Sun, Dec 01, 2002 - Page 8 News List

The PRC leadership succession and Taiwan

By Li Thian-hok 李天福

With the conclusion of the 16th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), an outline of the new leadership following the peaceful but undemocratic succession process has now emerged.

While Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) ascended to the post of CCP general secretary as expected, the most important development was the confirmation by the congress of Jiang Zemin's (江澤民) continuing role as China's supreme leader.

Even if Jiang relinquishes his post as state president in March, his power and influence will linger for the near future. Jiang preserves his supremacy by retaining his chairmanship of the Central Military Commission (CMC), packing the new politburo, its standing committee and the CMC with his own people, and by succeeding in having his theory of the "Three Represents" enshrined in the CCP charter.

China's new leaders, meanwhile, are younger, better educated and less encumbered by ideological concerns than their predecessors.

Some Western Sinologists hope that the new leaders will steer China towards a free market economy and eventually even political liberalization. But none of this fourth generation of leaders has personal exposure to Western democracy despite having lived and studied abroad.

The "Taiwan problem" will have been settled well before China evolves into a democracy, assuming it ever does. For the next two years or so, China can be expected to continue its current strategy toward Taiwan.

While the People's Liberation Army (PLA) will actively work to improve its capacity to coerce Taiwan into submission, Beijing will adopt a seemingly friendlier posture and seduce pro-unification elements among Taiwanese businessmen and KMT and PFP politicians to act as its agents in pressuring Taipei to implement direct links, promote cultural and economic integration, and accede to Beijing's "one China" principle.

By 2005, the threat of PLA action against Taiwan could become real. China has proclaimed it will not wait indefinitely for unification.

Once China is more fully integrated into the WTO, millions of newly unemployed farmers and workers will be added to the pool of the 100 million people roaming the cities searching for work. The resultant social instability could well lead Beijing to attack Taiwan as a means of diverting the people's attention and relieving discontent.

The present make-up of the Politburo Standing Committee may presage a power struggle between Zeng Qinghong (曾慶紅), Jiang's protege and leader of the Shanghai faction, and Hu Jintao. Whoever wins will have to rely on the PLA for support and may not be able to resist pressure from the PLA for a military solution to the Taiwan problem.

Taipei needs to present a clear vision of a free Taiwan to its own citizens as well as the international community. One element of such a vision must be the discarding of the foolhardy policy of active opening in favor of a Taiwan First policy.

Direct links, for example, will certainly facilitate cultural and economic integration with China. Such links will make it harder for Taiwan to defend its sovereignty and democracy, even though some businessmen will benefit.

The government must also be more proactive in bolstering Taiwan's national security and military readiness. A civil defense infrastructure should be built and citizens made aware of the growing military threat from China.

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