China: Taiwan and the Anti-Secession Law

5 MINS READMar 9, 2005 | 04:01 GMT
China revealed more details about the controversial Anti-Secession Law during a session of the National People's Congress (NPC) on March 8. The most notable element revealed thus far is the focus on Taiwan's potential to hold a national referendum on independence or constitutional change and the explanation that China would not target all of Taiwan for separatist activities, just those individuals involved. Far from strengthening Beijing's hand in dealing with Taipei, the draft appears to show weakness.
Wang Zhaoguo, vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People's Congress (NPC), explained the long-discussed Anti-Secession Law before the NPC on March 8. Wang emphasized the law's necessity, given Taiwan's increased use of "legal" means to move toward formal independence, such as holding a referendum or amending the constitution. Wang cited the Chinese Constitution's declaration that Tawian is a province of China, and noted that the Taiwan issue was an internal issue left over from the 1940s in which foreign interference would not be tolerated. The controversial Anti-Secession legislation's key points are, first, that Beijing will seek all peaceful means of re-integrating China, and second, that Beijing will employ "non-peaceful means and other necessary measures" only as a last resort — and then only against "'Taiwan independence' forces," not against Beijing's "Taiwan compatriots." The law was intended to strengthen Beijing's hand in dealing with Taiwan, and discourage any moves in Taipei toward formal independence; but it comes across as much more placating and, ultimately, shows Beijing's inability to truly prevent the independence of Taiwan. The Anti-Secession Law has been a major point of contention between Beijing and Taipei for some time, although little was revealed before now as to the law's details. In a very real sense, the new law is moot. China's Constitution already claims sovereignty over Taiwan, and Beijing has never shied away from threats of using force to pre-empt or prevent Taiwanese independence. In addition, claiming Taiwan as a part of China may be a key pillar of propaganda, but the reality of the situation is and has been very different for decades. Taiwan has its own currency, its own government, its own foreign relations, its own economic policy and its own political system — not to mention an ever-growing sense of its own identity as an independent and sovereign people, not part of a greater China. For the very same reasons, Beijing accepted the reality of two different Koreas more than a decade ago, when both Pyongyang and Seoul were granted seats in the United Nations with China's blessing. But that is not happening with Taiwan. Taiwan sits along some of the most important sea lanes linking Middle East oil and gas supplies with the economies of Northeast Asia. Its strategic significance has not been lost on Beijing, Washington or Tokyo, and the recent announcement by Japan and the United States that Taiwan was a mutual security concern has only re-emphasized to Beijing the importance of keeping Taiwan at least neutral, if not integrated into the mainland. For Beijing, Taiwan is also an important source of financial and intellectual capital, with much of the investment in the mainland's costal regions coming from the "breakaway province." Beijing began work on the Anti-Secession Law in 2003, in the lead-up to the Taiwanese presidential campaign, when Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian was calling for the implementation of a national referendum system to deal with broader issues — a mechanism that could eventually be used to vote on independence. While Chen was mostly posturing — he let the issue slide not long after his re-election — it was alarming enough to get Beijing moving on its own "legal" basis for maintaining its claim on Taiwan. Momentum carried the day — despite inertia in Beijing — and the law is coming to a final vote in the NPC, despite changes in the situation across the strait and Beijing's knowledge that it would be hard pressed to act on this law if confronted with "splittist" activities in Taiwan anytime soon. For China's leaders, the law has taken on a life of its own. Backing down and failing to bring the law to fruition would be an admission of impotence. Actually codifying the long-standing threat to use force, however, leaves Beijing little room to maneuver when faced with a serious challenge. If it acts, it risks being unsuccessful and proving itself a paper tiger, but if it fails to act, it demonstrates weakness and loses control of the Chinese people. This is why Beijing has re-emphasized the need for dialogue with Taiwan — so long as the One China policy is accepted — and repeated that all peaceful means for unification will be employed, with "non-peaceful" means reserved for the last possible resort. But Beijing is also subtly reshaping what "non-peaceful means and other necessary measures" actually entails. There is an emphasis in the draft on China only targeting "'Taiwan independence' forces," and doing "its utmost to protect the lives, property and other legitimate rights and interests of Taiwan civilians and foreign nationals in Taiwan." This implies, of course, that "non-peaceful means" does not automatically mean invasion or a missile strike, but could be something much more subtle. In other words, Beijing is backing away from locking itself into an all-out assault on a Taiwan that declares independence. It remains to be seen whether this will allow the regime to save face should Taiwan call its bluff, but the message sends a signal much more akin to weakness than to strength, and this risks sending contradictory messages to Taiwan. Related Headlines Taiwan: Chen Baits China — But to No Avail Taiwan's Opposition Alliance Mimics Ruling Party China Cornered Over Taiwan Rhetoric China Swaps Aggression for Dollar Diplomacy With Taiwan Taiwan: Taking Advantage of a Beleaguered Beijing

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