Monday, February 27, 2006

Taiwan Provokes Beijing, Disappoints Washington

An unnecessary provocation?

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian announced Monday that he is formally dissolving a government agency that is responsible for eventual reunification with mainland China.

For days, Chinese authorities have been warning Chen Shui-bian against getting rid of the long defunct National Unification Council--which, in Beijing's eyes, had symbolized hope that the mainland and Taiwan would eventually reunite.

Last week, Li Weiyi, spokesman for the mainland's Taiwan Affairs office, warned that getting rid of the council would spark a serious crisis in the Taiwan Strait.

He said that while Beijing would do its best to maintain peace and stability in the region, it still firmly opposes Taiwan independence.

China has hundreds of missiles pointed at Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of its territory.

Despite the warnings, Chen announced his decision to scrap the advisory body after a meeting with his national security team. However, the Taiwan leader asserted the move is not intended to change the status quo in relations with Beijing.

Taiwan has been self-governed since 1949, when two million Chinese nationalists fled there after their defeat by the Communists in the Chinese civil war. The nationalists ruled by force; but they gradually democratized over the next five decades and incorporated the native population within the governing structure. In 2000, Taiwan underwent its first peaceful transfer of power from the Nationalist to the Democratic Progressive Party. Throughout this period, the island prospered and became one of East Asia's so-called economic Tigers.

Chen's decision to abolish the unification council comes one year after Beijing passed an anti-secession law authorizing the use of force against Taiwan if it moves toward independence.

Reelected in 2004 on a pro-independence platform, Chen has angered Beijing by calling for a new constitution--which the Chinese Communist leadership views as a further push toward independence.

Although it has pledged to help Taiwan defend itself against an attack, the United States says it does not support Taiwan independence.

In line with this policy, the US downplayed Monday's development. The US State Department said the US understanding is that the council has been frozen, not abolished, and that Chen is not altering the status quo with Beijing.

China Confidential has learned that there were urgent US diplomatic contacts with Taiwan before the announcement.

The diplomacy obviously failed.

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