|Beijing rattles war sabers at Taiwan
By Antoaneta Bezlova
BEIJING - Abandoning its tone of tolerance
toward Taiwan in recent months, the Chinese government
raised the stakes on Wednesday by threatening war should
the island's "extreme push for independence" cross a red
For a second straight day, the state press
rallied to condemn Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian's
move toward holding a referendum on "independence" and
providing the legislative framework for declaring the
island a separate state.
independence "crusade" is at the heart of the mainland's
Taiwan policy. The China Daily newspaper quoted Wang
Zaixi, vice minister of the Taiwan Affairs Office, as
saying, "War will break out if the island declares
"If the Taiwan authorities collude
with all splittist forces to openly engage in
pro-independence activities and challenge the mainland
and the one-China principle, the use of force may become
unavoidable," Wang warned.
Taiwan has been ruled
separately from mainland China since the 1949 Civil War,
when Kuomintang party forces were defeated by the
guerrilla communist army of Mao Zedong and fled to the
Beijing regards Taiwan as a renegade
province and has threatened to use force if the island
declares independence. Virulent criticism of the
island's leaders and a barrage of threats once followed
every move by the Taiwanese authorities in what Beijing
terms "a creeping process toward independence".
In the past two years however, in a reflection
of its growing regional clout and confidence in
achieving reunification with Taiwan, Beijing has toned
down its vehement rhetoric.
"China has changed
since 2002," said Robert Ross, a political scientist
with the Boston College. "It knows its power and it
realizes it doesn't have to flex its muscles with
A spate of provocative Taiwanese moves
in the summer elicited only muted reactions from
Beijing. More than 50,000 people demonstrated in Taipei
in early September, calling for the island's official
name to be changed from the Republic of China to Taiwan.
Beijing labeled the protests a move toward
independence, but its reaction bore no resemblance to
the torrents of abuse it had directed at Taiwanese
authorities in the past.
Last month, however, at
a mass rally of more than 200,000 people, Chen pledged
to push through a referendum law before the presidential
elections in March 2004 and then, if re-elected, hold a
plebiscite by 2006 on altering the 1947 constitution.
"It will be stated in the new constitution that
Taiwan is an independent sovereign state which is not a
province or special administrative district under
another country. Taiwan and China are two countries on
each side of the Taiwan Straits," Chen stated.
Although Chen had refused to formally embrace
the "one China" policy Beijing subscribes to, after his
election in May 2000 he made a pledge not to declare
independence, not to change Taiwan's official name from
the current "Republic of China" and not to seek to hold
a referendum on independence.
pro-independence rally in October was followed by Chen's
visit to New York and Alaska this month, where he was
given unprecedented access to US media. While attending
a centennial celebration in Panama, Chen conferred with
US Secretary of State Colin Powell - the highest level
of contact between the United States and Taiwan since
Washington cut diplomatic ties with the island in 1972
and recognized the People's Republic of China.
Beijing fears that harsh rhetoric on Chen might
boost support for him in the coming elections as it did
during the previous poll. In 2000, Chen's Democratic
Progressive Party won a landslide victory over the
Kuomintang and he became Taiwan's first pro-independence
Nevertheless, for a long time after the
elections Beijing continued to dismiss him as an interim
leader and former Chinese Foreign Minster Tang Jiaxuan
referred to him as a "contemptible liar".
the next year's elections, the Kuomintang regains its
50-year control over the island, it may quickly move to
open the "three links", allowing direct flights between
Taiwan and the mainland and laying the foundation for
But if Chen is re-elected
- an option Beijing fears but cannot rule out - he may
proceed to hold a referendum on Taiwan's independence
and jeopardize the mainland's long-term plans on
step-by-step reunification with the island.
bolder declarations on independence by Taiwan in recent
weeks have jolted Beijing to return to issuing a volley
of harsh words. Chinese policymakers fear that staying
quiet in the face of pro-independence statements might
push Taiwanese leaders closer to declaring formal
While visiting Washington last
week, senior leader and former vice premier Qian Qichen
warned that Washington's failure to take a clear-cut
line on Taiwan independence might jeopardize peace in
the Taiwan Straits.
A similar warning is
expected to come when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visits
the United States next month. He is expected to lobby
the White House to adhere to the "one China" policy and
cut political and defense support for the island.
(Inter Press Service)