- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 28, 2004

BEIJING - China’s top official in charge of Taiwan affairs has not ruled out the possibility of conflict during the period of 2006 to 2008 if the Taipei leadership declares full independence before the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

“If it happens before 2008, there may be a conflict” in the Taiwan Straits, said Zaixi Wang, vice minister at the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, China’s supreme Cabinet.

China considers the Republic of China (Taiwan), an island in the East China Sea slightly larger than the state of Maryland, to be a breakaway province.

Tang Jiaxuan, who was foreign minister until last year and also serves as a vice minister in the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, said he saw the possibility of conflict because President Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan’s pro-independence leader, might calculate wrongly “that China may not react militarily … so he wants to try some adventure between 2006 and 2008.”

The former foreign minister said the actual situation is one in which Mr. Chen wants to create the atmosphere and propaganda for Taiwan’s independence. At the moment, he said, it is just a proposal, but if Taiwan authorities formally declare Taiwan an independent country, “that’s our red line.”

Mr. Tang told a small group of foreign reporters that the actions that could precipitate a confrontation if include Mr. Chen’s amending Taiwan’s constitution before 2008 to term the island a national territory and sought to legalize this by referendum. Such a plan, he said, “is very dangerous and very adventurist.”

Beijing is of the opinion that Mr. Chen thinks that after 2010, China’s strength on the global stage will be such that it will be harder for him to promote an independent Taiwan.

Mr. Tang also complained that some moves of the Bush administration vis-a-vis Taiwan are not helpful, specifically that “the U.S. side continues to sell advanced weapons to Taiwan on a large scale.” The former foreign minister said Beijing considers the arms sales to be “interference in the internal affairs of China.”

Departing U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell repeatedly has said that the sales do not violate Washington’s “One China” policy and the “three communiques” and that under the Taiwan Relations Act, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan are “to make sure that Taiwan is able to defend itself — not to have an offensive capability, but to defend itself. All our arms sales are for that purpose and are carefully examined.”

Mr. Tang and other top Chinese policy-makers say that although Beijing and Washington cooperate closely on many issues, such as seeking a peaceful resolution to the nuclear standoff on the Korean peninsula, fighting global terrorism, blocking the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and enhancing cooperation in economic and trade relations, the Taiwan issue is indeed “the most sensitive and core issue between the U.S. and China.”

Mr. Tang noted in recent conversations with President Bush that China’s President Hu Jintao had suggested that Washington “match words with deeds.” He said the United States should reflect its commitment to the “One China” policy with “actual deeds.”

“There are many differences of view between China and the U.S., but the Taiwan question is the most sensitive in China-U.S. relations,” Mr. Tang said. He urged the Bush administration “not to proceed with planned arms sales to Taiwan” and to “take a clear stand to oppose Taiwan’s independence.”

Taiwan’s pro-independence activities, Mr. Tang said, “pose a threat not only to stability in the Taiwan Straits, but the Asia-Pacific as a whole.” He added that they undermine U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific region, as well.

Defense analysts say the deployment by China of more than 600 missiles across the Straits aimed at Taiwan are not conducive to decreasing tensions and only aggravate the arms race between the two political adversaries.

However, Mr. Tang was adamant that the mainland “will not pose a threat to Taiwan’s security” and argued the military activities of the mainland are not only for defensive purposes but also to deter Taiwan independence moves.

He said the Chinese government is trying to remove the possibility of Taiwan’s formal separation from China and wants to relax tensions across the Straits.

Mr. Tang said that even though unification of Taiwan with the mainland is “a strong desire” of all Chinese people and Beijing does not want the current situation to continue indefinitely, the Taiwan issue cannot be resolved in the short term.

He outlined a long list of incentives aimed at inducing the Taiwan leadership to reconsider its aspirations for independence.

In order to realize unification, he said, Beijing can only have “a general” and not specific timetable. Mr. Tang said that after reunification, Taiwan would enjoy broader autonomy than Hong Kong and Macao. He suggested that Taiwan could preserve its social system; freely choose its leaders; keep the first right of legal jurisdiction; not pay taxes to the central government; preserve its own armed forces and police; have external foreign commercial, economic, trade and cultural relations; and purchase some offensive weapons.

Furthermore, the central government in Beijing would not send officials to Taiwan but island officials could be part of the central government.

In the meantime, Mr. Tang said China’s intention is to relax tensions across the Straits and try to increase cooperation in numerous areas. He pointed to recent large increases in bilateral trade. Last year, bilateral trade reached $58 billion, he said, and this year, cross-Straits trade is projected to reach $70 billion, with Taiwanese exports to the mainland accounting for about four-fifths, providing the island economy with a $50 billion surplus.

Mr. Tang said Beijing also welcomes Taiwanese business people to invest in the mainland.

“There are no restrictions for Taiwanese compatriots to come to the mainland to visit relatives or for investments,” he declared.

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