Issues New Taiwan Ultimatum
By John Pomfret
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday , February 22, 2000 ; A01
Feb. 21 –– China warned today it will use military force against
Taiwan if the island's leaders indefinitely delay negotiations
on reunification with the mainland, adding a new element of
tension to East Asia's most volatile standoff.
significantly broadened China's long-standing threat to invade
the island under certain conditions. China previously had
said it would take Taiwan by force if it declares independence
or is occupied by a foreign power. Now an unspecified delay
in reunification talks
has been added to the list.
was issued in an official white paper from the State Council,
the highest organ of China's government. One of an irregular
series of policy statements, it came just one month before
presidential elections in Taiwan, which split off from China
after the 1949 civil war that brought Mao Zedong and the Communist
Party to power.
Taiwan authorities refuse . . . the peaceful settlement of
cross-straits reunification through negotiations, then the
Chinese government will only be forced to adopt all drastic
measures possible, including use of force," the paper said.
same time it issued the warning, the white paper appeared
to agree to one of Taiwan's main conditions for political
talks with Beijing--that Taiwan be treated as an equal and
not as a local government. This has been an important sticking
point, with China insisting Taiwan is a renegade province
and the island's leaders demanding recognition of their half-century
of separate government.
paper rejected outright a key second condition put forth by
the Taiwanese government for talks to begin: political reform
also suggested China would be justified in attacking Taiwan
if the United States continues arms sales to the island, whose
political system is becoming more democratic, or if Taiwan
revises its constitution to modify support of the "one China"
principle--the idea that, even though Beijing and Taipei have
separate governments, there is only one China.
in Washington said the State Department is studying the lengthy
document carefully, particularly the section saying China
has added a new criterion for deciding on an invasion, but
will refrain from detailed reaction until the full meaning
an abiding interest in peaceful resolution of the cross-strait
issue," State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said. "And
we urge both sides to foster dialogue to resolve that issue."
warnings from Beijing seemed likely to increase support in
the U.S. Congress for the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act,
which calls for increased communication between the U.S. and
Taiwanese armed forces, and for suggestions by some lawmakers
that the United States endow Taiwan with a missile defense
China's ultimatum, embedded in the lengthy white paper,
seemed timed to affect the outcome of Taiwan's presidential
elections, scheduled for March 18 to replace President Lee
the candidate from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party,
has in the past advocated independence for Taiwan. Chen is
running neck-and-neck with two other main candidates, Vice
President Lien Chan and independent James Soong, who both
back closer ties to China. Beijing is believed to prefer Lien.
candidates have said Taiwan is a sovereign state separate
from Beijing. They all have generally rejected the concept
of "one China," even though that idea is enshrined in Taiwan's
came at a time when most analysts believe relations are set
to improve following a tense period last summer when Lee announced
he was rejecting the "one China" policy that has been the
bedrock of ties since relations began to thaw in the late
1980s. Lee said that Taiwan and China are separate countries
and should establish "special state-to-state relations," infuriating
news is that this is better than something military," said
Michel Oksenberg, an expert on China's security affairs at
Stanford University. "The bad news is that the Chinese felt
compelled to do anything at all when it looked liked things
were heading their way."
the return of Hong Kong and Macau to Chinese control, the
white paper is a sign of Beijing's growing impatience with
the pace of reunification with Taiwan and indicates specifically
that China's military has increased influence over President
Jiang Zemin in the formation of policy toward the island.
The military is known to be more willing to embrace a violent
solution to the issue and is engaged in a multibillion-dollar
modernization drive focused almost completely on "liberating
ultimatum also underscores China's failure to devise policies
to entice Taiwan into building on the positive side of the
relationship. Indirect trade between the two sides has reached
$160 billion, Taiwanese companies have invested $44 billion
in China, 200,000 Taiwanese live in mainland China and 16
million Taiwanese have traveled to China since relations began
thawing in 1987.
in the white paper seemed to harken back to 1996, the year
of Taiwan's first direct presidential election, when China
carried out war games in the Taiwan Strait weeks before the
vote. Those war games prompted the United States to dispatch
two aircraft carrier battle groups to the region and contributed
to a sweeping victory by Lee--the opposite of what China wanted.
Chinese civilian officials acknowledge privately that policy
backfired, but the People's Liberation Army is known to think
that it succeeded.
is significant, said Oksenberg, that words, not missiles,
are flying across the 100-mile wide Taiwan Strait. The white
paper appeared to be a tactical maneuver, he added. "The two
sides are circling around each other to see about resumption
of dialogue after the election," he said. "They are trying
to set the terms of the debate."