Sat, Jan 01, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Misunderstanding may lead to war

By Tung Chen-yuan 童振源

I happened to be visiting Beijing when the China's leadership announced the draft "anti-secession law." The belief in China is that President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) compelled them to introduce anti-secession legislation as the only way to determinedly thwart pro-independence forces and counter US interference in cross-strait affairs.

Yet this anti-secession legislation is likely to be as counterproductive as China's Taiwan Policy White Paper of 2000, reversing the trend of Taiwan assuming the weakest position in the triangular Taiwan-China-US relationship.

In 1999, the US became rather unsympathetic to Taiwan after former President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) proposed the special state-to-state formula to define cross-strait relations. Afterwards, the US repeatedly assured China that it would not accept the special state-to-state model, and even demanded that Taiwan further clarify its stance on this issue; and, for the first time voiced its disapproval of the nation's drive for UN membership.

Taiwan's weak position was reversed when China issued its 2000 Taiwan Policy White Paper. In the white paper, China brought up three scenarios in which it would most likely take Taiwan by force. One of these scenarios stated that if Taiwan indefinitely refused to peacefully resolve the cross-strait dispute through negotiations, China could annex Taiwan militarily. This paper immediately generated a backlash in the US, which feared China might resort to force at any time to handle the "Taiwan issue."

Former US president Bill Clinton immediately warned Beijing that the US would continue to reject the use of force to solve the situation, and urged that any change in the status quo would require the Taiwanese people's consent. This turned the tables in Taiwan's favor, putting it in a stronger position than before.

When President Chen put forward the idea of "adopting a new constitution" and "holding a referendum on whether or not to write a new constitution," last year Taiwan again found itself in a disadvantageous position in the China-US-Taiwan relationship.

The US pressured Taiwan not to change the status quo, and claimed that Taiwan was not a sovereign nation. It also said that both sides must move toward "peaceful unification," that the US is not obligated to defend Taiwan and that Taiwan is part of China.

The details of the proposed anti-secession law have yet to be released, but its purpose is to show China's determination to fight against pro-independence forces. It is also a tool in negotiating with the US over the Taiwan issue, and serves as a counterbalance to the US' Taiwan Relations Act.

To demonstrate its anti-independence determination, China will have to deal with the definition of the status quo across the Taiwan Strait. It all boils down to how the Republic of China (ROC) is defined. It is no easy task, and if badly handled it could change the status quo. Taiwan might find a way around the line drawn by Beijing or it may lose restraint.

If China shows its determination to combat pro-independence forces, it must be backed up with the ability to act. In April, in a hearing on Taiwan, James Kelly, the US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said, "The US does not support independence for Taiwan or unilateral moves that would change the status quo as we define it."

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