Mon, Mar 07, 2005 - Page 8 News List

China moves to change status quo

By Lai I-chung 賴怡忠

China's National People's Congress is expected to pass an "anti-secession" law. Its importance cannot be overestimated. This piece of legislation will treat Taiwan as part of the territory of the People's Republic of China. There is thus no such as issue as the question of how or when unification should take place, but only the question of how to correct Taiwan's current separation from the PRC.

This means that in future, China's military threat to and international suppression of Taiwan and its attempts to integrate Taiwan's economy will only become more intense, and that tension in the cross-strait relationship will increase.

The fact that China initiated the anti-secession legislation despite the outcome of last year's legislative elections in Taiwan is a sign that its policies toward Taiwan are being directed by hardliners. It also means that China is not targeting any particular party, but rather that it is filled with doubt and fears over the development of Taiwanese society.

Strategically speaking, the anti-secession law is an attempt to unilaterally define the status quo and thereby change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait as well as make military, legal and political preparations for a military attack on Taiwan. It also opposes the US' right to define the status quo and the Taiwan Relations Act. China can further use it to eliminate the individual responsibility of Chinese leaders for their Taiwan policies, instead using legislation to shift responsibility to the party as a whole.

China claims that the anti-secession law is an expression of the rule of law. But if that was so, how could a legal bill about to be passed be so unclear and the process so opaque that there has been no public debate at all? This is not what is meant by handling something in accordance with the law, but rather it is playing with legal sanctions. This is why it is hoped that the legislation will be so unclear as to lose any meaning.

In reality, however, an unclear legal text will let China interpret it any way it wants and pin the crime of secession on anyone whose statements or actions they dislike. The first targets will probably be any Taiwanese businesspeople, students or other Taiwanese citizens who travel to China.

One good example is how Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was refused a Hong Kong visa after having criticized the anti-secession law. Given insufficient preparation among the public, the effect may be that some citizens wanting to protect their own safety and property in China are forced to make pro-China statements in Taiwan. The result will be damage to Taiwan's democracy and freedom of speech.

The anti-secession law also constitutes a threat to China's intellectuals. In September last year, China's President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) said that he would strike forcefully against liberalism, and in December an unprecedented wave of arrests of public intellectuals was launched.

Although China does not need any anti-secession legislation to arrest dissident intellectuals, it can use the crime of secession to direct nationalist fervor toward these dissidents, on the one hand attacking liberalism, while on the other hand avoiding having nationalism jeopardize the position of the Communist Party. In this respect, the anti-secession law is very similar to the retracted Hong Kong legislation based on Article 23 in the Basic Law in that it constitutes a threat against domestic moderate and reformist forces.

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