In March 2005 the People’s Republic of China (PRC) enacted an Anti-Secession Law (ASL), with the purpose of “opposing and checking Taiwan’s secession from China by secessionists in the name of ‘Taiwan independence’ [ASL, Art. 1].” After asserting that Taiwan “is part of China,” the Act continues, “There is only one China in the world. Both the mainland and Taiwan belong to one China. China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is the common obligation of all Chinese people, the Taiwan compatriots included [ASL, Art. 2].”
It is Article 8 of the Act, however, that is prospectively troubling. “In the event that the ‘Taiwan independence’ secessionist forces … cause the fact of Taiwan’s secession from China, … the state shall employ non-peaceful means and other necessary measures to protect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity [Art. 8].” In many respects, the ASL encapsulates in specific terms the PRC’s goals in its relations with Taiwan, objectives that, in the past, usually lacked definition. While Article 8 points to the possibility of violence under certain specific circumstances, the ASL looks forward to (1) “peaceful reunification;” (2) thereafter, “Taiwan may practice systems different from those on the mainland and enjoy a high degree of autonomy [Art. 6];” (3) encourage cross-straits exchanges and cooperation along a spectrum of economic, educational, social and cultural interests; and (4) achieving these goals “through consultations and negotiations on an equal footing between the two sides of the Taiwan Straits. These … may be conducted in steps and phases and with flexible and varied modalities [Art. 7].” Finally, the ASL postulates that any solution to “the Taiwan question … is China’s internal affair, which subjects to no interference by any outside forces [Art. 3].”
These objectives implicate a spectrum of interests—both domestic and international—that must be both elucidated and—to at least some extent—accommodated before any comprehensive solution shall be forthcoming.
Troops of the Mao Tse-tung’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) invested the city of Beijing in October 1949, established the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and brought to a finish many years of civil war. Their defeated Kuo Min-tang (KMT) opponents retreated to Taiwan, an island across the Formosa Straits, and established a rump state called the Republic of China (ROC), with Taipei as its capital, which it claimed to be the sole legitimate government of China.
The KMT forces that retreated to Taiwan in 1949 were, in many respects, an occupation force. The island had been only recently reunited with China. Following defeat in the 1895 Sino-Japanese War, China ceded political control of Taiwan to Japan. While Japanese rule was hardly benevolent, it was not as severe as the pre-World War II experience on the Korean peninsula. To at least some extent, the Japanese encouraged local government and even fostered the development of local institutions. Thus, over a half-century, the Taiwanese, historically already at considerable remove from central Chinese authority, developed government models more attuned to self-government than political subservience, or at least subservience to an authoritarian Chinese government. Given this, the arrival of the KMT was, at best, a mixed blessing. Indeed, for many years thereafter, a major, on-going security consideration of the ROC government was assuring the continued loyalty of the native Taiwanese—people who had little or no attachment to KMT goals.
A number of events in the 1970s conspired to shift, however moderately, perspectives on China-Taiwan relations. China had already opened relations with the United States in the early 1970s. While this effort had broader implications than any prospective change in Taiwan’s status, Beijing’s national security analysts must have anticipated that any improvement in relations with the United States could ultimately lead to at least some reduction in support for the Taipei government. (And in this they were ultimately proved correct, given the significant shift away from support for Taiwan, at least in the upper reaches of the U.S. State Department, during the Clinton administration.)
Equally important, if perhaps less tangible, was a ‘changing of the guard.’ For the thirty years leading up to 1979, the China-Taiwan relationship was one of belligerence, with both sides regularly announcing the intention of ‘liberating’ the other—‘liberating’ being a euphemism for reestablishment of authority. However, the deaths of the principal protagonists (Mao in 1976 and KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek in 1975), as well as death and retirement of many ‘old guard’ supporters of both political factions, facilitated some amelioration of the traditional hard-line stance. In 1979, China announced its adherence to the principle of ‘one country, two systems,’ a marked shift in official government ideology.
Political Evolution in Taiwan and the 1999 Crisis:
With the successes of Taiwan’s democracy movement in the late 1980s, political power began to shift to the native Taiwan majority. Former ROC President Lee Teng-hui described the process in his 1995 Olin Lecture at Cornell University. “Our constitutional reform was conducted in two stages. First, all the senior parliamentarians last elected in 1948 were retired. Then, in the second stage, comprehensive elections for the National Assembly and the Legislature were held in 1991 and 1992 respectively. This enabled our representative organs at the central government to better represent the people… With the completion of constitutional reform, we have established a multiparty system and have realized the ideal of popular sovereignty. This has led to full respect for individual freedom, ushering in the most free and liberal era in Chinese history. I must reiterate that this remarkable achievement is the result of the concerted efforts of the 21 million people in the Taiwan area. Today, the institutions of democracy are in place in the Republic of China; human rights are respected and protected to a very high degree [Lee Teng-hui, October 1995]. (The Cornell venue was particularly important. The United States had terminated formal relations with Taipei upon the establishment of full diplomatic relations with Beijing. Thus, President Lee’s presentation, although ostensibly that of a private visitor to the United States, was actually a major foreign policy formulation.)
The establishment of democratic norms in Taiwan represented considerably more than the implementation of constitutionally guaranteed rights. It pointed to a shift in political power away from the KMT ‘old guard’ in favor of the native Taiwanese population. Perhaps more important for the long term, political power had devolved into the hands of a population that was not necessarily all that attached to the principle of a unified ethnic Chinese state. It was just such thinking that came close to generating an international crisis in 1999.
As late as 1995, ROC President Lee strongly implied that there was really only one China, but that each government exercised legitimate jurisdiction within its own sphere. Only this could prove provide a feasible groundwork for national reunification. However, in an interview with the German Deutsche Welle radio, President Lee characterized Taiwan’s relationship with the PRC as ‘nation-to-nation relations.’ “The comments were the strongest Lee has made to refute China’s claim that the island is a renegade province to be reunited with the mainland. ‘Since we made our constitutional reforms in 1991,’ Lee told the Voice of Germany radio, ‘we have re-defined cross strait relations as nation-to-nation, or at least as special nation-to-nation relations’ Lee said. The comments were given in a presidential office statement issued Saturday. It also quoted Lee as saying Beijing ‘has totally ignored historical and legal facts’ in claiming Taiwan a renegade province. In making the statement, Lee has gone one step beyond Taiwan’s former claim that the two sides are equal political entities that should recognize each other’s jurisdiction in the areas they control. [ROC, July 10,1999].” If Lee’s words were simply a bargaining ploy in anticipation of the arrival of PRC chief negotiator Wang Dao-han (as some observers speculated), they certainly did not have that limited effect.
The PRC responded with a major official ‘white paper’ outlining its position on the “one China” concept. “Unfortunately, from the 1990s, Lee Teng-hui, the leader of the Taiwan authorities, has progressively betrayed the One-China Principle, striving to promote a separatist policy with ‘two Chinas’ at the core, going so far as to openly describe the cross-Straits relations as ‘state to state relations, or at least special state to state relations.’ This action has seriously damaged the basis for peaceful reunification of the two sides, harmed the fundamental interests of the entire Chinese nation including the Taiwan compatriots , and jeopardized peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. The Chinese Government has consistently adhered to the One-China Principle and resolutely opposed any attempt to separate Taiwan from China. The struggle between the Chinese Government and the separatist forces headed by Lee Teng-hui finds its concentrated expression in the question of whether to persevere in the One-China Principle or to create ‘two Chinas’ or ‘one-China, one Taiwan’ [Xinhua, One China principle and the Taiwan issue, February 22, 2000].”
As the Taiwan position moved toward a more public avowal of its independent status, PRC rhetoric became less accommodating and more bellicose. Tensions relaxed as both sides chose to tone down the rhetoric level. However, the 1999 contretemps demonstrated, at the very least, that there existed—and surely continues to exist—a strong sentiment among native Taiwanese that independence is the optimum political outcome.
The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act and Its Prospective Implications:
During the 1950s and 1960s, the US-ROC Mutual Defense Treaty (1954) permitted the United States to use Taiwan as a forward base and, if necessary, staging area for the containment of Sino-Soviet in Asia. However, after President Richard Nixon’s 1971-72 diplomatic initiative toward Beijing, U.S. relations with Taiwan became increasingly clouded. “Official U.S. recognition of PRC legitimacy did not come until 1979, after the Carter Administration made a surprise announcement on December 15, 1978, that the United States would sever official relations with the ROC government on Taiwan and recognize the communist government in Beijing on January 1 of the new year [Dumbaugh, Report RS22388, February 3, 2006, 2].”
While the Carter Administration initiative enjoyed majority support in Congress, many members remained dissatisfied with the Administration’s anticipated level of ‘unofficial’ relations with Taiwan. The congressional response was passage of the Taiwan Relations Act (or TRA, PL 96-8, 96th Congress), which established the domestic legal authority for conducting unofficial U.S. relations with Taiwan to this day. TRA established the American Institute in Taiwan, or AIT, as “an unofficial U.S. representative on the island and charged with facilitating application of existing U.S. laws and treaties affecting Taiwan after the severing of ties [Report RS22388, 3].”
While nothing in TRA obligates the United States to come to the aid of Taiwan should the latter be in extremis—the 1954 Mutual Defense Treaty having been abrogated—section 2 of TRA “speaks in broad terms about U.S. interests for peaceful resolution of the Taiwan question, saying that any forceful resolution would be of ‘grave concern to the United States’ and further states that U.S. policy is to ‘maintain the capacity of the United States to resist … coercion’ in addressing the Taiwan issue [Report RS22388, 4].”
In many respects, TRA is a work of ‘strategic ambiguity,’ one that allows contesting parties to read very different interpretations into the same language in the text.
Recent Developments and Trends:
Enactment of the Anti-Secession Law (ASL): While publication of the ASL (q.v., supra) may have been intended simply to codify Beijing’s perspective on its relations with Taiwan, there is an ample body of evidence that the legislative initiative has been counterproductive. In his testimony before the House Committee on International Relations/Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific (China’s anti-secession law and developments across the Taiwan Strait, Hearing, April 6, 2005) Davidson College Professor Shelley Rigger described the popular reaction in Taipei. “It has unified the public and political leaders in opposition to Beijing. On March 26 , hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese demonstrated for peace and against the law—including many who had never participated in such protests before. All of Taiwan’s leading politicians have criticized the law. In the long run, the anti-secession law will fuel the perception that China is hostile to Taiwan, which may make it harder than ever for leaders to argue in favor of trusting Beijing and moving toward better cross-strait relations—much less unification .”
Despite the lapse of the 1954 Mutual Defense Treaty, enactment of TRA in 1979, and a quarter-century of diplomatic effort at parsing the various meanings of a ‘one-China policy,’ the U.S. government has been unable (or publicly unwilling) to establish formal doctrine governing the matter. In his testimony before the House committee, John J. Tkacik, a Heritage Foundation senior research fellow, described the American lack of precision with more than a measure of sarcasm, at the same venue. “I consider our China policy to be fatally flawed in the sense that the key terms used to describe it are precisely the opposite of what the words mean on their face. That is—‘one China’ does not mean that the United States recognizes that Taiwan is part of China, but only that the United States only recognizes one government of China at a time [Prepared statement, China’s anti-secession law and developments across the Taiwan Strait, Hearing, April 6, 2005, 6].”
Maintaining amicable PRC-Taiwan relations in certain areas: The PRC appears to be pursuing a policy of facilitating—however tacitly—Taiwan’s international activities in certain areas while obstructing them in others. For example, the Beijing government posed no overt opposition to Taiwan’s joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001. This may have been a function of practicality overtaking ideological purity. “Despite the current lack of direct economic and political links, China-Taiwan trade and investment have surged over the past several years. From 1991 to 2002, total bilateral trade rose from $8.1 billion to $39.6 billion. In 2002, Taiwan’s exports to China ($32 billion) grew by 35.4 percent over the previous year, while its imports from China ($7.6 billion) grew by 30.7 percent [Morrison, Taiwan’s accession to the WTO and its economic relations with the United States and China, Report RS20683, May 16, 2003, 4].”
However, in other areas the PRC has been intransigent. For example, the Beijing government opposed Taiwan’s entry into the World Health Organization (WHO). It appears that PRC decision-making in these matters is a function of trade-offs. If there is a prospect of significant economic improvement accruing to itself, Beijing is prepared to turn a blind eye toward concurrent developments that might be interpreted as tacitly confirming Taiwan’s independent status. However, if the matter is pro forma—as the WHO application appears to have been—ideological constructs trump other considerations.
Prospective Outcomes Relating to Independence and Unification:
Evaluating and predicting prospective developments and outcomes of the PRC-Taiwan relationship must be hedged with a number of caveats and considerations. First, the three major parties—the PRC, Taiwan, and the United States—regularly see their priorities shift over time. For example, the United States’ relationship with Taiwan in the 1950s and 60s was predicated on containing Soviet political and military maneuvering room. In the 1970s, achieving that objective appeared more likely of success through better relations with the PRC. Second, domestic political emphases may have radical international implications. For example, the growth of democracy—and, more to the point, the ‘democratic impulse’ among the populace—in Taiwan effectively restricted that nation’s freedom of action in arbitrarily changing its constitutional arrangements to accommodate Beijing. Third, long term domestic considerations otherwise unrelated to the specifics of the PRC-Taiwan relationship may have to be accommodated. For example, any PRC accommodation of internal Taiwan political arrangements would almost certainly have to be considered in terms of any prospective impact on separatist sentiment in disaffected regions. With these thoughts in mind, a few possibilities suggest themselves.
The status quo muddles along indefinitely: Given past experience this appears to be the most likely outcome for the foreseeable future. As long as Taiwan does not formally declare its independence, Beijing may be content to overlook (or only make pro forma objection to) those Taiwanese government acts that are otherwise only associated with independent states (e.g., bilateral trade agreements).
Taiwan opts for union with the mainland: This outcome certainly seemed possible as late as a decade ago. Progressive relaxation of Maoist strictures, the establishment of a measure of answerability on the part of local officials to the electorate, and the dynamic growth of the Chinese economy all appeared to make voluntary union an increasingly attractive option. However, this scenario does not grant appropriate weight to an intangible value, the desire of the Taiwanese populace to be masters of their own fate and a value that likely trumps all others except in the most extreme of circumstances. Under the best of circumstances, it is likely that China will need another several decades to achieve per capita economic parity with Taiwan. Even under those circumstances, however, there would still be no overarching incentive to voluntarily effect a full political union with the mainland—no discernable economic gain combined with a likely diminution in political freedom.
Taiwan opts for independence: A unilateral declaration of independence appears even less likely than voluntary union. It would grant Taiwan no more practical freedom of action than it already enjoys, at the cost of enraging one of the world’s great powers. It is likely—if not an absolute certainty—that Beijing would not stand idly by under such circumstances. What form a PRC reaction might take is problematic, but it almost certainly would involve some type of overt military action, whether relatively modest (e.g., seizure or destruction of Taiwan commercial vessels on the high seas) or quite severe (e.g., a military assault on the island itself). Furthermore, it is likely that the United States, the only ally—however tacit—of any significance to Taiwan, would almost certainly go to extreme lengths to convince the Taiwanese government to avoid such a precipitous course of action.
The PRC opts to resort to force to affirm its territorial claim to Taiwan: Of all the prospective outcomes this is the one least amenable to measurement. Any overt PRC action against Taiwan could be as much predicated on domestic concerns (e.g., popular unrest) as on international ones (e.g., a unilateral declaration of independence). It might also grow out of a seeming strategic opportunity of an essentially transient nature (e.g., the preoccupation of the United States with a major domestic crisis—the terrorist detonation of a ‘dirty’ nuclear weapon in an American city, for example—or a foreign one—a major war in the Middle East, requiring the concentration of American afloat assets far from the Taiwan Straits, for example).
A primary deterrent to the exercise of such an option is the calculus of prospective gain over certain loss. For example, it would likely not serve the interests of the PRC to successfully gain uncontested control of Taiwan if that island were reduced to rubble in the course of achieving the objective. Thus, it appears safe to say that any such initiative would probably only be undertaken in the expectation that a substantial portion of the Taiwanese population was amenable to a basic change in the island’s political status and, as a consequence, would not actively oppose such a Beijing initiative.
article by: simon beckel
Full Article and Bibliography Available: Download Here