In announcing the enactment of the "Anti-Secession" Law China stressed that it was done for the purpose of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) also argued that efforts to strive for peaceful reunification would not be abandoned and that the guideline demanding that their hopes be pinned on the Taiwanese people would never be changed.
However, what the whole world has seen is that China is using the terms "non-peaceful means and other necessary measures" to package its threat to use military force. While Beijing was stressing that the law is not a war law, it authorized the State Council and the Central Military Commission to decide on and execute military action, allowing the world to see that it is a law to authorize war.
Not only does the law take direct aim at Taiwan, it also has repercussions for the implementation of the US' Taiwan Relations Act and will influence the recent US-Japan joint declaration of a common strategic objective.
Beijings' actions have been criticized in editorials by a majority of US and Japanese mainstream newspapers, such as the Asian Wall Street Journal, the Daily Yomiuri, Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. US and Japanese experts on China also expressed regret over Beijing's decision. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the law clearly escalated cross-strait tensions and that this is neither necessary nor constructive.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi urged both Taiwan and China to exercise restraint and said that from now on, Japan will work to push both sides to resolve disputes peacefully. Japanese government spokesman Hiroyuki Hosoda also said Japan is concerned that the law will have a negative effect on peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
On Feb. 19, the US-Japan Security Consultative Committee issued a joint statement that their regional common strategic objective includes, among other things, developing a cooperative relationship with China, encouraging the peaceful resolution of issues concerning the Taiwan Strait through dialogue, encouraging China to improve transparency in its military affairs, and discouraging destabilizing sales and transfers of arms and military technology.
The statement was a public acknowledgement by Japan that the Taiwan Strait is an area in its periphery and a link in the security environment. Further US-Japan cooperation is needed to respond to any disputes that might emerge in the Taiwan Strait.
Although the US had said previously that the Anti-Secession Law was unnecessary, and that it would not support it, Washington continued to urge Taipei not to overreact. Although the US opposes both Taiwan holding a defensive referendum and China's Anti-Secession Law, it is difficult for it to directly intervene in the domestic affairs of either side.
What the US can do is to minimize the effects of existing doubts and damage, and do its best to widen the scope of cooperation and dialogue. In view of this, Washington will probably ask Beijing to clarify some of the details of the Anti-Secession Law.
For instance, Article 5 of the law states that "Taiwan may practice systems different from those on the mainland and enjoy a high degree of autonomy."
Does this mean more flexibility will be granted to Taiwan than to both Hong Kong and Macao and that Taiwan can remain unchanged not only for 50 years but 100 years? Will Taiwan's freedom on the international scene be broadened? How does Beijing define "major incidents," the complete exhaustion of possibilities for peaceful reunification and other necessary measures in Article 8?
Article 8 also states that "The State Council and the Central Military Commission shall decide on and execute the non-peaceful means and other necessary measures."
Does that imply that the China's decision-making mechanism on national security includes a law applicable in emergency situations?
Following the promulgation of the Anti-Secession Law, the challenges facing the US include:
First, having to compete with China for, or even share, the right to interpret the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.
Second, it must deepen its understanding of Hu's decision-making style and his work within the government. Prior to the year 2012, the US must gain the ability to control Hu's Taiwan policy and the implementation of the Anti-Secession Law.
Third, while giving limited support to Taiwan's constitutional and political reforms, it also needs to monitor them closely so Beijing will not have an opportunity to attack Taiwan by citing the Anti-Secession Law.
Fourth, it needs to step up measures to assist Taiwan in its response to China's precision targeting capabilities and provide ways to ensure the continued existence of Taiwan's government and protect infrastructure.
Fifth, it could face the predicament of Taipei publicly asking it to tacitly acknowledge that Taiwan has the right to reject unification with China.
Sixth, it needs to follow-up concerns expressed in the US-Japan common strategic objective over cross-strait peace, including dissuading the EU from lifting its arms embargo on China.
Since China published its explanation for enacting the law, local media outlets in Taiwan have conducted at least three opinion polls. The results show that Taiwanese feelings of antagonism against China increased in the time between the National People's Congress explanation of the law and when the draft law was released. More than 90 percent of respondents said they are against the resolution of cross-strait disputes through non-peaceful means, and they believe that changes to the future of Taiwan must to be approved by all Taiwanese people.
The US is not in favor of Taiwan's independence but also tends to think that Beijing does not have the right to reject it. However, the US is also opposed to China achieving unification by force and thinks that Taipei has the right to reject the proposition of unification with China.
The US and Japan need to respect Taiwan's democracy and pay heed to China's military buildup, while at the same time maintaining close trade and economic relations with China. Following China's "legalization" of its policy on Taiwan, the question of how to push China to stress peaceful means and completely discard non-peaceful means has become the greatest challenge for the US and Japan.
Lin Cheng-yi is the director of the Institute of European and American Studies at the Academia Sinica.
Translated by Daniel Cheng
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