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Tug-of-possible-war over Taiwan

Dr. Abanti Bhattacharya is Associate Professor at the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi. Prior to this she was Associate Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.
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  • April 05, 2005

    On March 7, China unveiled a new Anti-Secession Law in its third session of the 10th National People’s Congress meeting. The law legalizes China to take military action against the renegade province, Taiwan. The full text of the Anti-Secession Law stated a three-point scenario for ‘‘non-peaceful action’’ against Taiwan. It says that China will attack Taiwan if the forces clamouring for Taiwan’s independence ‘‘under any name or by any means’’ create the ‘‘fact of Taiwan’s secession from China’’, if there is ‘‘occurrence of major incidents entailing Taiwan’s secession from China’’ and if ‘‘possibilities for a peaceful reunification are completely exhausted.’’

    Taiwan has strongly opposed the Anti-Secession Law and called it as China’s ploy to annex Taiwan and unilaterally change the status quo. The pro-independent groups have opposed Chen Shui-bian’s moderate tone in Cross-Strait relations and demanded that the government should counter anti-secession law with an anti-annexation law, which would state that Taiwan is a sovereign country.

    A careful reading of the full text of the Anti-Secession Law indicates that the proposal on taking non-peaceful means to stop Taiwan’s Secession from China by the Taiwan Independent force, comes in the fourth and the last section of the text. This is in tandem with China’s earlier positions on Taiwan reunification as codified in the 16th Party Congress Report of 2002. It vindicates China’s three positions on when to attack Taiwan that is if Taiwan declares independence, if there is foreign intervention in Cross-Strait relations and if there is indefinite postponement of re-unification goal.

    Second, the section on Achieving National Reunification Through Peaceful Means, clearly points at the significance of peaceful reunification both for China and the world. It says, ‘‘A reunification by peaceful means best serves the fundamental interests of all Chinese people, the Taiwan compatriots included, as it is conducive to fostering a warm affection among compatriots on both sides, to peace and stability in the Taiwan Straits and the Asia-Pacific region as a whole, and to the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.’’ The draft proposal in fact, mentions a five-point formula to create peace and stability in the region and promote Cross-Strait relations.

    Third, the full text does not mention any time-table for unification with Taiwan or for taking aggressive military action to thwart Taiwan from going independent. In fact, the law mandated that ‘‘the state shall exert its utmost to protect the lives, property and other legitimate rights and interests of Taiwan civilians and foreign nationals in Taiwan.’’

    As against the legalization of use of force against Taiwan, the anti-secession law is basically meant to reinforce the status quo position on Cross- Strait relations. The three-point scenario for ‘‘non-peaceful action’’ is intended to thwart the pro-independent groups from campaigning for independence.

    It is also intended to prevent Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian from enacting a new Constitution for Taiwan by 2008. China looks upon the revision of the Constitution as a declaration of Taiwan’s independence and unilateral change in the status quo. In February 2005, the US came out with a US-Japan joint statement indicating Taiwan as a common security concern for both countries. This joint statement is not directly linked with proposed Anti-secession Law, but against China’s increasing military power. It is meant to contain China’s rising influence in the region. The overall US policy on Cross-Strait relations is based on strategic ambiguity. This strategic ambiguity perpetrates status quo on Cross- Strait relations. Strategic ambiguity helps balance competing US interests in China and Taiwan, and maintain credibility, peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

    China, with its developmental nationalism and pragmatic foreign policy, is not supportive of military action against Taiwan. It will severely jeopardize China’s image building exercise as a responsible and peaceful power. More so, China’s development is contingent on the continuance of a stable economic world order. Its economy is increasingly intertwined with the world’s economic growth and therefore it is in China’s interests to maintain peace across the Straits. Therefore, present policy both in China and the US, is to maintain the status quo.

    Further, the status quo position is increasingly becoming the hallmark of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan whose party ideology supports independence of Taiwan. In fact, Chen Shui-bian’s second Presidential inaugural speech reiterates that Taiwan would not declare independence, would not change the national title, would not insert two-state theory into Constitution, would not promote a referendum to change the status quo regarding independence or unification, and would not abolish the national unification guidelines. The February 2005 Chen-Soong 10-point joint statement also reflects a conciliatory position adopted by DPP and it is decreasing its aggressive pro-independent stand, of course under the Chinese threat.

    In sum, the Anti-secession Law — rather than being primarily a non-peaceful law — reinforces China’s stand on maintaining status quo on Cross-Strait relations.