Taiwan Uneasy About China's Plans for 'Anti-Secession' Law

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Taiwanese politicians across the spectrum reacted strongly to China's plan to enact an "anti-secession" law, a step viewed on the island as preparing the ground for possible future military action if Taiwan formally declares independence.

The official Xinhua news agency said lawmakers would consider the draft law, which will forbid secession by any part of China, at a five-day session of the National People's Congress, Beijing's rubber-stamp parliament, beginning on Saturday.

Although the island was not mentioned in Beijing's announcement, the legal move is widely seen as primarily targeting Taiwan, which the communist-ruled mainland considers a rebellious province.

Reaction in Taiwan, all of it negative, has come from the government, its pro-independence coalition partner - and even from the pro-Beijing nationalist party, which retained its parliamentary majority in elections this month.

Vice-President Annette Lu suggested that if China went ahead, Taiwan should take the case before an international court.

In a statement directly contradicting Beijing's view on the matter, Lu told reporters that "Taiwan has never been and will never be a part of the People's Republic of China."

"We can hire the best international law experts to secure a victory for us," she said.

The Taiwan Solidarity Union, coalition partner to President Chen Shui-bian's ruling party, said Taipei should respond by holding a referendum to establish whether the people of Taiwan want to become subjects of Beijing.

Taiwan last year passed a law allowing referendums and held its first one last March, on the question of whether Taiwan should obtain advanced anti-missile systems if China refuses to withdraw hundreds of missiles targeting the island. The referendum failed.

Chen wants to hold another referendum in 2006, to gauge Taiwan's views on a redrafted constitution. China has said it would strong oppose the move, which it sees as another step towards independence.

Opposition to Beijing's planned anti-secession law also came from the Nationalist KMT party, which favors closer ties with the mainland and, some critics believe, may even accept the island's unification with China.

"Beijing has seriously interfered with Taiwan's internal affairs, threatening peace across the Strait and rousing public indignation on the island," said KMT vice-chairman Huang Chao-hsun.

The timing of the Chinese announcement raised many eyebrows: The Dec. 11 parliamentary election victory by a KMT-led coalition put a dampener on Chen's constitutional reform plans, and had been expected to result in an easing of tensions across the Taiwan Strait.

Hsu Yung-ming of the Academia Sinica, Taiwan's leading research institute, suggested that Taipei draft an "anti-annexation" law, to provide a legal barrier to any attempt by China to take over the island.

In Washington, a State Department spokesman declined to directly address the proposed law, but confirmed that the U.S. had held discussions with China and Taiwan on the issue.

"We think it's important for both sides to focus on dialogue," he said. "It's not time to harden positions or take unilateral stances."

Formula rejected

Beijing has held out the prospect of Taiwan amalgamating with the mainland under the same type of "one country, two systems" formula that governed the return of Hong Kong and Macao in 1997 and 1999.

At a ceremony in Macao Monday marking the fifth anniversary of the tiny former Portuguese colony's return to China, President Hu Jintao said recent years had demonstrated the success of the formula.

Under the agreement, China promised Hong Kong and Macao a high degree of autonomy and pledged that it would not interfere with their capital system and way of life for 50 years.

But Taiwan has been an unimpressed observer of the experiment, mostly because of the experience of Hong Kong. Beijing has stymied attempts to expand voting rights to enable the people of the former British colony to directly elect their own leaders and lawmakers.

Taiwanese Cabinet spokesman Chen Chi-mai said in response to Hu's remarks that the "one country, two systems" formula was not applicable to Taiwan, a sovereign state.

Since the two former European colonies had reverted to mainland control, both had witnessed a retrogression in democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law, he said.

The Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), the Taiwanese body responsible for matters concerning relations with China, says Beijing has violated its "one country, two systems" commitments to Hong Kong 157 times between 1997 and the middle of this year.

In a regular opinion survey conducted by the MAC since the mid-1990s, a large majority of Taiwanese respondents has consistently felt that the "one country, two systems" formula was not applicable for solving the China-Taiwan dispute.

The size of the majority has ranged over that period between 69 and 87 percent, and in the most recent poll, last September, stood at 81 percent.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow