China Tells Taiwan To Negotiate…Or Else
(2/21/2000) Beijing’s State Council released a white paper on Taiwan yesterday which says China may be compelled to use force if the island government refuses to negotiate its unification with the mainland.
"If Taiwanese authorities refuse indefinitely to settle the reunification issue through peaceful means, China’s government will be forced to adopt what ever means, including the use of force, to safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity," the paper said.
"The One-China Principle and the Taiwan Issue" was jointly released by the mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office and the State Council Information Office on Sunday. [Read the Chinese original.] The last time China released a white paper on Taiwan was in 1993 ("The Taiwan Question and Reunification of China").
In the past, China has threatened military force against Taiwan in a event of a official declaration of independence or a foreign invasion of the island.
But never before has the mainland threatened war in the event of Taiwan’s refusal to engage in negotiations, experts say.
This is why the new white paper is widely seen as a raising of stakes in a stand-off that began when Nationalist forces escaped to the island following the Communist victory in 1949.
Timing the key
Experts said the white paper’s release was timed to coincide with the island’s upcoming presidential elections on March 18. In the run-up to Taiwan’s first direct presidential elections in 1996, China intimidated the island with war games and missile tests, and the U.S. sent warships to the strait to in an effort to deter the crisis.
"[The white paper] really is intended to remind the presidential hopefuls in Taiwan, and also the Taiwan electorate, that the crisis across the strait hasn’t been resolved, that in fact the situation may become very drastic again," said University of Chicago political science professor Dali Yang.
"Even though this is a much more subtle brand of diplomacy than firing missiles four years ago, this strikes me as raising the level of threat," said James A. Robinson, professor of political science at the University of West Florida.
Beijing is still stinging from Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui’s blunt remark last July characterizing the delicate rapport between Taiwan and China as a "state-to-state," which many interpreted as the government’s abandonment of the ‘one-China’ policy.
The State Council document is also seen as a warning to the United States, which just completed high-level military talks with Chinese counterparts in Beijing. The delegation, lead by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, left China a day before the white paper was released on Sunday.
One of the topics of discussion at the meeting was the U.S. plan to develop anti-ballistic missile defense systems. China opposes this, fearing such a system could be used to defend Taiwan.
Last week, U.S. officials rejected China's criticism of the proposed missile defense systems, saying it was their deployment of missiles across the Taiwan strait that forced the US to consider giving the island a missile defense umbrella. China responded that such an act would jeopardize U.S.-China relations.
"They were sort of talking past each other, I think. And basically what the Chinese said was, OK, well this is it, we’re just going to issue this white paper now, and I want the United States to be fully clear that we intend to go to war," said John Tkacik, Jr., president of China Business Intelligence, a consulting firm based in Alexandria, Virginia.
"So I think that future historians are going to see this white paper of February 21 as sort of a turning point," Tkacik added.
China is already vexed by the show of widespread support earlier this month in the U.S. House of Representatives for the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, which would formalize military cooperation between the U.S. and Taiwan. The bill goes next to the Senate, although no date has been scheduled.
Tkacik added that the tone of this latest white paper was markedly different from the 1993 white paper on Taiwan, and was strong enough for all three of the top presidential candidates in Taiwan to note a retrogression in relations.
"The 1993 one at least gave lip service to ‘equal status’ -- not governmental status -- but equal status of the parties. But this one here says…the Taiwan authorities are a local authority on Chinese soil," Tkacik said. "Given this, what it means is that China is not interested in a dialog at all, and consequently, there will be no dialogue."
To contact Kit Marlow:
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