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China miscalculates



Published: Sat, April 16, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Chicago Tribune: China's leaders truly may have believed it was no big deal last month when they passed a law that threatens the use of force against Taiwan if it formally tries to assert independence. After all, the law only reinforces what has been official Chinese policy.

If so, they miscalculated badly. The anti-secession law, as it is called, has reverberated throughout the region and the world in a number of ways negative to China.

Tensions among China's neighbors are now palpably higher. China has tried to convince other Asian nations that its growing economic dominance and the expansion of its military capability pose no threat to the region's stability. This saber-rattling law makes that harder to believe.

The new law has strengthened the position of Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, who favors independence. He had of late toned his rhetoric on that point. But once Beijing passed this law, hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese took to the streets to protest it. Europe had been close to lifting its embargo on selling arms to China. But that momentum has slowed, a direct result of this law and U.S. pressure on Europe not to lift the embargo.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called the new law "not a welcome development," proving that she has mastered the art of diplomatic understatement. China's rhetorical threat to Taiwan creates new tension with the United States -- not that there isn't already plenty of tension over China's reluctance to revalue its currency, its ambivalence toward pushing North Korea on nuclear capability, its growing dominance in textile and apparel manufacturing and its human rights abuses.

Flexing its muscles

China has the largest population in the world -- 1.3 billion people -- and is increasingly flexing its muscles on the world stage. It is destined to become a major power, but it's also going to have to learn to act like one. When the subject is Taiwan, China comes across as more a petulant bully than a burgeoning power.

Within the cloistered halls of the Communist Party, bringing Taiwan back into the family fold by whatever means necessary -- even if that means war -- packs a powerful emotional punch, but it undermines the spectacular economic success China has achieved.

Taipei has enjoyed de facto independence from Beijing since 1949 and has developed a raucous democracy and potent capitalist economy. When China started to take the shackles off its own economy, business boomed -- including business with Taiwan. Today extensive commercial and cultural ties bind the two in a vibrant, ever-widening web.




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