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
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'
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.)