Now that the text of the anti-secession law is available, and everyone has had some time to consider the implications, here are a few more thoughts to supplement my previous post:
Everyone has been so focused on the ‘non-peaceful means’ section of the law, that one significant part seems to have been largely ignored:
Article 5: Upholding the principle of one China is the basis of peaceful reunification of the country.
As with the rest of the law, although there is nothing new in China’s insistance on ‘One China’, the fact it has now been codifed as a law is relevant. What this seems to be saying is that any cross-strait talks must by law be based on the One China principle.
This insistence has been the issue which has stopped any talks even starting between the two sides over the last 5+ years; both sides are very keen to talk, but China’s has insisted that Taiwan accept (a version of) ‘One China’ as a precondition, while Taiwan has insisted that it could only be a ‘topic of discussion’ in the actual meeting. In recent months Chen Shui Bian has been gently investigating some sort of compromise: he recently suggested going back to the basis of talks in 1992 (where the ‘One China, different interpretations’ was verbally agreed) – but stopped short of commiting to any type of ‘One China’ declaration. His recent moderate tone has suggested it was not impossible for him to work out some sort of wording which would be accepted by the PRC while still being supported by his pro-independence party members (for example, something along the lines of “The official borders of the ROC cover all of China, including Taiwan. However, the ROC government acknowledges the current sovereignty that the PRC exercises over mainland China.”).
Clearly, this is an area where, if both parties are sincere in wanting talks, a little bit of flexibility would help no end. However, this law has now done two things:
- It has hardened the PRC position, so they now must insist on a ‘One China’ statement from Taiwan
- It has made it politically extreme difficult for Chen to find a compromise that will satisfy his party. Any wording which implies acceptance of one China will be seized on as a triumph for the anti-secession law – which would then be unacceptable for the mainstream DPP.
From where I’m sitting, this new law seems to have killed dead any chance of serious cross strait talks for the next 3 years. Which leads to an interesting question …
The timing of the law
One big question about this law is: Why now?
Things seem quite stable in China at the moment: the handover of power to Hu/Wen seems to be pretty much complete, there are no burning international issues (North Korea talks aren’t that active, no spyplane/embassy bombing incidents recently, the Olympics aren’t that close), and the economy seems to be stable (albeit the stability of a runaway train).
In Taiwan things were even more stable: 2004 was election year (presidential and legislative), which means that 2005 has no major elections and a reasonably quiet 3 years before the next serious bout of democracy kicks in. More importantly, the relative success of the pan-Blues in the legislative elections means that Taiwan isn’t going to make any serious moves towards independence in the near-term (the radical pro-independence TSU party were arguably the biggest losers of the election). The biggest news in Taiwan politics recently has been the resulting moderation in tone of President Chen, and his efforts to find common ground with his most vehement enemies.
Would all of this have led to improved relations with China? Hard to say, but it’s certainly possible (the recent direct flights over Chinese New Year would be an example of this). However, the anti-secession law has dumped relations back into as frosty a state as they have been since Chen was elected president 5 years ago.
If China really wanted to pass this law, why didn’t they at least hold off for a year to see where relations were heading? From one perspective, the timing of the law seems to have deliberately sabotaged any hope of progress in talks between the two sides.
President Chen responds
Chen Shui Bian seems to have been about the last person on Taiwan to say anything about this law; this is partly because he wanted to see the text of the law before responding, and also (I suspect) so he could guage public opinion before saying anything. He released a 6 point statement on the law yesterday. Along with a promise of a protest in Taipei with 1 million people on the 26th, and a brief sideswipe at Europe for considering raising its arms ban on China, it restates the prime position of Taiwan:
The Republic of China is an independent, sovereign state; Taiwan’s sovereignty belongs to the 23 million people of Taiwan; and only the 23 million people of Taiwan may decide to change the future of Taiwan. This statement expresses the greatest consensus within Taiwan’s society today on the issues of national sovereignty and the future of Taiwan. It is also the largest common denominator among the governing and opposition parties. Recent public opinion polls indicate that over 90 percent of the people of Taiwan explicitly agree with such a statement.
The arms bill passes
The long delayed arms procurement package seems to be finally on its way through the legislature; the original $20 billion weapons budget has been whittled down to just over $15 billion to ensure support from all sides.
Asked whether the budget’s approval at this time is in response to the Chinese government’s passage of its “Anti-Secession” Law, Chou [the cabinet spokesman] said it was just a coincidence.
While it is true that they were already heading towards some agreement before the anti-secession law came out, I don’t really believe it was a total coincidence. After all, it would be a brave politician who voted against an arms package the day after China came out with their law.