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New Chinese threats

Washington, 21 February 2000

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On Monday, February 21st 2000 the Chinese Cabinet issued a new "policy paper" in which it made renewed threats of war. To underscore the threats, Chinese President Jiang Zemin reportedly was visiting southern China, "…touring military bases that would contribute to any invasion force of the island."

Ironically, the war threats come just a couple of days after the departure of a top-level American delegation from Beijing, which ended with the Americans saying that the bilateral relations between the US and China were getting "back on track."

The policy paper added yet another item to the long list of Taiwanese "provocations" which would lead to a war by China: in addition to the known items – such as if the people of Taiwan want to maintain their freedom and independence, and "foreign meddling", the Chinese have now specified "foot-dragging" and refusal to move towards "unification."

To anyone not steeped in the muddled thinking of Beijing, this sure looks like a gun against the head of a democratic Taiwan: negotiate to surrender yourself, or else.

Of course, these war threats come in the middle of a Taiwanese presidential election campaign in which all candidates have bent over backwards to make statements which are friendly and even accommodating to China. It should thus be clear to any observer that it is China which is provocative.

But, in any case: why should the people of Taiwan give up their hard-won freedom? Why should the people of Taiwan not be accepted as a full and equal member in the international community, if a country such as Tuvalu (pop. 10,000) can join the UN? Why would the people of the United States have a right to independence, and not the people in Taiwan ?

It seems to us that China’s belligerence, and the fact that it is taking the US for a ride by issuing this policy paper right on the heels of the visit by Mr. Talbott, is in part due to the fact that the Clinton Administration has muddled the water by letting its position on the China-Taiwan issue slide in the direction of China’s position. The United States should reemphasize the principles of democracy and self-determination, and distance itself from the ambiguous "one China" concept, which is a relic of the Cold War.

As the Clinton Administration has rightly done, it should lean heavily on China – not only to refrain from any military exercises or threats against Taiwan during the coming weeks, but also to dismantle the 200 or so missiles which have been erected along the Chinese coast. It should even make dismantling of these missiles a pre-condition for any agreement of China’s WTO accession. Free trade is dependent upon the absence of military threats, especially against small neighboring countries.

The Chinese threats described above make the circumstances of these elections "unusual" at best. It would thus be welcomed if the US and other Western nations would be as supportive of such a transition as possible, and gradually move to normalize their relations with Taiwan. This would be the best guarantee for stability in East Asia.

On a final note: the US Administration, and other Western nations, should also prepare themselves for a change of government in Taipei. A transition of power from a ruling party to an opposition party is often difficult enough under "normal" circumstances. However, if the DPP’s Chen Shui-bian gains the presidency on March 18th, it will be a first democratic change of government – ever – in the history of Taiwan. The society and political system on the island will never be quite the same.

Taiwan will finally be able to move towards a fully democratic system, and rid itself of the corruption and "money politics" imposed on it by five decades of KMT-rule. It will finally be able to discover its own identity, history, and even geography – moving away from the "unify with the mainland" mentality ingrained by the Kuomintang. Finally, we can let Taiwan be Taiwan.

Other links:

International Herald Tribune: China to Taiwan: Begin unity talks or face attack

Associated Press: China threatens war over Taiwan

New York Times: China Says Taiwan Cannot Continue Delaying Reunion

English text of China's "White Paper" on Taiwan