Street Journal, February 23, 2000
Unite to Defy Beijing's Threats
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Taiwan -- Taiwan's presidential candidates on Tuesday found
rare common cause in rejecting Beijing's latest saber-rattling
toward the island.
markets in Taipei, Hong Kong and China fell Tuesday after
Beijing warned Taiwan that it faced military attack if it
continued to stall indefinitely on reunifying with the mainland.
But while the threats, released in an 11,000-word cabinet
report Monday, were widely seen as an attempt to scare voters
and candidates into submission in next month's presidential
elections in Taiwan, the result was to unleash scorn and defiance
from all quarters here.
"has no right to participate in or influence our election,"
said Jason Hu, the campaign manager for ruling Nationalist
Party candidate Lien Chan. James Soong, an independent candidate
in the close race, vowed that the island "won't be intimidated."
Taiwan's government also rejected Beijing's claim of sovereignty
over Taiwan, calling on the mainland to accept flexible terms
for restarting talks between the two sides.
on Tuesday also condemned China's latest threats. "We reject
any use of force or any threat of force in this situation,"
said White House spokesman Joe Lockhart. "We have repeated
in both actions and words that we view any threat to Taiwan
with grave concern."
across the Taiwan Strait soured when Taiwan President Lee
Teng-hui last July described ties between the two sides as
"state-to-state." Many in Beijing saw the move as a step toward
independence, and a warning to speed up the work of bringing
Taiwan back into the mainland fold. The two sides have been
split since China's Nationalist government lost a civil war
on the mainland in 1949.
efforts to cow Taiwan could backfire, much as they did during
the 1996 presidential elections, when Beijing's test-firing
of missiles off Taiwan's coast propelled a defiant Lee Teng-hui
to a strong victory. While the mood during the electoral campaign
has thus far has been friendly to Beijing -- all three candidates,
who each have about 25% support in public opinion polls, say
they support improved ties -- China's statements could raise
the hostility factor, political analysts say.
often puts its worst foot forward at the wrong time," says
Stephen Yates, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation
for China's Foes
for Beijing is that voters will turn toward the candidate
perceived as most hostile to China and best able to stand
up to it: Chen Shui-bian, whose Democratic Progressive Party's
longtime stance in favor of Taiwan independence was alluded
to in the cabinet report. Although Mr. Chen has backed away
from his earlier support for Taiwan independence, he is still
seen as the least China-friendly of the candidates. "It may
give people the feeling that Chen is most apt to stand up
to China," says Lin Jung-zer, a Nationalist Party legislator,
of Beijing's threats. "I don't think this report helps Lien."
party wasted little time seizing on Beijing's report to its
advantage. "Can you know if someone in talks will be standing
up for the Chinese Communists, or for the 22 million people
on Taiwan?" says Annette Lu, Mr. Chen's running mate.
statements could also galvanize defiance among Taiwan voters,
who are quick to become angry at threats from the mainland.
"Our teachers also taught us to stand up to the enemy," says
Taipei lawyer Nicole Lee, who says her father was so scared
during China's missile tests in the 1996 presidential election
that he stockpiled rice for fear of an impending attack. Ms.
Lee says she voted for the pro-independence candidate then,
and plans to stick with Mr. Chen now.
latest broadside could also complicate its relations with
the U.S., where support for Taiwan is strong. The U.S. is
obliged to sell defensive weapons to the island under the
1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which also states that any effort
by China "to determine the future of Taiwan by other than
peaceful means" is of "grave concern" to the U.S.
of Beijing's statements is also awkward for China's supporters
in Washington, who are working to win congressional support
for legislation connected with Beijing's effort to join the
World Trade Organization. James Lilley, an American Enterprise
Institute scholar who once served as U.S. ambassador to Beijing,
read China's harsh rhetoric as a putdown of U.S. Deputy Secretary
of State Strobe Talbot's recent efforts to talk the Chinese
leaders into a more cooperative posture with the U.S. "This
is a shot across Clinton's bow, a warning that he won't get
any cheap foreign-policy success from them," Mr. Lilley said.
Feldman, another former U.S. diplomat working out of the Heritage
Foundation, said the timing of the Taiwan white paper's release
isn't likely to do Beijing any good with respect to its other
interests in the U.S. "There will be many voices in the Senate
who'd say, 'Hey, we should do something about the Taiwan Security
Enhancement Act," " he said. The U.S. House of Representatives
passed the bill, which urges closer U.S.-Taiwan military cooperation,
by a 341-70 vote in early February, but the Senate has delayed
acting on its own version.
belligerence also risks hurting its prospects of gaining the
status of permanent normal trade relations with the U.S. However,
a spokesman for Rep. Philip Crane, an Illinois Republican
who heads the House Ways and Means trade subcommittee, said
most members are likely to treat China trade separately from
the issue of Taiwan's security.