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Home > East Asia > 

China's miscalculations increasing
Paul Lin
5/15/2005

I had the honor to take part in the massive street demonstration on March 26. As someone who is from the People's Republic of China, I stood by my friends in Taiwan's media to send our message to the whole world, protesting against China's passing of the "Anti-Secession" Law. The protesters who flooded into Taipei from across the country clearly showed Taiwan's mainstream opinion.

Beijing originally placed its hope on those pan-blue camp supporters. Never did it expect that the Taiwanese people's reaction to the law would be so strong. It misjudged Taiwan's mainstream opinion again, thereby putting itself at a disadvantage. To avoid humiliation in the face of the massive demonstration, Chinese authorities have employed a dual tactic to influence the expression of Taiwan's public opinion.

On March 25, the Hong Kong-based China News Agency quoted insiders as saying that those drafting and brought in to advise on the law agreed that Article 9, which states that "the state shall do its utmost to protect the lives, property and other legitimate rights and interests of Taiwan civilians and foreign nationals in Taiwan, and to minimize losses," implies a rejection of the use of nuclear weapons by the People's Liberation Army. The report also claimed that Chinese authorities and the military had already reached a consensus on this.

Those who initiate a war always do their best to protect the lives and property of civilians unless they are maniacs. But it is another story when they have no choice. Thus, if China really has to stage a war to save face, is there any action at which it will baulk? In 1989, China killed many civilians during the Tiananmen Square massacre, so why would Taiwan be any different? Are nuclear weapons not included in the so-called "non-peaceful means and other necessary measures" stated in Article 8? In that case, why can't Beijing change it to "non-peaceful means and other necessary measures other than nuclear weapons?"

Besides using deceitful tactics, the Chinese authorities have also used threats. Academics attending the seminar of the China-based Research Center of Cross-Strait Relations held on March 24 lambasted the "March 26 Demonstration for Democracy and Peace," alleging that it was organized by pro-independence forces to tarnish and criticize China's new law.

The acadamics regarded the rally as provocative behavior and urged Taiwanese people not to join the demonstration. All four deputy directors of the Taiwan Affairs Office showed up at the seminar, a demonstration of China's determination in the face of the protests.

The Anti-Secession Law, tailor-made by Chinese President Hu Jintao, has also been denounced by the international community. Among the countries condemning the law were the US and Japan, who had already identified security in the Taiwan Strait as their "common strategic objective" in the US-Japan Joint Declaration on Security to restrain China from waging war in the Asia-Pacific region. The EU, which was considering lifting its arms embargo against China, has postponed action because of the enactment of the "war bill."

The media and international human-rights groups in the US, Japan, the UK, Germany, Canada, Australia and other countries also criticized the legislation. The condemnation has surprised China. We can say that this is the greatest failure in China's diplomacy in recent years.

And Hu's troubles are far from over. Last month, when both the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and the National People's Congress were held, the Beijing authorities coerced Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa to resign by citing health worries, since Beijing thought that most Hong Kongers would support such a move. Donald Tseng, is expected to be the sole candidate in the restricted election in July. Unexpectedly, Hong Kong's Basic Law lacks clear stipulations regarding the term of an interim leader. This has led to fierce disputes and shown once again that the Basic Law is open to interpretation by Beijing.

Although Tseng was appointed as Tung's deputy, many pro-China critics regard him as a product of colonialism. They have, therefore, cooperated with some Hong Kong-based business tycoons to find another candidate for the July election in order to block Tseng from becoming a spokesman for some other business consortium. The fact that Hong Kong's political world is now tangled up in bickering is an indication that Hu's authority in the territory is being challenged. The pro-democracy force's "protesting against China; disturbing Hong Kong" and the pro-Beijing force's "supporting China; disturbing Hong Kong" is something that the authorities in Beijing did not expect.

We want to see how Hu will deal with these difficulties. It appears that his drive to collect a million-name petition to prevent Japan from becoming a permanent member of the UN has ignited nationalist sentiment to distract the Chinese people's attention from affairs in Taiwan and China. This could provide some temporary relief.

After 13 years in a subservient position, Hu brooked no delay in wielding his power, but he has allowed things to get totally out of hand. Would the Chinese leadership, which has carried over from the time of former president Jiang Zemin, sit by and watch Hu's mistakes without making any response? Although high-ranking officials put on a facade of unity, we can't rule out the possible emergence of a new power struggle in the Chinese Communist Party, as well as possible changes in policies of the Chinese government.


Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.



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