Will China launch some major and dangerous move against Taiwan—a blockade? missile firings? worse?—next March, just five months ahead of the opening of the triumphant Beijing Olympics (motto: “one world, one dream”)?
Such madness seems inconceivable. Yet the pattern of Beijing’s diplomacy with respect to Taiwan’s referendum on its application to the United Nations is convincing me that some such action is possible, even likely.
China is intent on denying any international status to Taiwan, a democratic country of some 23 million people having a gross national product approaching four hundred billion dollars.
She was expelled from the UN in 1971 when China joined and has failed a dozen times to rejoin thereafter. Now she plans a referendum on how to word her next application. (I have explained these basic issues in an earlier posting.)
As China seeks to stanch leaks in the diplomatic embargo, it is becoming clear that Beijing has decided to make the referendum into a casus belli: into the “red line,” the provocation that cannot be tolerated and that must force her to turn to military coercion. She is preparing the ground carefully, lining up support for her position from the very countries that might back Taiwan.
Thus, for months last year the Chinese embassy hammered the relevant American Deputy Assistant Secretary of State with threats. The result: on August 27, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte stated unequivocally that “any kind of provocative steps” on Taiwan’s part were unacceptable.
Shortly thereafter, Chinese President Hu Jintao directly warned President Bush “that this year and the next will be a ‘highly dangerous period’ in the Taiwan Strait.” He referred, ominously, to China’s 2005 “Anti-Secession Law,” which requires the use of “nonpeaceful means” to counter “major incidents entailing Taiwan’s secession from China.” Hu stated that the referendum would be just such a “major incident.”
Now France and Britain have, unwittingly I think, added their signatures to the international permission slip that China appears to be preparing. According to Reuters, on November 26, French President Nicolas Sarkozy stated “that France opposes Taiwan’s contentious plan to hold a referendum on UN membership next year.” Then, according to AFP, Foreign Secretary David Miliband made clear on December 5 Britain’s opposition to the referendum on pushing for UN membership, adding that any “reckless maneuvers” were to be “deplored.”
Without insistent Chinese prompting, one suspects, neither Negroponte nor Sarkozy nor Miliband would have spoken. Yet all did, in complete ignorance, one suspects, of the net China is weaving.
For who will protest or act if China does use the referendum as a pretext for military action next March? One would expect democratic powers such as the United States, France, and Britain to take the lead. But they have already stated their support for China’s political position (though not for force). My fear is that such statements of seeming acquiescence may persuade China that she could get away with a turn to force. Such miscalculation could in fact lead to war.