Danger Strait Ahead
March 24, 2005
By Joseph Wu, Chairman of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council
Ignoring pleas from the international community to think again, Beijing has struck a blow at the heart of Taiwan's freedoms and democracy. Its recent enactment of an anti-separation law (which China insists on calling an "anti-secession law") threatening the use of "non-peaceful means" if the island refuses to unify with China undermines that most fundamental of freedoms -- the right to disagree.
The people of Taiwan do not always see eye to eye on the future path of cross-Strait relations. A small minority support unification with China, while others want to see a formal declaration of full independence. Most, however, simply want to preserve the status quo, under which Taiwan already has its own popularly elected president and parliament and a government that exercises exclusive jurisdiction over the territory it controls.
But, by passing this law amid scenes of cheering from Chinese army generals, Beijing is insisting that unification be the only path -- regardless of what the majority of Taiwan people want. That is something that we, as a democracy, can never accept. Whatever our disagreements, we are united in defending the right to hold such divergent views as one of the hallmarks of a vibrant democracy. As a democracy, we are also united in insisting that any decisions on the island's status must secure the consent of its 23 million inhabitants.
Like the rest of the world, we have seen what happens when aggressive intentions are not quickly nipped in the bud. Just remember the high price that the U.S., assisted by its coalition partners, had to pay for the international community's failure to forestall Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
No one wants to see something similar happen again. That is why we are pleased to see signs in recent days that the European Union may delay lifting its arms embargo on China, in response to Beijing having so vividly demonstrated its non-peaceful intentions through this law. Ending the arms embargo would be a terrible mistake with serious ramifications for Taiwan, and the world at large. I welcome European leaders' willingness to think again in the light of the passage of this law, and urge them to keep the embargo in place for as long as China maintains its present aggressive stance.
Even with the embargo still in place, the military situation is already deeply disturbing. Expenditure on China's armed forces is expected to increase by 12.6% this year, the 11th consecutive year of rapid expansion. More than 700 short-range ballistic missiles are targeted against Taiwan, together with a fleet of modern submarines and advanced jetfighters.
Despite these aggressive moves, Taiwan continues to pursue the path of peaceful dialogue. It is our firm belief that the only way to defuse tension is through goodwill gestures, dialogue and negotiations, conducted without any kind of preconditions.
That's why the Taiwan government worked hard to arrange the landmark charter flights between China and Taiwan during the recent Lunar New Year holiday. Taiwan continues to seek closer cooperation with China over other issues, ranging from cargo flights to currency exchange, investment protection, tourism, repatriation of illegal immigrants and a joint effort against cross-Strait crime.
But such cooperation is only possible if China agrees to negotiate. Taiwan's efforts to defuse tensions have been dealt a severe blow by the anti-separation law, which gives China the right to launch an attack under illusive conditions that it alone is responsible for interpreting. That amounts to handing a blank check to a rapidly expanding People's Liberation Army and injecting a new element of danger into an already unstable cross-Strait situation.
That is why we need the support of the international community before the situation deteriorates any further. In addition to maintaining its arms embargo, the EU should press China to reconsider its anti-separation law. The international community needs to tell Beijing in no uncertain terms that there is never any justification for resorting to "non-peaceful means" against Taiwan.
Taiwan wants the international community to know that it is willing to coexist peacefully with China. But it takes two to tango and, in passing the anti-separation law, China has committed a disgraceful act which makes that task much more difficult.
Mr. Wu is the chairman of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council.