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 (
The anti-secession law also constitutes a threat to China's intellectuals. In September last year, China's President Hu Jintao (
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.
Some say that China's current focus is on economic development, and that it has no intention of further pressuring Taiwan. But as the communist government is unable to carry out domestic reform, heightened tension with the outside world is the best way to retain its hold on power.
What's more, China is feeling confident, and many specialists in Chinese strategy feel that if China could ride out the storm after the Tiananmen Massacre of 1989 when it was still weak, there is no reason to worry about the economic cost of a military attack on Taiwan now, when China is strong and Taiwan is weak.
The main target for Hu and his leadership is, however, the Beijing Olympics in 2008. But if the Olympics are concluded successfully, surging nationalist sentiment and strong economic confidence may well convince Hu to seek a resolution to the Taiwan issue before his term in power is over. The anti-secession law can therefore not be passively understood as an anti-independence law. Rather, it has to be understood as an aggressive measure aimed at actively resolving the Taiwan issue.
In short, the anti-secession legislation is a way for China to change the cross-strait status quo by defining it. Given the insufficient preparation of the people of Taiwan, it will cause great harm to Taiwanese democracy and freedom of speech, and will also be a serious threat to China's domestic liberalization.
We have to recognize clearly that the anti-secession law is a problem in and of itself, and the main point is therefore not to effect changes to the law, but to face head-on the negative effects of that law, strengthen domestic unity and to make a concerted call to make the international community understand the dissatisfaction of the Taiwanese people.
We must also look at future cross-strait developments from a strategic rather than a tactical perspective in an attempt to avert the increasingly negative international view of Taiwan that could come as a result of the passage of the anti-secession law.
Lai I-chung is the director of foreign policy studies at the Taiwan Thinktank.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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