Sunday, March 13, 2005

The anti-secession law that Beijing’s “legislature” is expected to rubber-stamp today is the latest act in the ongoing saga involving Beijing and Taipei. The law has some symbolic significance and fits into Beijing’s growing international assertiveness. In and of itself, though, it represents little more than an operatic paper dragon, lacking real teeth or fire.

The statute, which would approve military action against Taiwan should the island seek independence, also says that force should only be resorted to after peaceful attempts at restoring reunification have failed. The legislation does not set any deadline for reunification.

Any brazen or belligerent action by Beijing towards Taiwan is vigilantly tracked in Washington, since the United States and its allies could ultimately become embroiled in a military conflict across the Taiwan Strait. Given the lack of democracy in China, though, the anti-secession law lacks the kind of significance that such legislation carries in free societies. The law simply reflects what has long been Beijing’s rhetorical position. Of course, the leadership in China does not need any legislative authorization for military action.

Just why Beijing has decided to make noise over Taiwan at this moment can only be guessed at. For Europe, which wants to start making arms deals with China, the law comes at a rather inopportune moment. Given the European Union’s determination to drop its arms embargo against China, which has been in place since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, Beijing’s threatening posture comes as an embarrassment. In addition, China and Taiwan had just broken new ground, with the two sides collaborating on their first direct flights during the Chinese New Year holiday.

Still, at a time when a number of countries have been brought into lockstep with China over Taiwan due to commercial inducements, Japan recently closed ranks behind Taiwan. As part of a security alliance it has made with Washington, Tokyo promised to regard security in the Taiwan Strait as a common strategic objective. Japan and the United States said in a joint statement that they backed a peaceful resolution to the Strait issue — a de facto warning to Beijing against military action. Tokyo’s position sent shockwaves towards Beijing.

Japan and other countries in Asia do not want to see a Sino-Taiwanese war break out. Beijing’s act of anti-secession defiance sends a message to Japan and others to back off the Taiwan issue. The United States and Taiwan’s other allies, though, should continue sending the appropriate signals back to Beijing as a deterrent against Chinese military action.

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