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China's Anti-Secession Law Slammed for Heightening Tensions with Taiwan

The Bush administration is criticizing as unfortunate and unhelpful China's recent law giving its military a legal basis to attack Taiwan if the island moves toward independence. Asia analysts say the move will increase tensions across the Taiwan Strait and make dialog between Taipei and Beijing more difficult.

On Saturday March 26, the government of Taiwan has called for one million people to attend a demonstration in Taipei to protest the new law.

The National People's Congress, China's parliament, approved the anti-secession law that could authorize a military attack to prevent Taiwan from seeking independence.

The law allows the Chinese government to use what it calls "non-peaceful means" if Taiwan declares independence.

The bill does not set a timetable for reunification and is not clear on what would trigger an attack.

In remarks following recent meetings with Chinese leaders in Beijing, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was critical of the legislation.

Condoleezza Rice answers questions in Beijing
"Well, we've made very clear that the anti-secession law was not a welcome development because anything that is unilateral in this and that increases tensions, which clearly the anti-secession law did increase tensions, is not good," Ms. Rice said. "China and Taiwan are not going to be able to resolve this alone. They are going to eventually need each other to resolve this. And so, while we remain absolutely committed to a 'One China' policy, we also recognize that the most useful path ahead at this point would be to have means that reduce tensions between the two sides."

China's prime minister, Wen Jiabao, says the new law is an effort to strengthen and promote relations between the mainland and Taiwan. He says the legislation is not a war bill, but is aimed at forces of independence on the island.

The governing Communist Party in China considers Taiwan part of Chinese territory.

The United States formally recognizes only the Beijing government, but it sells weapons to Taiwan, and is obligated under U.S. law, the Taiwan Relations Act, to defend the island.

About 23 million people live in Taiwan, which is a democracy. Its founding government fled the mainland after the 1949 communist revolution.

Taiwan has called the Chinese law a serious provocation and an attempt to sabotage peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

Bonnie Glaser, a China specialist and senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says the anti-secession law is the latest chapter in China's strategy of trying to intimidate Taiwan with the threat of a military attack.

"We can certainly characterize this law as being many things. Whether you can say it is unhelpful or unfortunate, you could say in fact it does contribute to tensions rather than ease them. But I don't think that you could say that it is aimed at unilateral changing the status quo," she said "It is, in fact, reiterating China's long-standing policy of threatening the use of force against Taiwan should it declare independence."

Alan Romberg, Director of the East Asia Program at the Stimson Center, a nonprofit institution promoting international peace and security, urges both sides to engage in diplomatic dialog rather than military threats.

"I think that the point that we focus on is maintaining peace and stability. We would like to see cross-Strait interaction increase," he said. "We would like to see cross-Strait dialog. We would like to see them, in essence, bound [put aside] the question, not pushing to resolution reunification or whatever it is going to be, so we don't have these constant blips of tension from time to time and so on."

The anti-secession law was passed after China and Taiwan showed some signs of progress in their relationship.

The two governments had reached agreement allowing charter passenger flights between Taiwan and the mainland during the recent Lunar New Year holidays.

East Asia specialist Bonnie Glaser says China needs to come up with creative ways to improve relations.

"As China moves forward in preparing to hold the Olympics in Beijing in 2008, it should seriously think about allowing Taipei to hold a couple of those events, particularly baseball, which is near and dear to the hearts of people in Taiwan, and really not a top priority for athletes in Beijing," she said. "I think that would be a means of really convincing the people on Taiwan that there are some benefits to seeing some positive association with the mainland."

Ms. Glaser says China can do more to limit the negative fallout from the anti-secession law, and she says the region as a whole will benefit from any efforts to reduce tensions on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.