Wednesday, February 21, 2007

An Unexpected Gift

China's Anti-Secession Law Backfires
Jonathan Adams and Tim Culpan
Newsweek International, April 4, 2005

China may not have intended it, but when Beijing passed its antisecession law on March 14, it handed Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian an incredible PR coup. The law has achieved the near-impossible task of uniting the island's deeply polarized public—protests last Saturday brought hundreds of thousands to the streets. It also gave Chen a rare opportunity to win global sympathy—with CNN broadcasting worldwide images of Taiwanese taxi drivers spelling out peace with their cabs, and pregnant women taking to the streets to demand a calm future for their babies. Pressure is now mounting in Taiwan to push through reforms China vehemently opposes: changing the country's official name and altering sensitive parts of its Constitution. "Do you suppose I should thank the PRC for the antisecession law?" quipped Taiwan's Deputy Defense Minister Michael Tsai.

Worse for Beijing, its law may have seriously set back efforts to lift the EU arms embargo. England has said the widely expected removal of the ban has been put on hold. China's best chance to regain international favor, experts say, is to wait and hope Taipei overplays its hand. Although Chen has so far been moderate in his response to the law, Saturday's rally could make him think he has a popular mandate—or even a public demand—for concrete countermeasures, such as calling a "defensive" referendum.

If Chen's rhetoric turns stridently anti-China, the sympathy that the law has won for Taiwan could quickly evaporate, at least in Western capitals. France, for one, continues to insist that the EU embargo will be lifted, most likely after a seemly waiting period. Still, for now analysts say there's no getting around Beijing's gaffe. Says China expert Andrew Yang: "Beijing should understand that this legislation was just shooting themselves in the foot."

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