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China Planning to Enact Law Against Secession

By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, December 18, 2004; Page A24

BEIJING, Dec. 17 -- China announced Friday it intends to enact a law against secession from the country, a move that analysts said could legally bind the Communist Party leadership to follow through on its long-standing threat to attack Taiwan if the island formally declares independence.

The government plans to submit a draft of the law for deliberation during a five-day session of its top lawmaking body beginning Dec. 25, the official New China News Agency reported. The agency did not provide details of the proposed law, nor did it say when the legislation would be adopted.

The announcement comes less than a week after Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian suffered a setback in his efforts to promote the island as an independent country. Chen has proposed rewriting the island's constitution and renaming certain state businesses, but voters appeared to reject his program by giving opposition parties a legislative majority on Dec. 11.

China has described Chen's proposals as steps toward secession and warned that they could trigger a war. The decision to raise the anti-secession legislation now suggests that Beijing wants to keep the pressure on Chen as he regroups and considers an agenda for his remaining three years in office.

The Chinese government considers Taiwan part of China and has threatened repeatedly to seize the self-governing island if it formally declares independence or puts off reunification indefinitely. But because the United States has pledged to help defend the island, many Taiwanese are skeptical that the government in Beijing would be willing to start a war.

By writing its threat into law, the Chinese leadership may be trying to persuade Taiwan to take it more seriously. The proposal also may be an attempt by President Hu Jintao to stir up nationalist sentiment and strengthen the party's and his own grip on power after a delicate leadership transition.

Hu took command of the military in September from his presidential predecessor, Jiang Zemin, and chairs the party committee that sets Taiwan policy.

The idea of a "reunification law" was first floated before Chen's inauguration in May, during a visit to London by Premier Wen Jiabao. State media quoted overseas Chinese in Britain as urging Wen to adopt such a measure, and Wen responded positively.

"The reunification law will define what is Taiwan independence and specify corresponding measures," Zhu Xianlong, a scholar at Beijing Union University, told state media in May. "It will be legally binding. The use of force will be an important but our last resort."

Some Chinese have urged the leadership to set a legal deadline for Taiwan to reunify with the mainland, but state media on Friday described the measure only as an "anti-secession law."

That suggests a more moderate measure intended to counter Chen's strategy of gradually moving the island toward formal independence, perhaps by specifying what steps by Taiwan would prompt a military response.

The debate over a reunification law has prompted concern in Hong Kong, where civil rights activists say they are worried it might further undermine the territory's autonomy by making it treason to support Taiwanese independence. But the New China News Agency said Friday that the anti-secession legislation as drafted would not apply to the special territories of Hong Kong or Macao.

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