Taiwan leader halts China unification panel, drawing protest from Beijing | VailDaily.com

Taiwan leader halts China unification panel, drawing protest from Beijing

Daily Staff Report

TAIPEI, Taiwan – Taiwan’s president shut down the committee responsible for unifying with rival China Monday, significantly deepening tensions in the region. China blasted the move.After a one-hour meeting with the National Security Council, President Chen Shui-bian announced he was ending the National Unification Council and doing away with its guidelines, which commit Taiwan to eventual unification with the mainland.”The National Unification Council will cease to function,” Chen said. “The National Unification Guidelines will cease to apply.”Chen’s move came despite dire warnings from Beijing, which has accused him of stoking tensions across the volatile Taiwan Strait.”His further escalation of secessionist activities will no doubt stoke tensions and trigger a serious crisis in the Straits,” the official China Daily said in an editorial Tuesday, citing an earlier warning from the government’s Taiwan Affairs Office.”Chen’s risky and provocative actions also threaten to destroy peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region,” it said.The United States played down Chen’s decision to terminate the committee, with State Department spokesman Adam Ereli saying it “has not been abolished. It’s been frozen.”White House spokesman Scott McClellan did not answer directly when asked at a briefing if the United States considered Chen’s move a violation of promises Taiwan had made earlier not to change the status quo.The United States, he said, welcomes “President Chen’s reaffirmation of his administration’s commitment to cross-Strait peace and stability.”The U.S. government has consistently opposed any change to the China-Taiwan status quo, fearing the consequences of being drawn into hostilities in the region.The United States is legally committed to providing Taiwan the means to defend itself against China, and has hinted it may come to its aid if fighting breaks out.China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949. Since then Beijing has used a blend of threats and diplomacy to bring the self-governing island back into its fold, including the passage of a law last March codifying the use of force if Taipei moves to institutionalize its de facto independence.In making his announcement, Chen denied that he was altering the basis of Taiwan’s relations with Beijing.”The fact that the National Unification Council is ceasing its function … does not involve changing the status quo, but it is based on the democratic principle of sovereignty resting on the people,” Chen said.”As long as the free will of Taiwanese to determine their future is respected, we will not exclude any possible form of future development of cross-strait relations,” he added. “However, we are adamant that no one should set preconditions or give an ultimate goal regarding the people’s right to choose.”Andrew Yang of Taipei’s Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies said Chen’s decision would further damage his standing in Beijing – which has boycotted him since his election in 2000 – and lead to a significant loss of credibility for him in Washington as well.But he said the chances of China-Taiwan hostilities erupting across the Taiwan Strait were remote.”I don’t think there will be any escalation of military tension,” he said. “China may upgrade its military exercises, but it won’t go much beyond that.Former President Lee Teng-hui adopted Taiwan’s unification guidelines – which spell out a plan for unification when China drops communism to pursue democracy – in 1990.Chen’s primary constituency is made up of the descendants of the people who immigrated to the island from the mainland in the 17th and 18th centuries. Many want to strengthen Taiwan’s status as a self-governing entity, and see themselves as Taiwanese, rather than Chinese.By contrast, the constituency of the main opposition Nationalist Party is built around families who arrived on the island after the communists took over the mainland in 1949; this group sees itself as Chinese rather than Taiwanese, and favors eventual unification with the mainland.Vail, Colorado

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