Reuters News Report


U.S. sees proposed China law as threat to peace

Carol Giacomo
Monday, December 20, 2004

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - China's proposed new anti-secession law is a threat to regional peace and dims U.S. hopes that the recent Taiwan election could encourage the Asian rivals to take steps to reduce tensions, senior U.S. officials said on Monday.

The proposed anti-secession law was seen by analysts as a Chinese effort to head off a formal declaration of independence by the democratic island of Taiwan. China planned to send the draft law for deliberation by parliament later this week, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

The proposed law poses a "difficult problem that is certainly a serious hazard to peace and stability in East Asia," one senior State Department official said in an interview.

"It's going to vitiate the positive effects, if there are any" of the Dec. 11 legislative election in Taiwan, when an opposition alliance more conciliatory toward Beijing bested President Chen Shui-bien's pro-independence party, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher separately expressed concern about a "hardening of positions." Some U.S. officials and experts view the China-Taiwan rivalry as an increasingly likely flashpoint for war. They say Washington has little leverage over either side, yet would be forced to come to Taiwan's defense under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.

After Taiwan's opposition alliance won a slim majority of legislative seats over Chen's group on Dec. 11, U.S. officials hoped tensions between Beijing and Taipei might ease. The election was seen as curbing Chen's pro-independence tendencies.

Big Decisions

The Bush administration emphasized to both sides that they had big decisions to make.

Washington urged Chen to focus on domestic constitutional reform -- which one U.S. official said would make Taiwan "more of a practical democracy" -- and urged China to respond to Chen's pre-election initiatives for cross-straits dialogue. "I had hoped -- possibly naively -- that we would have some breathing space while cooler heads on both sides of the straits could work on this, collect their thoughts on a good way to (make progress on) the difficulties," the senior State Department official said. Instead, "we're still in rocky times" and it is expected that Taiwan will retaliate in some way to the proposed anti-secession law, he said.

Although the administration has communicated its concerns about the proposed new law to Beijing, U.S. officials said they have not seen the actual text and some descriptions by Chinese officials have sounded worse than others.

President George W. Bush was not told about the proposed initiative when he met Chinese President Hu Jingtao in Chile last month on the fringes of an Asian leaders summit but it appears the initiative was under consideration for some time, officials said. Taiwan has condemned the proposed anti-secession law as a move to establish a legal basis to attack the island.

The senior State Department official said he had not reached that conclusion but "that's one of the dangers we'll want to look for" as time goes on.

He stressed the U.S. view that Sino-American relations are based on a commitment to peacefully resolving the China-Taiwan dispute "so anything that suggests or facilitates the use of force is most unwelcome."