May 14, 2004

Taiwan: China weighing law on Reunification

Chinese Communist Premier Wen Jiabao has said during his European tour that he would 'seriously consider' a suggestion to mandate by law the reunification of Taiwan
By Jason Leow

BEIJING - Premier Wen Jiabao has said during his just-ended European tour that he would 'seriously consider' a suggestion to mandate by law the reunification of Taiwan.

He made the point when replying to a Chinese citizen who called for such legislation during a discussion in London on Monday. He did not elaborate.

His caution could be read as a signal that Beijing is still weighing the merits of enacting such a law, for which calls had been made as far back as 2001.

His interlocutor in London, Mr Shan Sheng, president of the council for promotion of national reunification of China in Britain, was a lot less restrained.

'Given the desperate push for Taiwan independence by separatist forces, it is pressing for the country to enact a reunification law,' he argued.

Mr Shan spoke for many in and out of China who believe that a law binding Beijing to attack Taiwan if it declares independence will send a signal about Beijing's resolve to Taipei as well as Washington.

Premier Wen told him: 'Your view on reunification of the motherland is very important, very important.

'We will seriously consider it.'

Yesterday, Mr Li Weiyi, spokesman for China's Cabinet-level Taiwan Affairs Office, reiterated at a regular briefing for media in Beijing that 'China will seriously consider all views and suggestions for unification, including by legal means'.

While Premier Wen and Beijing said little beyond stating that all options were being considered, there is little doubt that not ruling out such a law will exert some pressure on Taiwan and the US.

Given Washington's predilection for using its Taiwan Relations Act, a domestic US law, to justify its continued sale of weapons to Taiwan in flagrant contravention of its agreement with Beijing not to, many Chinese hawks say Beijing too can play the game.

Thus a unification law can also be trotted out to legitimise whatever actions Beijing may want to take against a Taiwan hellbent on independence and those abetting it.

Professor Zhu Xianlong, a Taiwan scholar at Beijing Union University, said many drafts of such a law were being circulated.

Discussion was centred on how urgent it was to enact it, rather than its content, he said, adding that there was some debate, though, on what the focus should be - anti-separatism or simply, reunification.

But detractors say Beijing has already made clear the terms on which it will go to war - a declaration of independence or Taiwanese society descending into chaos. Thus there is no need for a legal justification.

Asked when the National People's Congress, China's parliament, might be presented with a bill for approval, Prof Zhu said: 'This year is definitely not possible, and next year may not be likely either.

'Different departments need to draft their own proposals, discuss them and solicit views. That can't be done in a year.

'Perhaps, it will be timed for 2006, when Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian drafts a new constitution.'

Source: The Straits Times