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Taiwan - 2005 Developments

On 28 January 2005 China said it would be willing to immediately negotiate with Taiwan President Chen Shiu-bian - if he accepted the "one China" policy and stopped what Beijing called his "independence activities." Those conditions are not new and have been a sticking point. But what was new is that China said it was willing to talk to Mr. Chen himself. This appeared to be a major concession. It appeared China's change of heart came after Mr. Chen selected moderate Frank Hsieh to be his new premier - signaling Taiwan may also be willing to make concessions.

On 29 January 2005 nonstop direct charter airline flights between China and Taiwan took off for the first time in more than half a century as part of a temporary plan to ease tensions across the Taiwan Strait. A total of 48 charter flights were allowed to operate between Taiwan and the mainland over the Chinese Lunar New Year. Taiwan banned direct flights after losing the Chinese civil war to the communists in 1949, citing concerns that China might use airliners to attack.

Om 19 February 2005 a rare joint statement by the United States and Japan called for a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue. China reacted sharply to the joint statement, part of a list of common strategic objectives issued in Washington late Saturday after a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura. The statement was short and cautious, saying both Washington and Tokyo want to encourage the peaceful resolution of issues involving the Taiwan Strait. The statement referred to ongoing international uneasiness over China's naval expansion, and the expected passage next month of a Chinese anti-secession law that some fear would provide Beijing with the legal basis to attack Taiwan. Japan's decision to agree to the joint statement on Taiwan marks a subtle policy change. Tokyo had previously called for a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan impasse, but until now has always avoided any linkage with Washington's stance on the issue. Beijing felt the issuance of a joint statement by Washington and Tokyo undermined Chinese efforts to portray Taiwan as purely a domestic concern.

On 14 March 2005 an anti-secession law was passed at China's annual National People's Congress legislative session. The law passed unanimously as international concerns mounted over Beijing's possible plans to attack Taiwan. The anti-secession law provides the legal basis for China to resort to "non-peaceful means" if Taiwan should declare formal independence. Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao sought to portray the bill as a measure to reunite the island with the mainland. But the legal language says China will attempt to reunite with Taiwan by peaceful means, but will resort to non-peaceful means once nonviolent methods are exhausted. The United States protested China's enactment of the law. The Bush administration has repeatedly warned both sides not to take any steps that would change the status quo and increase tensions in their relationship.

On 26 April 2005 Lien Chan, the head of Taiwan's opposition Kuomintang arrived in China - the first such visit by a nationalist party leader since the end of the Chinese civil war 56 years earlier. Lien announced the two sides had agreed on a five-point plan to boost trade links and dialogue - all part of a bid to ease cross-Strait tensions.

On 05 May 2005 the head of Taiwan's opposition People First Party, James Soong, arrived in the western Chinese city of Xian, where he received a warm welcome by Communist Party officials. Mr. Soong wasted no time in telling his Communist hosts that his party is committed to opposing independence for Taiwan. Mr. Soong's supporters -- who include many business people -- have been pushing for improved relations with Beijing, fearing that tensions could hurt the booming trade between the island and the mainland.

On 06 August 2005 President Chen Shui-bian announced the "one principle, three insistences and five oppositions" as the government's new guidelines for cross-strait policy.

  • "The `one principle' is to protect Taiwan's sovereignty and negotiate with China under the principle of democracy, equity and peace ... Taiwan is willing to talk to China in a government-to-government mode and requires that all disputes must be settled by peaceful means. Armed force is forbidden."
  • "The `three insistences' refer to not weakening our convictions in relation to democratic reform, persisting with protecting Taiwan's interests ... and not deviating from our mission to transform Taiwan into a great and progressive country..."
  • The "five oppositions" referred to the government opposing Beijing's "one China" policy and the "one country, two systems" framework that would make Taiwan follow in Hong Kong or Macao's footsteps. He said "We also oppose the `1992 consensus' placed within the context of `one China' or `one country, two systems,' and reject any proposal that is premised on `unification,' ... And we firmly oppose the so-called `Anti-Secession' Law."

The Bush administration authorized an $18 billion arms sale in April 2001, but it had been blocked in Taiwan's legislature by pro-unification parties, who argued the purchase would put Taiwan in an un-affordable arms race with China. By late 2005 the package had been reduced, with a total cost variously estimated at $11-15.3 billion, but the pro-unification parties still opposed the measure.

Edward Ross, principal director of the Security Cooperation Operations under the Defense Security Cooperation Agency of the US Department of Defense, spoke at the U.S.-Taiwan Defense Industry Conference 2005 held in San Diego, CA 19-20 September 2005. Ross said he was going to speak "straight from the heart, untainted by political rancor and partisanship..."

"... No one is suggesting that Taiwan engage in an arms race with China. No one expects Taiwan to outspend the PRC on weapons procurements. What we do expect is that Taiwan have the collective will to invest in a viable defense, to address a growing threat and be in a position to negotiate the future of cross-strait relations from a position of strength.

"Richard [Lawless] and I have been asked frequently, 'if Taiwan is not willing to properly invest in its own self-defense, why should we, the US, provide for its self-defense?'

"We always cite the Taiwan Relations Act [TRA] because it is good policy and it's the law. However, inherent in the intent and logic of the TRA is the expectation that Taiwan will be able to mount a viable self-defense. For too long, the Taiwan Relations Act has been referenced purely as a US obligation. Under the TRA, the US is obligated to 'enable' Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense, but the reality is, it is Taiwan that is obligated to have a sufficient self-defense.

"For the past 10 years, the leaders of Taiwan appear to have calculated US intervention heavily into their resource allocation equation and elected to reduce defense spending despite an ever-prosperous and stable economy. And this short-change math does not work. We're watching the partisan stalemate over Taiwan's defense spending, and we're doing our own math. In a crisis ... Taiwan will be stood up against the yardstick of 'national will' and will be measured accordingly."

On 28 September 2005 China warned the US that it would "never tolerate" the arms sales package to Taiwan. "It would undermine the national security and reunification of China and harm Sino-US relations," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said. "We urge the US to clearly recognize the serious harm the weapons package entails."

On 01 October 2005 Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, during a National Day speech, called the reunification of the island territory a "sacred goal." Wen said that "Together with our Taiwan compatriots, we will promote the peaceful reunification of the motherland ... Together with our Hong Kong and Macau compatriots, we will maintain the long-term prosperity and stability of the two special administrative regions.... Together with the people around the world, we will do our best to build a new world of peace, amity and harmony."

China has conducted an energetic effort to strengthen connections with pan-blue opposition political figures. It encouraged visits to China and the strengthening of trade and investment exchanges. It has helped opposition politicians by liberalizing rules for Taiwanese businesses in China ["taishang"]. It has also expanded cultural activities to demonstrate Taiwan's Chinese characteristics. Taiwan's opposition parties, which began courting China in 2001, continue to dominate the Legislative Yuan. Their goal is to regain power, while opening Taiwan for China, pending eventual unification with the mainland.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) suffered a disastrous defeat in local elections on 03 December 2005, an outcome widely taken to be a no-confidence vote against President Chen Shui-bian. DPP swept to power in 2000 on a campaign promise to stamp out corruption, but had been dogged by corruption scandals of its own recently. The ruling party, which controlled nine constituencies previously and aimed to win 10 this time, but retained only six. The main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) took 14 of the 23 constituencies. The win was a major boost for the KMT, which had its sights set on the 2008 presidential polls to bring it back to power. Beijing, which extended a series of goodwill gestures to Taiwan in previous months, viewed a KMT victory as an endorsement of its policy. The failure of DPP's supporters to respond to Chen's warning that the party's defeat would threaten the island's sovereignty showed that the mainland's Taiwan policy was working.

While the probability of war in the strait is low, since the beginning of the new century the military balance in the strait has continued to tip against Taiwan. As a result, the probability of Chinese military action is increasing over time. China recognizes the risk of US intervention, and is seeking the ability to win very quickly, thereby presenting arriving US forces with a pro-unification Taiwanese government. It would seem improbable that the US would attack a Chinese-held Taiwan, simply to re-install a pro-independence Taiwanese political party.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:35:46 Zulu