Taiwan Unites in Censure of China's Anti-Secession Law
Political Rivals Join With Government in Protest; Talks on Cross-Strait Charter Flights Suspended
By Tim Culpan and Philip P. Pan
TAIPEI, Taiwan, March 14 -- Taiwan on Monday denounced China's enactment of a law authorizing the use of force against the island as an act of aggression. It also suspended talks to allow additional charter flights across the Taiwan Strait.
Criticism of China's new anti-secession law by the government of President Chen Shui-bian echoed across this self-governing island's political spectrum, as several senior opposition figures released a letter protesting the action and pro-independence demonstrators burned a Chinese flag and began a hunger strike outside Taiwan's legislature.
Joseph Wu, the cabinet minister responsible for formulating policies toward the mainland, appealed to the world to join in condemning the Chinese parliament's approval of a bill that enshrines in law Beijing's long-standing threat to attack the island if it moves toward formal independence.
"With regard to this serious provocation and attempt to sabotage peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait," Wu said, "the Taiwanese government expresses its severest condemnation."
In Washington, the Bush administration said adoption of the law was unfortunate. "We oppose any attempts to determine the future of Taiwan by anything other than peaceful means," said Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary. "We don't want to see any unilateral attempts that would increase tensions in the region. So this is not helpful."
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi urged China and Taiwan "to work hard toward a peaceful solution, so there will not be any negative impact."
The two sides had reached a landmark agreement allowing nonstop charter passenger flights between the mainland and Taiwan during last month's Lunar New Year holidays, and China had invited Taiwan to discuss arranging similar flights during a traditional holiday next month, as well as charter cargo flights.
But Wu, the cabinet minister, dismissed the flights as "petty things" in light of the new anti-secession law, which he said provided a "blank check" for China's military "to use any measure to annex Taiwan." How long Taiwan shuns unofficial talks on cross-strait flights would "depend on what the Chinese government does to remedy the situation," he said, adding that the Beijing government should apologize to the Taiwanese people.
Wu said nothing about whether Chen would press ahead with proposals to rewrite Taiwan's constitution -- a move that China has warned it could view as a declaration of independence. Chen has promised not to alter sensitive portions of the document related to the island's identity; his efforts to amend other sections have stalled since his party failed to win a legislative majority in December elections.
But Taiwan's premier, Frank Hsieh, warned last week that the plans for constitutional changes depended in part on China's action on the anti-secession law.
China's governing Communist Party considers Taiwan part of Chinese territory. But the Republic of China -- the official title of the democratically ruled island -- says it is an independent, sovereign country. The United States formally recognizes only the Beijing government, but it sells arms to Taiwan, whose founding government fled the mainland after the 1949 communist revolution, and has pledged to help defend the island of 23 million.
At a news conference Monday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said his government was not afraid to confront U.S. forces over Taiwan. But he emphasized that China considered military action a last resort and drew attention to provisions of the law aimed at promoting cross-strait economic and cultural ties. The law does not set a deadline for unification and describes only vaguely what would trigger an attack.
It also refrains from repeating Beijing's long-standing demand that Taiwan must first acknowledge that the island and the mainland are part of "one China" before formal cross-strait talks can resume -- a demand that has stalled negotiations for years. In addition, the law does not define Beijing as the sole legitimate government of "one China," leaving open the possibility of talks on some type of federation in which Beijing and Taipei would be equal partners.
But it was Article 8 of the law, which states that China "shall employ non-peaceful means" if Taiwan moves toward formal independence, that captured the attention of residents here and appeared to bridge deep political divisions in Taiwan. An opinion poll conducted last week found that 93 percent of the public opposed China's threat, 84 percent rejected the law's claim that Taiwan is part of China and 56 percent believed Taiwan should respond by increasing defense spending.
"The move is neither necessary nor wise," several of Chen's leading critics said in a public letter protesting the law. "It has provoked strong objection from the Taiwanese people, and it clouds the future of cross-strait relations." Among the signatories were two vice chairmen of the opposition Nationalist Party, Ma Ying-jeou and Jason Hu.
Ma, the mayor of Taipei, said "the policies and measures" of Chen's pro-independence government were partly to blame for the anti-secession law, but said Beijing was overreacting and making things worse by codifying its threat to attack Taiwan.
Meanwhile, members of the Taiwan Solidarity Union, a party that favors independence for the island, burned a Chinese flag in a protest outside the legislative building and called on Chen's government to stop all communications and exchanges with the Chinese government.
Pan reported from Beijing.