Tuesday, March 8, 2005

China disclosed the first details of a new law on secession yesterday that authorizes an attack on Taiwan if it formally declares independence, as the Bush administration said the measure will raise tensions and increase the risk of war.

“We view it as unhelpful and something that runs counter to recent trends toward a warming in cross-Strait relations,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said of the draft law. “We would call on Beijing to reconsider passage of the law.”

Mr. McClellan also said the law as presented in Beijing yesterday “allows for punitive measures directed at Taiwan.”

“We oppose any attempts to determine the future of Taiwan by anything other than peaceful means,” he said.

The draft law was read aloud during a Chinese Communist Party meeting in Beijing by Wang Zhaoguo, a deputy chairman of the National People’s Congress, the nominal legislature.

“If possibilities for a peaceful reunification should be completely exhausted, the state shall employ nonpeaceful means and other necessary measures to protect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Mr. Wang said.

A senior Bush administration official said the law is dangerous because it limits Chinese government options on the issue of Taiwan and thus increases the risk a conflict could break out in a crisis. It also upsets a fragile status quo that has kept the peace since 1949, the official said.

“It’s not good. It basically reduces their flexibility to be purposefully ambiguous,” the official said. “It takes ambiguity out of their posturing and positioning and therefore makes it more difficult for them to back down from a given situation.”

The United States is bound under the 1972 Taiwan Relations Act to prevent the forcible reunification of the island with the mainland.

At the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher also criticized the Chinese draft law as unhelpful.

A State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the proposed law “drives a spike” in recent steps toward improved Taiwan-China ties.

“We’re most concerned about the continuing mention of nonpeaceful means, at a time when China has announced a 12 percent increase in military spending,” the official said.

Taiwan’s government criticized the law as an attempt to justify future military action. The Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement from Taipei that the draft law gives the Chinese military “a blank check to invade Taiwan.”

The council said the draft law “exposed the Chinese communists’ attempt to use force to annex Taiwan and to be a regional power.”

China views Taiwan as a breakaway province. Taiwan, known as the Republic of China, was set up after a civil war in 1949 by nationalist forces that fled the mainland.

The new law comes as U.S. intelligence officials warned Congress last month that China is building up its military forces. The CIA said the buildup is tilting the military balance in Beijing’s favor.

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