CHINA-TAIWAN RELATIONS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
China's anti-secession law raises tension
, February 26, 2005
Plans by the Chinese Government to enact an anti-secession law, aimed at Taiwan, have lifted tensions across the Taiwan Strait.
Under the terms of the draft bill, China reaffirms that Taiwan, which has been independent of China for the past 55 years, is an integral part of China, and has the right to put on trial any person who is deemed to be involved in secessionist activities.
Taiwanese politicians and even businessmen visiting China would be the first targets of the law; but it could even extend to people from Australia expressing such sentiments, either before going to China, or inside China.
Two of Taiwan's strongest allies, Japan and the United States, have privately expressed concern about the proposed law; but are involved in private discussions with Beijing to try to have it withdrawn or watered down.US response
Taiwanese legislators, visiting Washington in January, spoke to US State Department officials about the proposed law. They were advised that the US Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, and Deputy National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, had conveyed US concerns about the law during a meeting with the director of China's Taiwan affairs office, Chen Yunlin, who had visited Washington earlier in January.
The US officials said Mr Chen did not bring a copy of the proposed law to his meeting; and the State Department thought this was to "test the water" about the proposed law, and that Beijing might revise it, depending on the reaction to it.
Because of on-going talks, the US State Department would not publicly express its position on the proposed law.
However, Taiwan has reacted with alarm at the proposed law. Taiwan's Institute for National Policy Research has published a paper which said, "China's decision to introduce its anti-secession draft bill demonstrates the failure of its Taiwan policy. For, if the Taiwan policy had been considered successful, China would have no reason to start contemplating laws on anti-secession or unification."
Despite periodic threats by Beijing against Taiwan, millions of Taiwanese visit the mainland every year, and capital from Taiwan has been the main engine of China's tremendous economic growth.
More than 2,000 investment projects by Taiwan businesses for mainland China worth nearly US$7 billion were approved in 2004 by the Investment Commission under the Ministry of Economic Affairs. In terms of value, the figure represented an increase of 51 per cent over the previous year.
Taiwan companies are believed to have invested between US$50 billion and US$100 billion in mainland China since 1987.
Taiwanese investment in China is welcomed by the Beijing regime.
The English-language on-line edition of the People's Daily
headlined a recent story on Taiwanese investment with the words, "Chinese mainland to greet another high tide of Taiwan investment" (February 2, 2005).
Earlier, China's Vice-Minister of Commerce, Ma Xiuhong, said that China had not altered its policies encouraging Taiwan business people to invest in the mainland, and said that their legal interests would be protected by law.
However, the advent of the anti-separation law has cast a shadow over both commercial and political ties.
China's threatening behaviour towards Taiwan comes at a time when there had been signs of a thaw in cross-strait relations. After years of negotiations, China agreed to permit direct flights from Taiwan to the mainland for the Chinese New Year; and two senior Chinese officials visited Taiwan for the funeral of Taiwan's top negotiator with China, Koo Chen-fu.
This is the first time, since President Chen Shui-bian in 2000 became the first democratically-elected President of Taiwan, that senior Chinese officials have visited Taiwan in an official capacity.
In the meantime, Japan, an ally of Taiwan, has indicated its territorial intentions over islands off Taiwan by taking ownership of a lighthouse on the Tiaoyutai islands, which are claimed by Taiwan. (Taiwan was occupied by Japan between 1895 and 1945, and was only part of the mainland for four years, from 1945 to 1949.)
Since the elections in 2000, which saw President Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic People's Party defeat the candidate of the Kuomintang (KMT), Taiwan has been a free-wheeling democracy, with a vigorous free press, which has conducted both parliamentary and presidential elections.
These developments have consolidated Taiwan's relations with its principal allies, the United States and Japan. In the event of any conflict, there can be no doubt as to which side they would support.
Australia, as an ally of both the United States and Japan, would inevitably be drawn in, and should therefore encourage China to back away from its planned anti-secession law.
In the end, China's aggressive policy towards Taiwan, causing continual tensions across the Taiwan Strait, is potentially damaging to China itself.