Sat, Nov 29, 2003 - Page 8 News List

PRC threats might be more than empty talk

By Bill Chang 張國城

On Nov. 17, Wang Zaixi (王在希), vice minister of the Taiwan Affairs Office of China's State Council, said that Taiwan's push for independence has crossed China's line in the sand and risks war. Wang Daohan (汪道涵), chairman of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, also publicly criticized Taiwan's move.

This is the first time that high-ranking Chinese officials have denounced President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) stance since the campaign for the nation's presidential election was launched. It is also the first time that military force was mentioned. It will be worth noting whether China will resort to saber-rattling again.

Many people are of the opinion that Beijing will not repeat what it did in 1996, so as to avoid helping Chen secure his re-election. This reasoning is based on the facts that China's missile tests in 1996 led to a landslide victory for former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and that, in 2000, then Chinese premier Zhu Rongji's (朱鎔基) intimidation turned out to help Chen win the election. But actually this discourse is flawed.

In 1996, Lee was at the apex of his power in terms of legitimacy (as president and leader of the Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT]), his political performance (the nation's economy was at a peak in 1996) and the KMT's organizational strength. His pro-unification opponents did not have the same competitive qualifications.

Lee's clear-cut victory was inevitable even without China's military drills. In 2000, after Zhu issued a strongly worded statement, Chen's approval ratings actually dropped. For Beijing, therefore, the argument that threatening to use military force will create negative counter effects is not backed by facts.

Today, if China really resorts to its old tricks, a crucial point might be the drastic change in the KMT's attitude toward referendum legislation and the constitutional issue.

Though China has never been nice to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), that doesn't mean that Beijing is afraid of the DPP's push for Taiwan independence. This is because the DPP has never garnered more than half of the votes in any national election and the pan-blue force would naturally contain the DPP through inter-party struggles. Simply put, the DPP will not get anywhere.

But the problem would become serious if the KMT also were to favor independence. Since the DPP would not oppose the KMT on this issue, the pro-independence movement could secure a majority and become a force to be reckoned with. That's why China must take it seriously.

In contrast, China had no response when the DPP won the 2000 presidential election and became the majority party in the legislature. Nor did Beijing respond when Chen visited the US and put forth his "one country on each side" dictum. This is not because Beijing prefers the DPP. This is based on its fundamental understanding of Taiwan's political situation.

In addition, some KMT members do not support Chairman Lien Chan's (連戰) bold proposals about referendums and constitutional reforms, but they cannot express their opposition now. Once China acts, it may have an effect on these people, thus bringing the KMT back to its original stance. This is what China wants to see.

Another key lies in the US. With al-Qaeda members recently threatening reprisals, the US has stepped up its security alert, a move that undoubtedly affects its military deployment.

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