Mon, Feb 14, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan must start speaking up

By Hao Pei-chih 郝培芝

China has been heavily promoting its proposed anti-secession legislation. This fact does not only indicate a significant change of direction in China's policy toward Taiwan, it has also added a number of variables to the cross-strait equation. We should start taking account of these factors and prepare our response.

Internally, the formulation of the anti-secession law represents a departure from the conventional channels of cross-strait affairs (such as the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council), to be replaced by direct control of the central leadership acting through the National People's Congress. The fact that this is possible is the result of Chinese President Hu Jintao's (胡錦濤) concessions to the military during his power struggle with predecessor Jiang Zemin (江澤民).

Regarding the cross-strait relationship, the fact that the proposed anti-secession law followed so closely on the heels of Taiwan's recent legislative elections, indicates that Beijing is no longer willing to waste time over the so-called "92 consensus" and has now established a new basis for the relationship.

The reason that the anti-secession law is important for cross-strait relations is as follows. Beijing aims, through the passage of a law, to unilaterally define the cross-strait status quo, and also define the nature of Taiwan independence. The goal is to prevent Taiwan independence through use of the judiciary, laying the foundation for legitimizing the use of forceful measures in the future.

The first incarnation of this law was as a "unification law." By altering it to become an "anti-secession law," China is making a politically significant change to how it defines the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

In addition, the law will also serve to clarify the definition of Taiwan independence, and thereby criminalize activism to this end. Beijing hopes that the threat of this legal injunction will be sufficient to prevent further development of independence activities, while also indirectly informing Taiwan's leadership of the limits of Beijing's tolerance. In the short term, the purpose of this law is to undermine any policy-related activity in Taiwan; in the middle-term it aims to force Taiwan to accept "one China" as a structure for negotiations, and in the long term it is providing itself with an excuse should it decide to use military force. It also arrogates to itself the right to explain or interpret any breakdown in the status quo.

The proposed "anti-secession law" is also an indication of China's growing confidence and ability as a practitioner of superpower diplomacy. Even as Beijing has actively sought to define the political environment in East Asia, it has also started to build up the resources and systems to underpin its superpower diplomacy and build up international leverage to deal with the Taiwan problem. China is simultaneously pushing the Taiwan issue internationally and domestically to realize its vision of "one China" on the international stage.

Internationally, China's policy is to exchange market benefits for political advantage, strengthening the recognition given by major international players to the concept of "one China." Beijing has recently signed free-trade agreements (FTAs) with a number of East Asian countries, and in each case has demanded that signatories to these FTAs do not sign similar agreements with Taiwan, and that they accept the "one China" principle.

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