"Let's not be too subtle"-Responding to China's Anti-Secession
Next Monday, the National People's Congress of the People's Republic of
China is expected to pass legislation that will authorize the use of force
against democratic Taiwan should Beijing judge peaceful unification of
Taiwan with the mainland to be impossible. Ignoring the obvious fact that
the People's Congress is anything but a real congress and that the laws
it passes anything but Communist Party fiat, the "Anti-Secession
Law" runs flat up against U.S. law as set out in the Taiwan Relations
Act. Under the TRA, the "decision to establish diplomatic relations
with the People's Republic of China rests upon the expectation that the
future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means," and "any
effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means"
runs contrary to U.S. policy and is to be regarded as a threat to the
peace and security of the region.
The Bush administration's response has been to state that it opposes "attempts
to determine the future of Taiwan by anything other than peaceful means,"
and more generally, that it finds the proposed measure as being "unhelpful."
In contrast with the public blistering the president of Taiwan took from
President Bush last year over his country's decision to hold a countrywide
referendum, this is pretty weak stuff. The appropriate step would be for
Secretary of State Rice to call the Chinese ambassador in and tell him
bluntly that the people of Taiwan are a free people and that attempts
to coerce them by threat of force are unacceptable to the United States.
In this connection, I want to draw your attention to the following Washington
Post oped by Project director Robert Kagan. As Kagan concludes: "The
best way to avoid war in the Taiwan Strait is to make clear that the United
States will abide by its defense commitments, together with its Australian
and Japanese allies. Let's not be too subtle."
March 10, 2005
For the past few months
I've been hearing from a bevy of China experts about how subtle and brilliant
Beijing's diplomacy has become in recent years. Sophisticated and confident,
Chinese diplomats have been running rings around the United States, winning
friends and influencing people throughout East Asia and the world. So
I can only marvel at China's latest diplomatic gambits, whose brilliance
and sophistication must be so subtle as not to be susceptible to normal
modes of analysis.
First, China's leaders this week introduced a draft "Anti-Secession
Law" in the People's Congress that threatens military action against
Taiwan. An official summary of the legislation declares that "in
the event that the 'Taiwan independence' forces should act under any name
or by any means to cause the fact of Taiwan's secession from China, or
that major incidents entailing Taiwan's secession from China should occur,
or that possibilities for a peaceful reunification should be completely
exhausted, that [the] state shall employ non-peaceful means and other
necessary measures to protect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity."
This deliberately vague threat would seem to suggest that China might
attack Taiwan in the event that (a) Taiwan declares independence, (b)
seems to be about to declare independence, (c) seems to be thinking about
possibly declaring independence some time in the future or (d) is not
thinking about independence at all but merely refuses to be absorbed by
China in a timely manner.
What's striking about this bellicose "legislation" is not only
the content but the timing. It comes on the heels of an election in Taiwan
in which pro-independence forces are widely assumed to have suffered a
bit of a setback and when Taiwan's president, Chen Shui-bian, seems intent
on improving the climate of cross-strait relations. He recently announced
publicly that he would "not declare independence," would not
seek an amendment to the constitution to change Taiwan's status and would
not "promote a referendum to change the status quo in regards to
the issues of independence or unification." Perhaps Beijing thinks
it is wise to follow this softening of the Taiwanese position with a renewed
round of threats and intimidation, though if history is any guide, such
intimidation will produce the opposite effect in Taiwan.
The threat also comes as some of China's neighbors, notably Japan and,
more quietly, Australia, are evincing some nervousness about China's growing
power and muscle-flexing. Japan has recently sought to broaden the scope
of its security ties with the United States and for the first time has
explicitly discussed joint U.S.-Japanese cooperation in the event of a
crisis in the Taiwan Strait. What better way for China to soothe Japanese
nervousness than to appear even more belligerent?
But Chinese subtlety doesn't end there. According to a report this week
in The Australian, Chinese officials have recently demanded that the Australian
government "review" its 50-year-old treaty with the United States.
Australia "needs to be careful," Beijing Foreign Ministry official
He Yafei reportedly warned, lest it wind up in a confrontation with China
as part of its treaty obligations to the United States. Now, anyone who
knows the Australian character knows that this kind of blunt "warning"
and demand for a loosening of security ties with the United States is
precisely the wrong tack to take if you really hope to influence Australian
policy. So the Chinese must be operating on an entirely different plane
of diplomatic sophistication.
In fact, of course, there is nothing at all subtle about Chinese "diplomacy."
The Chinese are indeed flexing their muscles, wielding their increasing
economic and military clout to demand greater obedience from their neighbors.
There is nothing surprising in this. The only surprise is the way the
world, including the United States, has in recent years tried to ignore
China's growing belligerence, mesmerized by its economic performance and
dreaming of a reformed, postmodern China that can be "integrated"
into the global liberal economic order. Some American analysts have even
been calling for the erection of new collective security structures in
East Asia that would include China.
But that rather misses the point. New security structures are needed in
East Asia, but they should involve America's democratic allies, all of
whom now share an increasing fear of a China whose rise may or may not
be entirely peaceful. Since Sept. 11, 2001, a United States understandably
consumed with the terrorist threat has done less than it might have to
reassure those allies that America's power and its will to deter remain
undiminished in East Asia. This may have helped convince the Chinese that
bullying can work.
It is possible that China hopes to get what it wants by bullying alone
and that the Chinese leadership has no real intention of making good on
its threats. It is also possible, however, that the Chinese are laying
the groundwork for an eventual military assault on Taiwan. Who knows?
Either way it would be foolish and dangerous to ignore Chinese threats.
The best way to avoid war in the Taiwan Strait is to make clear that the
United States will abide by its defense commitments, together with its
Australian and Japanese allies. Let's not be too subtle.
Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International
Peace and a director at the Project for the New American Century, writes
a monthly column for The Post.