MAC blasts law as an `irrational act'

HARSH CRITICISM: Taiwan's officials said an apology and concrete gestures from China were needed to salvage cross-strait relations after it passed the `anti-secession' law

By Joy Su  /  STAFF REPORTER WITH AFP AND AP

Tue, Mar 15, 2005 - Page 1

Taiwan says it wants to see conciliatory gestures -- including an apology -- from China to repair the damage that Beijing's "anti-secession" law has done to cross-strait relations.

Officials in Taipei slammed the legislation as an "irrational act" and expressed its "severest condemnation." But they added that there are still no plans to hold a referendum in response to the law, and that the government will not interfere with any possible response by the legislature.

"At this point, the most important step is that the Chinese government should sincerely apologize to the Taiwanese people for their grave mistake," the nation's top cross-strait policymaker, Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Chairman Joseph Wu (吳釗燮), said yesterday while giving the official response to Beijing's anti-secession law.

Wu added that an apology had to be more than just rhetoric.

"Actions speak louder than words; the Taiwanese people have no interest in hearing what the Chinese government has to say but rather in what actions they will take," Wu said, adding that whether an action constituted an apology would be determined after the fact. He did say, however, that renouncing military aggression was one way China could repair relations.

Wu spoke yesterday after China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress, passed the anti-secession law as it closed its 10-day annual session, with an overwhelming majority of 2,896 votes for the law and none against. Two delegates abstained.

The text of the 10-article law, as released by the official Xinhua news agency, calls for the use of "non-peaceful means and other necessary measures to protect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity," if other measures fail. This will be necessary "in the event that the `Taiwan independence' secessionist forces should act under any name or by any means to cause the fact of Taiwan's secession from China," the law said.

Military action could also be taken if "major incidents entailing Taiwan's secession from China should occur, or that possibilities for a peaceful reunification should be completely exhausted."

The law does not spell out what is meant by "non-peaceful" means but analysts believe it would cover anything from a naval blockade to surgical missile strikes and an all-out invasion. The law took effect yesterday.

While Wu stressed yesterday that the council would continue to make "peace and development of cross-strait relations" its core policy objectives, he said yesterday that it was "not interested" in Beijing's proposal to jointly operate cross-strait chartered flights over Tomb-sweeping Day on April 5. Before yesterday, the council had no definite response on the matter, even though Beijing had renewed its proposal by inviting aviation representatives to start up talks on the flights last Friday.

"The anti-secession law is so vicious and yet at the same time, Beijing puts out charter flights. This is adding insult to injury," Wu said, calling such proposals "petty."

He said China should express its sincerity by apologizing to Taiwan first.

While China had been moving towards operating cross-strait charters regularly on weekends and holidays, Wu said that airline carriers did not feel such flights were profitable.

He also said that it was likely that cooperation on cross-strait cargo flights would be unacceptable to the general public at this point. The council has been eyeing cargo flights since President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) vowed to make cooperation on cross-strait cargo flights a priority last month, but Beijing's response was to put such flights to the side and focus primarily on passenger charters instead.

Cooperation on cargo flights "would show that Beijing is sorry, but it would be like hitting me 10 times and then offering a small bandage," Wu said.

Wu yesterday denied that Taiwan planned to put a freeze on interaction with China in light of the law, saying only that preserving the national interest would be the government's guiding principle in formulating its China policy.

He dodged questions on the relaxation of cross-strait financial and economic regulations, saying only that the anti-secession law would be taken into consideration in the government's assessment of these measures.

Wu reiterated that the government would not champion "anti-annexation" or "anti-invasion" legislation proposed by pan-green camp legislators, and as yet did not plan to hold a referendum on the matter.It is clear that Beijing's law, which states clearly that the "Taiwan question" is an internal affair, also aims to send a message to the international community. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) at a news conference after the bill was reiterated China's assertion that Taiwan is strictly an internal Chinese matter and cautioned outsiders not to get involved.

"We do not wish to see foreign interference," Wen said, referring explicitly to the US and Japan. "However, we do not fear foreign interference."

"We hope all the countries and people in the world that uphold the `one-China' principle and want peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait will support this law," he said.

In a joint declaration last month, Japan and the US for the first time described peace in the Taiwan Strait as their "common security concern."

Wen said the "anti-secession" law was not a "war bill" and that it wasn't meant to change the status quo in the Strait.

"This is a law advancing peaceful unification between the sides," Wen said.

"It is not targeted at the people of Taiwan, nor is it a war bill," he added.

"So long as there is a ray of hope, we will do our utmost to promote a peaceful reunification," Wen said.

In an apparent effort to mollify Washington, which says it doesn't want to see either side change the status quo unilaterally, Wen said the law "is not aimed to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, which is that both sides belong to one country."

Wen also referred to the US Civil War of the 1860s, saying the law resembles resolutions passed by the US Congress before the states of the southern Confederacy seceded and war erupted.

"We here do not wish to see such a situation," Wen said at the nationally televised news conference.

The MAC was skeptical however, asking why Beijing had lobbied for support with the US and Europe prior to the bill's passing if it did not fear foreign intervention.

"The best countermeasure right now is international condemnation," Wu said, indicating that Beijing had already begun to buckle under foreign pressure, with Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office head Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) issuing an unusual late-night press statement on Friday defending the law, and Wen reiterating China's willingness to relax restrictions on agricultural imports during his press conference yesterday.

"The attempt to deal with the issue through non-peaceful measures has already flagrantly trampled all over the Charter of the United Nations and the United Nations' Joint Pledge for International Human Rights," Wu said, saying he hoped that the US would continue to display strong opposition to the bill.

The council reiterated yesterday that the legislation could provide "a blank check for the Chinese People's Liberation Army to use any measure to annex Taiwan."

Both the Presidential Office and the Cabinet kept a low profile yesterday, refraining from making public remarks and leaving the official response to the council.

A meeting however was convened by National Security Council Secretary-General Chiou I-jen (邱義仁) yesterday morning during which issues relating to China's legislation are believed to have been the centerpiece of deliberations. The president also met with high-ranking government and political leaders in the Presidential Office to discuss related issues.

Additional reporting by Huang Tai-lin