China's anti-secession law: the good news
By Monte R. Bullard
Global Beat Syndicate
GULF BREEZE, Florida--The United States and Taiwan should welcome China's efforts to formally define and codify its position on relations with Taiwan. While it may not offer the answer some in Taiwan would hope for, it does mean movement by Beijing's leaders toward the rule of law--one of the legitimate concerns Taiwan's leaders have about China's ability to abide by future agreements.
Taiwan's leaders are correctly wary of any negotiated settlement with China because historically China has changed agreements too easily by executive fiat. The recent altering of the Hong Kong Basic Law is an example.
Involving the National People's Congress in the process is positive step. While the NPC used to be a pure rubber stamp for the Communist Party, over the past 25 years it has increased, in fits and starts, its voice in internal decision-making. That began when the NPC played a role in calling to account government incompetence in the Pohai Gulf oil rig disaster of 1979, and began to grow in voice and power until it was severely constrained again after the Tiananmen demonstrations in 1989. Over the years younger, more active and more competent people have been elected to its ranks, and while it has not reached the point of being able to "check-and-balance" the Communist Party or even the government, the NPC is moving in that direction. This new anti-secession law could give the NPC more leverage in national decision-making.
Meantime, the new anti-secession law should not be viewed as a legal framework for starting a war with Taiwan. Rather, it is part of the effort to pluralize decision-making in China and make it more difficult for just a few leaders to start a war with behind-closed-doors decisions.
Some NPC members come from provinces, counties or cities, like Kunshan just outside Shanghai, which are now almost completely dependent on Taiwan. The more than one million Taiwanese who are permanent residents in China (living there more than 300 days a year), the more than 50,000 Taiwanese companies that hire millions of Chinese workers, and the more than U.S. $100 billion dollars of Taiwanese investment in China are all factors likely to influence some of those legislators as their role in negotiations between Beijing and the provinces becomes increasingly important.
Some have described the anti-secession law as a "war-law." But Chinese officials insist that it offers no timetable for unification. Rather, it is designed to counter any moves in Taiwan that are perceived as going too far in the direction of independence. That could help define the limits of what constitutes "moving too far" toward independence, thus introducing more certainty into the equation. Every time Beijing clarifies exactly what Taiwanese actions would result in war, the onus of starting a war falls on the shoulders of Taiwan's leaders, who continue to push the independence envelope.
While Tawain's leaders are reacting angrily, and the anti-secession law may have short-term implications, both sides should avoid negotiating a long-term status for Taiwan. Both sides should recognize that the status quo is best solution in the short term--even if there are different definitions of the status quo. Both sides should also recognize that the long term solution is neither total independence nor total unification. Some form of confederation will have to suffice. Neither side should begin to create laws that hinder the search for a long-term solution, but both sides should create laws that help to establish a peaceful environment in which meaningful negotiations can take place 10 or 20 years down the road.
Meantime, the United States should quietly support the effort to move China steadily toward democratization through increased pluralization at the top.