Friday, April 21, 2006

China's President Puts Stress on Taiwan

Taiwan is the flashpoint; and Chinese President Hu Jintao made that clear during his visit to the United States.

In discussions at the White House yesterday, Hu reportedly stressed the importance China places on reunifying with the self-ruled island, which Beijing regards as a renegade province.

Hu again raised reuinification at a subsequent speech before US business leaders in Washington. Emphasizing that China seeks a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue, Hu invoked Beijing's sacrosanct "One China" principle and said Beijing will never allow the "Taiwan independence secessionist forces to split Taiwan from China under any name or in any form."

A little over a year ago, China essentially escalated the dispute by adopting a law--the Anti-Secession Law--authorizing military force against Taiwan if the island moves to formalize its de facto independence, dating to 1949, or, more ominously, if efforts to peacefully reunify fail.

In other words, while Beijing may be willing to negotiate Taiwan's future status, the outcome of the negotiations--Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan--is not negotiable.

Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian heads the "independence secessionist forces" to which Hu referred in Washington. Chen responded to China's Anti-Secession Law by formally scrapping a long dormant reunification council--which China has interpreted as a provocation.

Taiwan is a democracy; and America's Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) commits the US to help it in in the event of a Chinese attack. Beijing has some 800 missiles pointed at the island and is adding more each year; but there is deep disagreement over the meaning of the US defense commitment. It is commonly assumed to include intervention; and US officials and military commanders have made comments that support this interpretation; but a careful reading of the TRA--and a common sense analysis considering China's size, formidable military buildup, and nuclear deterrent--leads most observers to believe that the US intends to confine its efforts to protect Taiwan to supplying it with weapons.

The Taiwan issue is left-over business from China's long civil war. The island split--the word makes Beijing bristle--from the mainland following the end of fighting between the Koumintang (KMT) and Communists. Defeated KMT forces fled to Taiwan--their last stronghold--and established an authoritarian regime that ruled the island with an iron fist for years before gradually reforming itself and Taiwan's political system. The KMT lost power in the island's 2000 presidential elections; it opposes the push for formal independence led by Chen's governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and has been courted by Beijing in an attempt to undermine popular support for the DPP.

China's president is likely to refer to the Taiwan issue when he caps off his US visit with what is expected to be a major policy address at Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut. Above all, however, Hu is certain to play up the compelling theme of fast-growing China's "peaceful rise," a path he says is rooted in thousands of years of Chinese culture.

Yale has an exceptionally close relationship with China. The ties goes back more than a century, when the first Chinese student to study in the United States attended the university.

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