January 10, 2005
By John J. Tkacik, Jr.
News that China's National People's Congress Standing Committee
has placed an "anti-secession law" on the agenda for next March's
NPC session raises the question, "Don't China's lawmakers have
anything better to do?" Indeed they do, but as the Argentine
colonels reasoned in 1982, it's clearly easier to whip up national
opinion over small islands like the Falklands - or Taiwan, in
China's case - than to solve the country's problems. Beijing's top
Taiwan-affairs director, Chen Yunlin, was in Washington, D.C., last
week to lobby the Bush administration and Congress on the absolute
necessity of such a law, and the fact that Taiwanese independence
is an existential threat to China's "core national security
interests." (This, despite the fact that Taiwan has been de facto
independent since 1949, so whatever China's "core" interests are,
they have successfully kept for the past half century.)
Although the actual text of the draft "law" has yet to be
published, it appears to be a watered-down version of a truly
fanatical "Unification Law" advocated by at least one Chinese
professor, Yu Yuanzhou of Wuhan University, whose proposed
legislation requires the Chinese People's Liberation Army to attack
Taiwan as soon as it is able. Yu's legislation, which has been
circulating on the Internet for over two years, calls for the PLA
to immediately start bombarding Quemoy and Matsu - and it "would
not be limited to conventional weapons."
Sadly, the kind of nonsense that Prof. Yu touts via the Internet
passes for rational legislative discourse in China, and last May,
during a tea party for visiting Premier Wen Jiabao with Chinese
expatriates in London, an elderly Chinese demanded the premier pass
such a law soon. The flustered premier humored the old man, "Your
view on unification of the motherland is very important, very
important. We will seriously consider it." But before the
thoughtful premier had finished his session, his traveling
propaganda entourage had it on all the Chinese newswires, and
"unification law" became official policy.
Since then, Chinese propaganda departments have changed the name
from "unification law" to "anti-secession law" - not (as some in
the Western press have speculated) as a gesture of moderation, but
to avoid any misunderstanding that China might not already be
"unified." Perish the thought! No, Taiwan is an integral part of
China illegally struggling to be "independent." Therefore, Taiwan
is already unified with China, so "anti-secession" it is.
One need not wait until March 5 to see the first draft (which,
under the leadership of the Chinese Communist party, will also be
the final draft) of the law to know that its goal is not
"anti-secession" and that it is not even a "law." It is clear from
the official Chinese media that the "law" is supposed to authorize
China's military to invade Taiwan immediately upon some future
Taiwanese "declaration of independence." But both China's existing
National Defense Law and its legislation governing national
territory already require that the military defend China's
homeland. This new legislation, as with most exercises in Chinese
foreign-policy legislation, is a propaganda tool designed for two
First, it readies the Chinese people for war with Taiwan, and
second, it will be trotted out and exhibited as a diplomatic lever
whenever Americans point to the U.S. obligation - under Section
2(b)(6) of our own domestic legislation, the Taiwan Relations
Act - to "maintain the capacity to resist any resort to force
or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or
the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan."
As such, this proposed Chinese legislation is highly destabilizing.
Beijing's leaders believe their bellicosity has already prepared
Washington for a Chinese military attack against Taiwan. In
December 2003, according to CNN's respected China analyst, Willy
Lam, a senior politburo member declared that President George W.
Bush's "unambiguous opposition to attempts by Taipei to change the
status quo" was such that if "we were to respond militarily, the
U.S. can't raise objections let alone interfere." In May, another
noted China scholar, Bonnie Glaser at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies, warned that the U.S. was sending a dangerous
message to Beijing. "Some Chinese even believe," she reported,
"that the U.S. may acquiesce in a limited use of force by the PLA -
for example, to seize an offshore island, temporarily impose a
limited blockade, or fire a lone missile at a military target on
Taiwan." Yet Chinese leaders still think they need a "law" to
legitimize their threats.
On the other hand, American leaders get very defensive in the face
of China's increasingly strident threats to launch a military
attack against Taiwan. Rather than articulate U.S. interests, they
lamely point to the Taiwan Relations Act as somehow tying their
unwilling hands. As recently as October 25, Secretary of State
Colin Powell stammered that "the Chinese leaders who I spoke to
today said that [Taiwan] is an internal matter for [China] to
determine . . . and I appreciate their position, but nevertheless,
that build-up creates a degree of tension and instability across
the Straits and puts pressure on the Taiwanese side to seek
additional weaponry. And under our law, we have an obligation to
see to their self-defense needs." In essence, the State
Department's response to China's demands to halt our defense
relationship with Taiwan is to claim that U.S. law requires
The Chinese, unfamiliar with a true "rule of law," are now prepared
to respond with their own "law," one that probably will say, "China
shall wage war against an independent Taiwan." This,
notwithstanding that Taiwan is already independent in every way -
including by its own insistence - and that Taiwanese have been
carrying on their own existence separate from China's for over a
century (if one doesn't count the three postwar years of what was
legally a Chinese "military occupation" of a former Japanese
colonial territory). If the U.S. administration is ruled by
principle instead of craven expedience, it will respond to this
Chinese ploy with the kind of forceful declaration usually reserved
for Taiwan's leaders. So, President Bush should declare explicitly,
in terms identical to his jibe at Taiwan's democratically elected
president last December, that China's proposed anti-secession
legislation "indicates that China may be willing to make decisions
unilaterally to change the status quo, which we oppose." This would
be a nice bookend to President Bush's overreaction to Taiwan
President Chen's rather benign effort last December to legislate a
"referendum" of protest against China's undeniable missile threat
to the island.
But above all, the United States must be candid with the American
people, with our democratic allies and friends in Asia, and above
all with the Chinese dictatorship, about the American commitment to
help Taiwan defend itself. Although the State Department seems
abashed that the U.S. helps defend democratic Taiwan, it could find
an eloquent statement of U.S. policy over at the Defense
Department. Last April 21, Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter
Rodman explained to the House International Relations Committee
that "the President's National Security Strategy, published in
September 2002, calls for 'building a balance of power that favors
freedom.' Taiwan's evolution into a true multi-party democracy over
the past decade is proof of the importance of America's commitment
to Taiwan's defense. It strengthens American resolve to see
Taiwan's democracy grow and prosper." That sums it up nicely.
If Chen Yun Lin can take a healthy dose of reality back to Beijing
from his Washington visits, perhaps China's National People's
Congress can begin to focus on China's real problems - ones like
the vast official corruption at all levels of government and party,
rural poverty, the collapse of public healthcare, the financial
crisis, unsafe mines, AIDS, and the wholesale pollution of its
waters and earth.
John J. Tkacik Jr. is a research fellow in the Asian Studies
Center of The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in National Review Online
News that China's National People's Congress Standing Committee has placed an "anti-secession law" on the agenda for next March's NPC session raises the question, "Don't China's lawmakers have anything better to do?"
John J. Tkacik, Jr.
Senior Research Fellow
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