Wed, Feb 11, 2009 - Page 8 News List

The shift in China’s Taiwan policy

By Yu Tsung-chi 余宗基

ON JAN. 20, China released its defense white paper for 2008, the sixth such policy report from the rising military power. Its previous five defense papers, released every even year since 1998, have given an overview of the country’s military buildup — ranging from its security situation and defense policy to the development of the People’s Liberation Army, military spending, international collaboration and arms control.

If one reads between the lines, last month’s 105-page white paper shed some light on subtle changes in the security function of interaction among the US, China and Taiwan, which deserves consideration by those who are concerned about Taiwan.

Beijing used to urge Washington to pressure Taipei and treat it as a troublemaker, but the defense paper shows that China seems to be shifting in a new direction, attempting to push out US influence to domesticate the Taiwan issue.

Beijing seems determined to win a tug-of-war between Sino-US and Taiwan-US relations. Although it may never openly admit it, one of Beijing’s ulterior motives is to gradually weaken US influence on the Taiwan issue through China’s rising economic, diplomatic and military clout.

On the one hand, China’s white paper denounced US arms sales to Taiwan, which it said had seriously hurt Sino-US relations and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

The paper also said: “Since 1996, a particular country [the US] has provided data on its arms sales to Taiwan to the [UN] Register [of Conventional Arms], which contradicts the spirit of the relevant Resolutions of the UN General Assembly as well as the objectives and principles of the Register. China was impelled to suspend its submission of data to the Register. Since the country concerned has stopped the above-mentioned act, China has resumed, since 2007, submitting data annually to the Register.”

On the other hand, referring to the cross-strait thaw, the paper said Taiwan’s attempts to seek “de jure independence” had been thwarted and the situation across the Taiwan Strait had taken a positive turn. The two sides have made progress in consultations on the common political basis of the “1992 consensus,” it said.

The paper not only played down China’s military buildup opposite Taiwan, but also declared “China will never engage in military expansion now or in the future, no matter how developed it becomes,” although it still treated Taiwanese independence as a potential threat.

These messages aim to create the impression that China’s rise is peaceful, that the two sides of the Strait have resolved their sovereignty dispute and that US arms sales to Taiwan not only violate international law but also constitute interference in China’s domestic affairs and an attempt at sabotaging cross-strait peace.

The white paper also said “China wants to develop cooperative military relations with other countries in various forms of military exchanges and cooperation in an effort to create a military security environment and enhance mutual trust.”

Although it did not say it wanted to establish a confidence-building mechanism (CBM) with Taiwan, it did accentuate that such a move would enhance security and mutual trust. That is to say, Taiwan’s security can be guaranteed through a CBM with China rather than relying on US arms sales.

This seems to echo Chinese President Hu Jintao’s (胡錦濤) six proposals for cross-strait relations made on Dec. 31, when he said: “China will pursue a policy of peaceful development and the two sides can pick the right time to engage in exchanges on military issues and explore setting up a military and security mechanism to build mutual trust, which would help improve the situation in the Taiwan Strait and lessen military and security concerns.”

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