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Is China a Responsible Stakeholder?

  • Date:2007-04-27

Chen-yuan Tung
Vice Chairman, Mainland Affairs Council

On January 11, 2007, the People's Republic of China (PRC) launched an anti-satellite missile that destroyed not only its orbiting target, but also any lingering illusions over Beijing's military ambitions. In fact, the missile test is just one of many alarming displays of Beijing's growing capacity to achieve its aims by force after the enactment of the Anti-Separation Law (ASL) on March 14, 2005. These have heightened doubts over China's ability and intention to act as a responsible stakeholder of the international community and as a stabilizing force in East Asia.

The ASL unilaterally defines the status quo of the Taiwan Strait and denies the fact that Taiwan is independent from the jurisdiction of China. The ASL also rides roughshod, in language and spirit, over universal democratic values, while also introducing new uncertainties and risks for regional peace. Rooted in the fiction that Taiwan is part of China, the ASL ominously stipulates that Beijing might use "non-peaceful means" to resolve the Taiwan Strait issues.

Far from bowing to international censure over the ASL in March 2005, including from the United States, Japan, and Europe, Beijing has followed up by drafting other laws to legitimize its claims of sovereignty over Taiwan and the right to use force against Taiwan. The draft State of Emergency Law and the National Defense Mobilization Law are two of the more egregious examples.

However, the international society ignores the situation aroused by the ASL. Since passing the ASL, China has used Taiwan as an excuse to develop its global military strategy and has been increasing its annual military spending at a double-digit pace (with a 17.8% increase in 2007 alone). China now has 988 missiles arrayed against Taiwan and is threatening to conquer Taiwan by 2015. Responding to Taiwanese president’s remarks, PRC foreign minister Li Zhaoxin recently stressed that the law "will not just sit there unused."

The ASL has been accompanied as well by a ratcheting up in Beijing of threatening rhetoric and diplomatic maneuvering to degrade, isolate, divide and ultimately swallow up Taiwan. This is evident in the way China has aggressively mischaracterized constitutional reforms, rectification of names, and other actions to deepen democracy in Taiwan and clarify Taiwan’s international titles as moves towards "de jure Taiwan independence." It is also seen in Beijing's complete disregard for the overwhelming wish of the Taiwanese people to normalize their country's rightful position in the world.

On the diplomatic front, the leadership in Beijing has prevented Taiwan from participating in the United Nations, World Health Organization, and other international organizations, including non-governmental organizations, effectively shutting out the 23 million people from due representation in these bodies. From March 2005 to February 2007, there were more than 50 cases of China’s diplomatic suppression against Taiwan in the international community. In the year of 2006 alone, China at least pressured nine international organizations to change Taiwan’s names and thus downgraded Taiwan’s international status in these organizations. In addition, China has worked to sideline Taiwan's democratically elected leaders in the course of cross-strait talks.

Such behavior is deeply unsettling. It represents an attack against not only Taiwan but also the democratic values and achievements for which Taiwan stands. It obstructs, as well, the progress of cross-strait relations. As Taiwan’s President Chen Shui-bian stressed, China’s ASL blatantly aimed to set up a channel to rationalize and legalize the use of violence or non-peaceful measures. This law not only exposes China’s aggressive and hegemonic character but also poses the greatest threat to the democratic community in the Asia-Pacific region.

According to recent public opinion surveys, the Taiwanese people have expressed fully their resentment against the passing of the ASL and the threat from China. 76.7 percent of the respondents disapproved of China’s bid to change the cross-strait status quo through non-peaceful means by passing the ASL, and 79.5 percent said it was up to the Taiwanese people to determine the country’s future. Moreover, 73.9 percent said the ASL showed China’s hostility toward the Taiwanese people, and exactly 63 percent agreed that the rapid buildup of China’s military constituted a threat to Taiwan’s security.

Taiwan is one of the great successful stories of democracy in Asia. It is also a beacon that could guide China down the path to democracy. It is along this path, and not the abandoning of a democratic Taiwan to China's authoritarian rule, that meaningful and lasting peace can be achieved in the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan therefore urges that the European Union should refrain from lifting its embargo on the arms sale to China, and that the cross-strait peace and security be maintained by trilateral joint management of Taiwan, the US and China. We also call on China to learn from Taiwan and hold fair, just and open democratic elections and realize genuine and fair political party competition so that the Chinese people can choose their national leader and the members of their highest parliamentary body. Once the Chinese people have real democracy, peace in the Taiwan Strait and East Asia can be fully secured.