Fri, Nov 28, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Referendum won't set China off

On Wednesday, Zhang Mingqing (張銘清), spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office of China's State Council, indicated that if the Legislative Yuan enacts a referendum law, China will "react strongly." This marks China's third public statement on this issue in a week. That the underlying intention of China is to sway the legislative process and the upcoming presidential election goes without saying.

It is generally observed that China has managed to maintain "unprecedented calm" -- in comparison to its typical behavior -- in the face of the March election and the controversies surrounding the referendum legislation (which all agree will have a decisive impact on the outcome of the election).

Perhaps China has finally realized after multiple experiments that whomever it has lashed out against has ended up winning brownie points from Taiwanese voters. However, with the popular support of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) reaching new heights because of his campaign platform of "one country on each side of the Strait," and the pending passage of the national referendum bill, China feels that it has been pushed toward the edge and that it has to speak its mind.

Last Tuesday, Wang Daohan (汪道涵), chairman of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, and Wang Zaixi (王在希), vice minister of the Taiwan Affairs Office, both issued warnings about the passage of the referendum bill.

These two officials seemingly read from the same script.

Wang Daohan, who is typically considered more dovish when it comes to Taiwan, played the "good cop," while Wang Zaixi, perhaps due to his military background, played the "bad cop."

Wang Daohan first indicated respect for the democratic spirit underlying enactment of a national referendum law, but accused Taiwan of pushing for independence through the passage of the referendum bill, which would give a legal basis to a declaration of "Taiwan independence," pushing Taiwan toward a "dangerous edge."

Wang Zaixi spoke in a highly coercive tone, indicating that if Taiwan openly declared independence, then China's line would be crossed and the "use of force is inevitable."

They did not say if China considers a referendum law equivalent to "Taiwan independence." But Zhang Mingqing's statement on Wednesday offers the answer to this question. According to Zhang, if a referendum law is enacted "without any restrictions" on the issues of the national flag, name and territory, China will "react strongly." As for what kind of "strong reactions" he was referring to, Zhang said "[we'll] know in a few days."

However, he also commented that there was no basis to the rumor that former president Jiang Zemin (江澤民), chairman of China's military commission, has given the order to be prepared for an attack on Taiwan. Zhang said in private after the press conference that such rumors "were laughable."

Based on Zhang's talk, it is obvious that China equates changing the national flag, name and territory through national referendums as "Taiwan independence," and as actions that would cross its line.

But because a referendum law by itself does not rise to that standard, and because China realizes that passage of a referendum law is inevitable, it had to attempt to more clearly delineate its so-called "line."

This attempt was of course laughable, because self-determination is a universally accepted human right, and China has no right to interfere with the rights of Taiwanese people.

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