost instantaneously.
The period was about democratization and reconciliation. The original mission of the Mainland Affairs Council was promoting reconciliation. But when Beijing cracked down on the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square, promoting democratization in the Mainland Region became the MAC's added responsibility.
The MAC was part of Chiang Ching-kuo's strategy for opening up the Mainland Region during his own lifetime. It was born after his death. It was his posthumous child. In 1987 Chiang Ching-kuo lifted martial law and the ban on family visits. Thus began the resumption of cross-Strait interaction. He died early the following year. But seven months later, the predecessor of the Mainland Affairs Council was established. This was the Executive Yuan Mainland Working Committee (?). It was crammed into the annex of the Executive Yuan on Peking East Road, on the second floor. Executive Secretary Ma Ying-jeou, along with several coworkers, reported to the Executive Yuan Mainland Working Committee for work, half a day each week. Two years later, the MAC was born.
Consider when and where the Mainland Affairs Council was born, and that will tell you much about its original nature. The goal of the MAC, established under Lee Teng-hui, was to promote cross-Strait reconciliation, and to pursue cross-Strait unification under democracy. One month after the MAC was established, the National Unification Guidelines were approved by the National Unification Council, with the participation of DPP members. The National Unification Guidelines outlined the path for China's reunification. It established certain institutional preconditions as its highest priority, including democracy, freedom, and the equitable distribution of wealth. It transcended nationalist stereotypes. It championed universal values. It did not posit reunification as an unconditional goal. It gave priority to the pursuit of happiness. It was a national guideline that addressed the problems of the nation, both root and branch. We traveled down the path toward democracy and unity, in step with the rest of the world, for three to five years. But the Taiwan Region suddenly found itself inundated by a wave of reaction, and began marching in the opposite direction.
That opposite direction was Taiwan independence. Taiwan independence exploited the Republic of China's democratization. It turned democracy into its hostage. Its political moves reached extremes under Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian. During this period, the MAC abandoned its original goal of reconciliation, and instead incited hatred and hostility. It contravened the spirit of the council. Over much of the following two decades, Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian viewed cross-Strait relations as playthings of authority. They incited divisions on Taiwan, and antipathy toward the Mainland. They clung to power by exploiting populism. Lee Teng-hui trotted out his "be patient, avoid haste policy" and his "two-states theory." Chen Shui-bian trotted out his "one country on each side theory," and demanded the repeal of the National Unification Guidelines. He called for the "rectification of names" and the "authoring of a new constitution." He led the nation to the brink of disaster. He turned the nation upside down. That said, the CCP bears the heaviest responsibility for the wave of Taiwan independence sentiment that swept over the island. Its dogmatic One China rhetoric loudly proclaimed that the "Republic of China has been destroyed." It relentlessly threatened the use of force. It imposed authoritarian rule in the Mainland Region. These provided fertile soil for Taiwan independence agitation. Taiwan independence frenzy originated with Lee and Chen demagoguery. But Beijing bears the greatest responsibility for public skepticism towards reunification.
Cross-strait relations have been thoroughly undermined. Like a crumpled piece of paper, it will be difficult to restore to its original condition. Ma Ying-jeou gave birth to the MAC. He is now in office. Nevertheless the MAC cannot be restored to its original condition. The National Unification Guidelines have been replaced by the "1992 Consensus," "One China, Different Interpretations," and "no reunification, no independence, no use of force." Romantic aspirations and lofty sentiments may have been dampened. But realistic cross-Strait exchanges are proceeding by leaps and bounds.
The past two decades were a process of trial and error. These two decades saw the Taiwan independence movement take the Taiwan Region on a drunken joy ride, only to crash it into a wall. The past two decades tell us that Taiwan must not adopt a negative, shrinking attitude. It must adopt a positive, forward looking attitude. The National Unification Guidelines have been moved to the back burner. But bilateral political and economic links have already progressed passed the point of no return. Authorities on the Taiwan side have provided inspiration over the past two decades. Without this inspiration, Beijing would not have adopted its current "symbiotic win-win" thinking.
Twenty years ago, we had the Mainland Affairs Council and the National Unification Council. Today we have the "1992 Consensus," "One China, Different Interpretations," and "no [immediate] reunification, no independence, and no use of force." This may look like regression. But at this stage, "no [immediate] reunification, and no independence" is the pragmatic path that both sides must take. It is the path that will lead the two sides onto the high road of "peaceful development."