Beijing's blueprint for takeover of Taiwan

An American legislation, Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), was signed into law in April 1979 rather reluctantly by President Jimmy Carter. Only a few months earlier, he announced a major decision to cut diplomatic relations with the KMT regime of the Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan and recognize the People's Republic of China(PRC), understandably he was displeased by the initiative of the Congress to renew and upgrade relations with Taiwan. However, he had no choice but to put his presidential signature into the TRA, as it had been adopted by the Senate and the House with a veto-free majority. Some PRC leaders may have thought in early 1979 when Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping visited the White House to seal the new Sino-US ties that, with the US abandoning the KMT regime and terminating the US-ROC Agreement, Taiwan would readily surrender and accept Beijing's terms of unification in a brief span of time. Much to their disappointment and chagrin, this has not happened as people in Taiwan do not want to live under Chinese Communist dictatorship, and Beijing did not anticipate the enactment of the TRA which has deterred China's use of force against Taiwan in the past 33 years. The TRA--A US Protective Umbrella The TRA is unique in diplomatic history, as it is a US law, but governs US relations with a foreign country. In essence, it is a "function substitute" of the US-ROC Mutual Defense Agreement, which was terminated in the end of 1979, and incorporated the same protective relationship the US had maintained with Taiwan. It has defined US commitments to Taiwan's defense, stipulating the US obligation to provide Taiwan with "such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary" for Taiwan's defense, to "resist any resort of force"against the people of Taiwan, and sternly warning China that any use of coercion to achieve reunification would be a matter "of grave concern to the United States." To its credit, the TRA has bolstered Taiwan's security and anchored peace and stability of East Asia in the past three decades. The US security shield has also helped Taiwan to foster its economic modernization, democratization and political change. Beijing's Campaign to Halt US Arms Sales From Beijing's perspective, the TRA is a US instrument to prolong China's division and maintain US domination of Asia; hence China has made relentless efforts to pressure the US to cut off arms sales to Taiwan. An intense campaign during 1981- 82 resulted a joint Sino-US communique on August 17, l982, in which President Reagan's administration declared for the first time its intention to restrict its arms supplies at current levels of quality and quantity and to reduce the sales gradually, "leading, over a period of time ,to a final resolution." Such a pledge, notwithstanding without an explicit cutoff date, softens, hence violates, a firm US commitment of the TRA to provide Taiwan with "sufficient" defensive capacity. In return for the US pledge, the PRC offered an implicit, ambiguous promise to strive for a peaceful solution to the Taiwan question. While President Reagan claimed that the US pledge to reduce arms sales to Taiwan would be linked to China's commitment to a peaceful resolution of Taiwan's future, Beijing has denied and rejected such a quid pro quo. The disagreement over the "817 Communique" led to continuous PRC military build-up against Taiwan on the one hand, and continuous US arms sales to Taiwan to upgrade its defensive capacity and maintain a balance of military power in the Taiwan Strait, including the sales of 160 F-16 advanced jets in 1992. PRC leaders, especially those in the People's Liberation Army (PLA) were reportedly deeply angered, and called for retaliation against the US and Taiwan. A number of events in 1995-96 gave the PLA the pretext to act. In May1995, President Bill Clinton overruled the US Department of State and approved a visa for President Lee Teng-hui to deliver a lecture at his alma mater Cornell University. Beijing recalled Chinese Ambassador in protest of Clinton's decision and, in the wake of Lee's trip to the US, launched missiles at Taiwan waters in July and August to vent its frustration and anger. US State Department's reaction to the PLA maneuver, which amounted to partial embargo of Taiwan, was quite mild, emboldening the PLA to provoke and go further. In March 1996, Taiwan was to hold its first direct presidential election, which to some PRC leaders seems to symbolize a declaration of Taiwan independence, and Beijing decided to teach a lesson to the independence-minded Lee. From February 1996 onward, massive PLA troops were dispatched to Chinese provinces across the Taiwan Strait in preparation for a series of military exercises or even use of force against Taiwan.On March 8, the PLA launched 3 missiles at waters outside Taiwan's two major harbors to disrupt Taiwan's elections and call The US' bluff. Washington's reactions were swift and decisive. In accordance with Defense Secretary William Perry's recommendation, Clinton dispatched 2 carrier Battle groups consisting of more than 30 war ships to the waters near Taiwan to intervene against possible PLA actions against Taiwan. Shocked and intimidated by the forceful US countermove, Beijing quickly reassured the US about it’s "routine" war games and cut short their duration. The 1996 episode may have taught Beijing lessons: Some China hands in the State Department may be soft on China, but they do not make final US decisions. If TRA is faithfully executed, the US is no paper tiger. Hu Jintao's new Tact Under President Jiang Zemin, Beijing's default strategy was confrontational, and it backfired and was counter-productive. President Hu Jintao who succeeded Jiang tends to place greater emphasis on other means, and his new approach has produced remarkable results. To start, Beijing has skillfully exploited fault lines in Taiwan's internal politics--the bitter split between the KMT and the current opposition Democratic Progressive Party(DPP)which was the ruling party during 2000-08. To some KMT leaders, who lost the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections to the DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian, the DPP is their principal enemy and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)is merely a secondary enemy, and they have no qualms about cooperating with the CCP to obstruct President Chen's policies and oust the DPP from power. In April 2005, for instance, Lien Chan, the KMT Chairman and its unsuccessful Presidential candidate in 2000 and 2004, visited China at the invitation of Hu and they established a KMT-CCP forum to work toward Taiwan's unification with China and used the forum as a platform to advance China's agenda on Taiwan. Unable to stop US arms sales to Taiwan mandated by the TRA, Beijing instead collaborated with the KMT, which controls Taiwan's Legislative Yuan, to block the passage of Taiwan's arms procurement bills submitted by the Chen administration. Beijing's manipulation of Taiwan's political dynamics confused and misled many in the US, including officials of the Bush administration and members of the Congress, who wrongly blamed then Chen government for not caring about Taiwan's own defense and security. Ma Ying-jeou's election as Taiwan's president in 2008 marked the signal change in the cross-strait dynamic and opened the door for Beijing to work more closely with Ma to strive for their common goal--China's eventual unification. Hu's Six-point Proposal on Taiwan On December 31, 2008, seven months after President Ma came into office, Hu announced in a major policy speech, his 6-point proposal on Taiwan. China's experts on Taiwan extolled the proposal as China's guiding principle "to promote the normalization of over-all cross-strait relation"--indeed a blueprint to return Taiwan to China. Hu spoke of cross-strait economic cooperation, Taiwan's international participation, and peace and security in the Taiwan Strait--objectives promoted also by Ma. Hu is said to confide in his inner circles that it is cheaper and easier to "buy" Taiwan than to use force to conquer Taiwan. However, Hu has not provided cost-free concessions. The 17 overall cross-strait agreements, or ECFA, were modeled on the China-HongKong economic arrangement, and would effectively transform Taiwan into a "special administrative zone" of China. Not a few "fat cats" in Taiwan have benefited from liberalization of cross-state investments and trade, and they have become active supporters of the rapprochement. Since 2009, Taiwan has attended the World Health Assembly as an observer, under Beijing's sponsorship and as a province of China, obviously at the expense of the sovereignty of the ROC or Taiwan. Beijing has not neglected the DPP, and has been playing a wily game to recruit fellow travelers and foster internal divisions within the DPP in order to dis- credit and weaken the DPP on the national and international stage. The principal aim of the DPP is to promote an independent Taiwan, separate from China's control, hence Beijing did what it could to help Ma Ying-jeou get reelected at the 2012 presidential elections in Taiwan. Hu Jintao must feel a sense of urgency as he is likely to step down from the CCP leadership post and hand over the reins to Xi Jinping later this year. Hu is eager to make a breakthrough on Taiwan his legacy and is mounting pressure on Ma to move toward the cross-strait political talks, confidence-building measures to end hostility and reaching a peace agreement, under the principle of one China, as Hu called for in his 6-point proposal. In Beijing's calculation, Ma has been reelected through Taiwan's free and democratic process and possesses the legitimacy and mandate of the people to decide Taiwan's future independently, without interference by the outsiders. If China and Taiwan reach an agreement on national unification by peaceful means, they would sidestep the provisions of the TRA and remove the ground for the US objection and intervention. Most importantly, China has substantially expanded its military forces in the past decade and has, in recent years, waged powerful psychological and diplomatic warfare to pressure the Obama administration to end arms sales and scrap US security ties to Taiwan. The PLA seems rather unlikely to invade Taiwan, but it will use its military build-up and superior military might to force Taiwan to come to the negotiation table. It could also dissuade the US from intervention through its growing anti-access and area-denial capability so as to raise the cost of intervention for the US. (Dr. Parris H. Chang is Chair Professor of General Education and the CEO of the Institute for Political, Economic and Strategic Studies. He testified at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearings on the enactment of the Taiwan Relations Act on February 6, l979.)