China disapproves Taiwan independence signals
By JOSEPH KAHN and KEITH BRADSHER (NYtimes.com)
Updated: 2006-03-01 08:48
China reacted sharply Tuesday to the decision by Taiwan "President" Chen
Shui-Bian to terminate the island's unification council, a move that analysts
say has shaken confidence in Beijing that pressure from Washington or Mr. Chen's
electoral setbacks will be sufficient to check his drive for formal
Mr. Chen Monday formally scrapped the National Unification Council and
guidelines for unification with the mainland. Though largely moribund, the
council and the guidelines were symbols of Taiwan's political links to Beijing
that Mr. Chen had once vowed to preserve.
Beijing responded by declaring that the step threatened stability in the
Taiwan Strait and the Asian region. Preventing Mr. Chen from using
"constitutional engineering" to achieve legal independence for Taiwan has become
"the most important and most urgent task" facing the mainland today, China's
Taiwan Affairs Office said in a statement.
Joseph Wu, the chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, the Taiwanese
government agency that handles relations with Beijing, rejected the mainland's
objections today, repeating Mr. Chen's position that Taiwan was only trying to
preserve a balance in its relations across the Taiwan Strait even
as Beijing builds up its military forces facing the island.
"The criticism by China is groundless," he said. "What we are doing has
nothing to do with changing the status quo."
Mr. Chen's persistence in pursuing narrow but politically potent goals
aligned with Taiwan's independence movement has undermined hopes in Beijing that
the Chen had been stymied by the upset victory of the opposition
Nationalist Party in local elections last year. Many Chinese experts also
expected that the Bush administration would do more to prevent Mr. Chen from
trying to legalize Taiwan's independent status.
"The reality is that even under heavy American pressure, Chen Shui-Bian is
determined to provoke a big response from China," said Huang Jiashu, a Taiwan
expert at People's University in Beijing.
"He pushes through this measure today and something else tomorrow," Mr. Huang
said, adding, "You cannot rule out a confrontation before 2008," when Mr. Chen's
second and final term ends.
Mr. Chen still faces an uphill struggle to achieve formal independence for
Taiwan, the main goal of his core political constituency. His popularity ratings
have sunk into the 20's in some recent polls. The Taiwan legislature, which
would have to approve changes to the island's Constitution, is controlled by the
opposition Nationalists, who favor more cordial ties to the mainland.
Moreover, the United States, Taiwan's only major military and political
partner, has tried to check creeping moves toward independence there. Washington
needs China's help in managing pressing problems such as the nuclear programs in
North Korea and Iran and seems determined to prevent Taiwan from undermining
diplomatic ties to Beijing.
Even so, the scrapping of the unification council, which Mr. Chen first
signaled in late January, was widely viewed in Beijing as a test of how
successfully the United States could constrain Mr. Chen. The result is viewed as
After a concerted diplomatic push by the Bush administration, Mr. Chen
modified the wording of his order, saying the council would "cease to function"
rather than be abolished, as he said he would do in late January. He also
reiterated his pledge to maintain the status quo in cross-Strait relations.
The pledge and the wording change appeared to reassure Washington. The State
Department issued a statement Monday that took note of Mr. Chen's decision not
to formally abolish the council, suggesting that Washington considered that a
But Beijing viewed the sequence of events as ominous, arguing that Mr. Chen
effectively prevailed over Washington's objections.
"Although he did not use the term "abolish" and changed the term to "cease
function," this is merely a word game," the Taiwan Affairs Office said.
"Basically he is tricking the Taiwan people and international opinion."
Yan Xuetong, an international relations expert at Tsinghua University in
Beijing, said that Mr. Chen had shown that he can manage American pressure.
Though Mr. Chen violated his pledge to the United States to leave the
unification council in place, he ended up winning tacit American support for his
effort to terminate the body, Mr. Yan said.