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Taiwan’s Public Opinion Regarding China’s Enactment of an “Anti-Separation Law”

A public opinion poll commissioned by the National Chengchi University’s Institute of International Relations and conducted by the university’s Election Study Center Feb. 25-27, 2005, showed the following results.

I. A high degree of consensus on maintaining the status quo in the Taiwan Strait

President Chen has stated clearly that Taiwan will not take any unilateral action to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, which is the only way to safeguard regional security. A high degree of consensus was found among the Taiwanese public in this respect, with 60.5 percent of respondents agreeing with the statement that “The Republic of China is an independent sovereign state, and that neither the ROC’s nor the PRC’s subordination to the other represents the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.”

By comparison, China’s “anti-separation law” is domestic legislation, which not only unilaterally predefines “unification” as the only option in cross-strait relations, but also denies the sovereign status of the Republic of China. With it, China is attempting to seek a legal pretext to unilaterally change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. In fact, such an action seriously distorts the current reality in which neither side of the Strait is subordinate to the other, and is totally unacceptable to Taiwan.

II. Strong opposition to the legislation as China’s pretext for future military action against Taiwan

Enactment of an “anti-separation law” provides China with the legal basis for a military attack on Taiwan, and serves as a pretext for it to legitimize any such attack in the future. This is in complete contradiction to the image of “peaceful development” which China frequently portrays itself in the international community. It is for this reason that Taiwan’s public expressed strong opposition, with 82.3 percent of respondents disapproving the PRC government’s enactment of such a law for use as the legal pretext for a military attack on Taiwan.

For the sake of long-term development of cross-strait relations, regional peace and development, Taiwan would like to solemnly call upon the Chinese authorities to think twice. Also, they should not underestimate the Taiwanese people’s love of peace and steadfast resolve in opposing military threats.

III. The “anti-separation law” being detrimental to cross-strait exchanges and negotiations

Exchanges and negotiations are indices of normal development of cross-strait relations. At the present stage, the Taiwan government is continuing to promote various exchanges and is actively seeking to open a “window of opportunity” for bilateral talks. The poll found that 60.6 percent of respondents thought China’s “anti-separation law” will have negative impacts on cross-strait exchanges, and 55.1 percent thought it will be detrimental to future cross-strait talks and negotiations. These figures demonstrate that enactment of the “anti-separation law” will increase the uncertainty surrounding normalization of exchanges and resumption of negotiations between the two sides.

Headstrong insistence by China on going its own way would only aggravate and antagonize cross-strait relations, drive Taiwan further away, and upset Taiwan’s 23 million people. Moreover, some people in Taiwan are calling on the government to review and adjust its current policy of cross-strait exchanges. Should this lead to significant deterioration in exchanges between the two sides, China must bear most responsibility.

IV. The “anti-separation law” being a great danger to individual freedom of speech

Although China’s “anti-separation law” is domestic legislation, it will inspire a “red terror” in all Taiwanese people who invest, study, or travel in China, in Taiwan’s transnational businesses operating in China, and even in people in Taiwan, should their speech or behavior not conform to Beijing’s “one-China” principle. In other words, this is an attempt to impose a martial law on Taiwan’s people’s thought and speech. As a consequence, the law is vigorously opposed by the people of Taiwan, with a total of 79.7 percent of the respondents disagreeing with the stipulation, in which Beijing may unilaterally define whether Taiwanese people are advocating Taiwan independence and are punishable once the law is passed.

Furthermore, 74.1 percent of respondents rejected Beijing’s claim that its “anti-separation law” would not infringe upon the rights of the people of Taiwan. If Beijing persists with its actions, it will raise more doubts among Taiwanese people that the Chinese government will continue to maintain its autocratic tendencies and completely disregard their basic rights for democracy and freedom. Taiwan has a democratic and pluralistic society; if this law triggers counter measures among Taiwan’s public, it could lead to unpredictable developments in cross-strait relations, which is something the government is most reluctant to see.

V. Conclusion

This is a critical year in the development of cross-strait relations. In contrast to the Chinese authorities’ use of threats, the Taiwan government will adhere to its goal of peaceful development and seek to establish an interactive framework of cross-strait peace and stability. This includes four aspects: establishment of negotiation mechanisms, equal and reciprocal contacts, construction of a political relationship, and prevention of military conflict. Taiwan will also actively prepare for the establishment of a Committee for Cross-strait Peace and Development and draw up Guidelines for Cross-strait Peace and Development as future policy foundations for promoting long-term peaceful and cross-strait stability.

The Chinese authorities should cherish these expressions of Taiwan’s goodwill. They should fully realize the negative impacts that China’s promotion and formulation of an “anti-separation law” have had on the interactive atmosphere created by the cross-strait Lunar New Year charter flights, and that the law might possibly lead to conflicts in the Taiwan Strait. The recent joint statement issued by the United States and Japan expressed grave concerns and worries about the Taiwan Strait issue. Taiwan is confident that the international community will face up to China’s military expansion and its intention to invade Taiwan, and that, before it is too late, it will use all possible means and exercise its influence to prevent China’s further moves to destroy regional peace and stability.