(by Patrick Goodenough, CNSNews.com) – The State Department scrambled Monday to reiterate carefully crafted U.S. policy regarding the China-Taiwan dispute, after Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian announced important policy goals that are sure to anger China.
Some lawmakers in Taiwan warned that the changes signaled by Chen could be used by China as justification to use force against the island.
Chen said Sunday he saw three major tasks for the year ahead — finalizing a new constitution ahead of a referendum next year; applying to join the United Nations under the name Taiwan; and considering scrapping guidelines on unification with the communist mainland, as well as the body that created them.
All three are in keeping with the pro-independence leanings of Chen’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). They drew fire from the opposition Nationalist (KMT) party, which favors Taiwan’s eventual reunification with China.
The two sides split amid civil war in 1949, when the Republic of China KMT government set up an administration-in-exile on Taiwan, while communists took power on the mainland and set up the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC).
Beijing wants the island – now a self-governing democracy whose 23 million people enjoy many of the trappings of statehood – to reunify with the PRC.
At his time of his first-term inauguration in 2000, Chen came under strong international pressure to ease concerns about his plans for Taiwan’s future.
He then pledged that, provided China does not use military force to attack Taiwan, he would not declare independence, not change the island’s official title from Republic of China (ROC) to Taiwan, not change the constitution to describe cross-Strait ties as “state-to-state,” and not promote a referendum to change the status quo with regard to independence or unification.
He would also not scrap the national guidelines for unification or abolish the National Unification Council, an official body set up in 1990 to promote unification with China.
Chen’s announcement appears to risk breaking some of those pledges.
The president made the remarks in a speech marking the Chinese lunar new year, and is thus being seen as a policy statement for the year ahead.
Setting the tone for a year of further tensions across the Taiwan Strait, they followed China’s move last Friday to block Taiwan’s latest attempt to participate at this year’s annual World Health Organization assembly (see earlier story).
The U.S. has full diplomatic ties with China but is also committed, under the Taiwan Relations Act, to an unofficial relationship with Taiwan and to help the island defend itself against any unprovoked aggression.
Beijing has long cited the Taiwan issue as the biggest potential stumbling-block in the way of good China-U.S. relations.
State Department policy on the Taiwan-China issue, intentionally hazy, is that the U.S. “does not support” – rather than actively “opposes” – independence for Taiwan.
Spokesman Adam Ereli reiterated the stand Monday, and said the U.S. also “opposes unilateral changes to the status quo by either Taiwan or Beijing.”
It supported dialogue and exchanges across the Strait aimed at “increasing mutual understanding and diminishing the chances of miscommunication or misunderstanding,” he added.
Ereli told a briefing the restatement of policy was made because of Chen’s remarks, which he said had come as a surprise.
Of the three goals outlined by Chen, only the possible scrapping of the National Unification Council and its guidelines — a three-stage process aimed at building a “new and unified China” — essentially are new.
He has long planned amendments to the constitution and a referendum on the new document before the second term ends in 2008. Hopes for Taiwan to join the U.N. — which expelled Taipei from the “China” seat and handed it to Beijing in 1972 — are also not new.
Abolishing the unification body and guidelines would be the clearest sign, however, that Taiwanese leaders no longer see a return to Chinese rule as an inevitable future step.
Under Chen’s tenure, the National Unification Council has been sidelined, and no meetings have been held.
Chen’s comments are the latest sign that the uneasy status quo in the Taiwan Strait is coming under pressure — and not just from the Taipei side.
China last year passed a law allowing the use of military force, if necessary, to prevent Taiwan’s formal breakaway.
Although the status quo has been in place for years, a top Chinese official hinted two years ago that Beijing wanted the matter resolved within the next decade and a half.
Wang Zaixi of the Chinese Taiwan Affairs Office suggested Beijing wanted the matter resolved during the first 15-20 years of this century, but also warned any misstep by Taiwan that crossed Beijing’s “bottom line” could speed up the schedule.
In an editorial Monday, the communist party mouthpiece People’s Daily warned of “significant and complex changes” in the Taiwan situation.
“The pro-independence separatist activities in Taiwan have severely sabotaged the development of peaceful cross-Strait relations and become the biggest obstacle and most serious threat to the relationship between the two sides.”
The editorial urged people on both sides of the Strait “to strive for the great cause of national reunification and rejuvenation.”
Taiwanese media reports said some opposition lawmakers believed Chen’s move would prompt parliament to seek impeachment.
KMT policymaker Chang Jung-kung said the president’s comments strengthened the perception that Chen wants to “accelerate the pace for Taiwan independence,’ which could in turn speed up a hostile response from China, the China Post daily reported.
For another KMT lawmaker, the most serious of Chen’s goals was the plan to change the constitution.
“Holding a referendum on amending the constitution will give China the reason to attack Taiwan,” Su Chi told reporters.
Taiwan’s current constitution dates back to a time when the KMT ruled most of China. Those pressing for its amendment say the document, providing for an unwieldy four-tier government structure, is inappropriate for today’s circumstances.
Proposed changes to the text could include a redefinition of the geographical boundaries of the territory governed by the constitution, and a change to the entity’s formal name, from ROC to Taiwan.
Reprinted here with permission from Cybercast News Service. Visit the website at CNSNews.com.
This is a long article. Don’t get discouraged. It is a good summary of the problem and possible confrontation between China and Taiwan. Answering the questions will help you to think about the issues briefly. For more information about the history of Taiwan, see the link at the end of question #8.
1. Describe the dispute between China and Taiwan.
2. List the pledges that Chen Shui-bian made what he became president of Taiwan in 2000.
3. List the three major tasks for Taiwan announced by Chen that are seen as possibly breaking his pledges.
4. What is the U.S. committed to do under the Taiwan Relations Act?
Define status quo. Why do you think the U.S. supports the status quo between Beijing (China) and Taipei (Taiwan)?
5. Which goal of President Chen’s would be the clearest sign that Taiwanese leaders no longer see a return to Chinese rule as inevitable? (para. 21)
6. What law did China pass last year regarding Taiwan?
7. Re-read paragraphs 26-29. What is China telling Taiwan?
8. Look at the map of Taiwan and China found at WorldAtlas.com. What do you think is China’s main reason for ruling Taiwan?
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