- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2008

At the meeting of the Chinese Communist Party in June 1950, Mao Tse-tung declared that “liberating Tibet and Taiwan” were the party’s top goals. The Beijing regime was able to accomplish the first mission, sending troops into then-independent Tibet four months later.

A treaty was imposed on the Lhasa government that declared Tibet to be a part of China. Mao was not, however, able to seize Taiwan. When North Korea invaded South Korea, also in June 1950, the U.S. Navy was deployed to maintain peace in the Taiwan Strait.

Today, the fate of the two lands stands in stark contrast. The country ruled by Beijing is in turmoil, its capital occupied again by Chinese troops. Despite attempts to silence media coverage, scenes of monks being beaten by soldiers have reached the outside world. Popular protests have spread to adjoining provinces.

To counter growing international criticism, on March 20, China’s official Xinhua news agency trumpeted a statement of support from the North Korean dictatorship that “denounces the unsavory elements of their moves to seek ‘independence of Tibet’ and scuttle the upcoming Beijing Olympics, and supports the Chinese government in its efforts to ensure social stability and the rule of law in Tibet and defend the fundamental interests of the Tibetan people.” Xinhua also cited the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) which “strongly condemns the incident that put at risk the freedom and sovereignty of the Chinese people.”

Meanwhile, on March 22, the free people of Taiwan held a presidential election. Kuomintang (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou, the Harvard-educated former mayor of Taipei, won, ending eight years of rule by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) under term-limited President Chen Shui-bian. Such an example of peaceful political change in a multiparty system is anathema to the one-party rulers on the mainland.

The KMT had won a landslide victory in January’s legislative elections fought over domestic issues. Both presidential candidates were united, however, in seeing Tibet as a warning of what could happen if Taiwan fell under Beijing’s control.

Mr. Ma laid out his vision for the future in a speech to the Association for the Promotion of National Security on Feb. 26. To preserve the status quo of continued self-rule without provoking an attack from the mainland, Mr. Ma has “The Three Nos” policy: “no negotiation of unification with the Mainland, no attempt to pursue de jure independence, and no cross-Strait use of military force.”

He would try to negotiate “a cross-Strait Peace Agreement, to turn the Taiwan Strait into a prosperous and peaceful nonmilitary zone,” if Beijing agrees to his “demand that the Mainland dismantle missiles aimed at Taiwan.” Beijing has deployed about 1,000 short and medium range ballistic missiles opposite the island.

The Taiwanese are independent but understandably worried about the growing military power across the strait. Beijing has threatened war if Taiwan declares formal independence. Merely foreswearing such a declaration may not be enough to prevent a Chinese attack. China’s 2005 Anti-Secession Law states that Beijing would resort to “nonpeaceful means” against Taiwan if “possibilities for peaceful reunification” are exhausted. Taiwanese opinion strongly opposes unification, so war remains a risk. Taipei and Washington may embrace the status quo, but Beijing does not.

The 2008 report on the Chinese military released by the Pentagon March 3 sees Taiwan as China’s near-term focus, but noted that long-term trends suggest China is building forces for more distant operations.

Geography dictates the sequence of events. Taiwan is part of a line of islands that runs from the southern tip of Russian Kamchatka through Japan to Taiwan, then on to the Philippines and Indonesia, leading to the choke point at the Strait of Malacca. Chinese military thinkers understand that Beijing needs to control Taiwan to move its maritime perimeter eastward. Gen. Wen Zongren, political commissar of the People’s Liberation Army Academy of Military Science, was quoted in the 2005 report as saying “Only when we break this blockade shall we be able to talk about China’s rise. … [T]o rise suddenly, China must pass through oceans and go out of the oceans in its future development.”

The 2008 report holds that “China does not yet possess the military capability to accomplish with confidence its political objectives on the island, particularly when confronted with the prospect of U.S. intervention.” Washington should strive to keep Beijing’s confidence as low as possible by dispelling any doubts that America will counter the use of force against the island democracy.

Last October, Tibet’s exiled leader, the Dalai Lama, accepted the Congressional Gold Medal from President Bush in the Capitol Rotunda. But this did not free his people. Washington should now give strong, public support to President Ma, to keep his people, who share deep ties of sentiment and interest with the United States, free.

William Hawkins is senior fellow for national security studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council in Washington, D.C.

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