Chinese Premier Pledges to Hold On to Taiwan

Chinese Premier Pledges to Hold On to Taiwan
Anti-Secession Bill Mandates Attack if Independence Is Declared, Officials Say

BEIJING -- Premier Wen Jiabao vowed Saturday never to allow Taiwan "to separate from China under any name or by any means" as the Chinese parliament opened its annual session and prepared to enact an anti-secession law targeting the self-governing island.

In a nationally televised speech before the legislature, Wen also set a target of 8 percent economic growth in 2005, down from the 9.5 percent recorded last year, signaling a renewed campaign to prevent inflation from damaging one of the world's fastest-growing economies.

Wen also acknowledged "glaring problems in social development" and pledged to abolish the nation's main agricultural tax within two years as well as to implement new programs to ease poverty and address widespread social unrest, which the Communist Party fears is undermining its grip on power.

But with the anti-secession bill scheduled for a vote on March 14, Taiwan was expected to be the most urgent focus of this year's session of the rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress. Wen offered no new details of the proposed law, which Taiwan has warned could set the stage for a military attack. The United States has also described the measure as provocative.

The Chinese government considers Taiwan part of China and has threatened to use force against the island of 23 million if it formally declares independence. Officials say the new legislation will enshrine that threat in law, mandating a military attack against Taiwan if it secedes, but the exact wording of the measure has not been released.

"This law represents the common will and strong determination of the entire Chinese people to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country," Wen said. He also promised to "make the greatest possible effort to do anything conducive to the development of cross-strait relations and the country's peaceful reunification."

The premier's remarks came a day after President Hu Jintao, the Communist Party's top leader, set forth what the official New China News Agency described as new guidelines on relations with Taiwan in a meeting with delegates to a congressional advisory body.

Hu offered no substantive concessions, continuing to insist that Taiwan acknowledge that it and the mainland are part of "one China" before cross-strait talks can resume. But he struck a conciliatory tone, using language that echoed and built on a major Taiwan policy speech delivered Jan. 28 by another senior leader.

Hu said there were "new and positive factors" and "certain signs of relaxation" in relations with Taiwan, apparently referring to a softening in the pro-independence rhetoric and policies of Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian after his party failed to win a legislative majority in the island's December elections.

In the months since then, China and Taiwan struck a landmark deal allowing direct flights between the island and the mainland during the Chinese New Year holiday. Chen also signed a joint declaration on Feb. 24 with a political rival who favors reunification, repeating a pledge not to formally declare independence or take other certain other actions that China considers provocative, known as the "five nos."

In an unusual, direct reference to Taiwan's president by China's top leader, state media quoted Hu as saying, "We hope the leader of the Taiwan authorities could earnestly fulfill the 'five nos' commitment he reaffirmed on Feb. 24 . . . and show to the world, through [his] own concrete actions, that this was not an empty word or mere lip service."

Hu also signaled a willingness to set aside his government's long-standing hostility toward Chen and meet him if he accepts the "one China" principle. "No matter who he is and which political party it is, and no matter what they said and did in the past, we're willing to talk," he said.

Hu did not mention the anti-secession law, but he said, "We will not have the slightest hesitation, falter or concession on the major principal issue of opposing secession."

As he spoke, his government announced it would increase military spending by 12.6 percent in 2005, the latest in a string of double-digit budget increases aimed at modernizing the army and preparing it for a possible conflict with Taiwan.

CIA Director Porter J. Goss expressed concern about China's military buildup last month, saying that it "could tilt the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait" and that "improved Chinese capabilities threaten U.S. forces in the region." The United States has pledged to help Taiwan defend itself, and President Bush said in 2001 that he would do "whatever it took" to defend the island against a Chinese attack.

By Philip P. Pan Washington Post Foreign Service Sunday, March 6, 2005; Page A20
© 2005 The Washington Post Company.

No comments: