- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2000

It should come as no surprise that as the March 18 presidential elections in Taiwan draw near, the rhetoric from the other side of the Taiwan Strait is growing more and more bellicose. Beijing's reaction to the rites of democracy taking place in what they still claim to be China's "renegade province" may be predictable, but it cannot be a matter of indifference to friends of Taiwan. It will be recalled that in 1996, the actions of mainland Chinese Communist leaders to Taiwan's elections was so extreme, featuring among other things missiles fired over the island, that the U.S. government saw the need to dispatch two aircraft carriers to the area. It had a sobering effect on Beijing, but brought us closer to armed confrontation with China than any time since the Korean War.

Now they are at it again. Last week, the Chinese State Council issued a white paper which said that mainland China would attack Taiwan in the event of one of three scenarios three "if's" so to speak, to complement the three "no's" of U.S. China policy. Taiwan could expect military attack if it declared independence; if it was occupied by a foreign power (guess who); and if it definitely postponed negotiations on reunification. Now, the addition of the latter scenario is something new, intended as a menacing signal that Beijing does not want to wait forever to swallow up the 21 million Taiwanese living in peace, prosperity and freedom that can only be dreamed of by the 1.2 billion on the mainland.

These base threats were a few days later accompanied by a growl from the People's Liberation Army Daily, in an article headlined "When it comes to Uniting the Motherland We Will Never Compromise." Though the PLA is not believed to have the capacity to invade Taiwan, which thanks to American weapons systems and the Taiwan relations Act, is quite heavily fortified, the modernization of the Chinese military in provinces bordering the Taiwan Strait are is a cause for concern. Missile installations have been expanded and upgraded in both the Nanjing and Guangzhou Military regions in the south. In five years time, the regions could be bristling with as many as 800 short-range missiles.

Beijing's object is, of course, the same as in the 1996 election, to warn the presidential candidates of dire consequences should they endorse Taiwanese independence, particularly the candidate for the Democratic Progressive Party, Chen Shui-Bian. Neither he nor the other candidates, Vice President Lien Chen and independent James Soong are terribly likely to do so unless China's behavior becomes provocative enough to cause a backlash. Beijing's posture only serves to drive the two further apart. As for this business of procrastinating on unification talks, it should be noted that it was not Taiwan that halted cross-Strait negotiations last fall, but Beijing which peevishly refused to send back an envoy for further discussions. Nor has the example of Hong Kong been of much comfort to Taipei though Beijing clearly would like the model of "one country two systems" to apply to Taiwan as well. As Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative to the United States Stephen Chen told The Washington Times' editorial page, "The Hong Kong experience is of no relevance to Taiwan. All things are eroding in Hong Kong. The judicial system used to be independent, but twice decisions have been reversed because of pressure from Beijing. The civil service has been compromised."

No doubt we will hear more threats from Beijing before the elections take place. They ought to be countered with emphatic commitments from Washington to Taiwan's freedom and defense. And someone ought to tell Beijing that the more threatening its posture, the more repressive its policies become, the less likely the people of Taiwan will be to consider the case for reunification.

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