Sun, Nov 30, 2003 - Page 8 News List

China's threats not working so well anymore

On the eve of the vote on the Referendum Law (公民投票法), Zhang Mingqing (張銘清), the spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, issued a warning at a press conference.

Zhang said that China understands the desire of people in Taiwan for democracy and autonomy, but if a referendum law was enacted that lacked "restrictions" with respect to the issues of national flag, name and territory, and that provided a legal basis for a declaration of Taiwanese independence, then "we will without question react strongly."

He went on to remark that "China will not sit idly by as President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) continues to walk down the path of Taiwanese independence."

The ruling and opposition camps went into battle over the referendum issue on Thursday, each endorsing a different version of the law.

Zhang's decision to issue such a stern threat just before the referendum duel was an effort to sway those who were less than determined to uphold the referendum right of the people, and to interfere with the passage of the law by dividing and conquering.

However, in view of the fact that China's threats against Taiwan have often incited resentment among Taiwanese and have helped the growth of Taiwanese consciousness, it was no surprise that Zhang's conduct not only failed to accomplish its intended effect, but may have fostered unanimity among the people, facilitating passage of the Referendum Law.

In the past, in the face of threats from China, people in Taiwan did not react with unity. Some politicians even used Chinese threats of war to coerce their countrymen. However, politicians and parties that betrayed the mainstream popular will in this way were rejected by the people in the end, and became gradually marginalized.

Therefore, in this battle over the referendum issue, some politicians and political parties finally grasped reality, and did not dare, for once, to ignore the popular will. They drastically altered their position overnight -- literally.

With their condescending remarks about proponents of a new constitution -- such as "ignorant" and "nonsense" -- still fresh in people's minds, they managed not only to propose a timetable for drafting a new constitution, but also proposed a referendum law with no restrictions attached. This change among certain parties and politicians was perhaps the result of election considerations, and not the result of genuine ideological change.

However, in the face of Zhang's criticisms, both the opposition and ruling camps reacted with a unified response.

Not only did the pan-green camp ask China to understand that the right to referendum is a fundamental political right of the people, but the pan-blues loudly criticized China for inappropriate behavior.

They even said that "the Republic of China [ROC] is an independent sovereign country and no foreign power should interfere with the ROC's legislative process."

This response suggests that China is being perceived as a "foreign power." Under the circumstances, such military threats -- which have never accomplished their intended purpose to begin with -- are not likely to accomplish anything this time around.

Frankly speaking, China is right in observing that, propelled by democracy, Taiwan is drifting further and further from China.

In 1949, the People's Republic of China was officially established. The ROC had been vanquished. The remnant Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) forces that moved to Taiwan were simply an alien regime that planned to use Taiwan as a stepping stone to retake China.

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