Taiwanese and Chinese scholars discuss the reasons for and effects of the Anti-Secession law
As Taiwan and China clash over the March passage of the Anti-Secession Law in Beijing, a law the Chinese government has claimed is a "necessary and timely" step to counter the "secessionist activities" of the so-called Taiwan independence forces, Taiwanese and Chinese scholars brought the debate to UCLA on Apr. 20. Cai Dingjian, former legal advisor to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) in China, debated with Shyh-fang Liu, former member of Central Executive Committee of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Taiwan.
In the colloquium, called "Relations Across the Taiwan Strait: The Anti-Secession Law and Its Aftermath," and chaired by Professor James Tong (Political Science), Cai discussed recent reforms in the NPC, and in the question and answer session after the colloquium defended the law. Liu spoke about the dramatic reaction the Taiwanese government and people have had against the Anti-Secession Law.
In his talk Cai Dingjian focused on dramatic changes the NPC has seen in the last twenty years. Traditionally, candidacy for NPC membership was arranged by the Communist Party. In the eighties, college students became particularly politically active and elected their own members. Now peasants and urban residents seek to protect their individual rights. The NPC's role in judicial review is also growing. In 2003, Cai pointed out, for the first time a law was withdrawn because of public opposition.
Cai described this trend in the NPC as an adjustment to what he called the "rise of civil society." This trend, in his view, is indicative of the NPC increasing its power at the expense of the executive branch of the Chinese government.
Shyh-fang Liu spoke about objections to the Anti-Secession Law, which was unanimously ratified by the NPC on March 14. The law, according to supporters, legalizes Beijing's authority over Taiwan and promotes peaceful national reunification. Liu rejected this interpretation and labeled the law "inappropriate" because it authorizes Beijing to use "nonpeaceful means" to change the status quo across the Taiwan Strait.
"China is rising. It's not a peaceful rising," she said. Ninety-two percent of Taiwanese people oppose the law and many have demonstrated against it. Police estimate that half a million people rallied in Taipei against the law on March 26.
In the question and answer period, Cai said, through an English interpreter, that the law was passed because it is "better to be explicit" about China's opposition to the growing agitation for Taiwanese independence. The original idea of a "unification law," he said, was put forth in 2003 but was too broad. The Chinese government merely wants to prevent secession, Cai said.
Liu countered by arguing that the Anti-Secession Law is part of the Chinese government's attempt to pressure Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian into accepting the "one China" principle and thereby acknowledging China's sovereignty over Taiwan. "Only the 23 million Taiwanese people," Ms. Liu declared, "have the right to decide on their own sovereignty."
Responding to Cai and Liu's presentations were Richard Baum, director of the Center for Chinese Studies at UCLA, and Bruce Jacobs, professor of Asian Languages and Studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Baum questioned the timing of the law; it seemed that there had been progress in reconciliation attempts, Baum said, which the Anti-Secession Law has endangered. Baum balanced this assessment by addressing Chen Shui-bian's "envelope pushing," which he suggested may have played a role in Beijing's decision to adopt the law. He argued that it is possible that this law is a blessing in disguise: Perhaps, he said, it has created an opportunity for negotiation.
Jacobs spoke of the Taiwanese peoples' changing sense of identity. The "I am Chinese" feeling has declined in recent years, he observed. Being Taiwanese increasingly means being "not Chinese," which involves the notion that Taiwanese culture is not solely a subset of Chinese culture. In this environment, the Anti-Secession Law, Jacobs said, is counterproductive. It has caused concern in the United States, Japan, and Australia and shows that China fundamentally misunderstands the Taiwanese people, a misunderstanding produced in part by censorship of the media.
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Cai Dingjian (Ph.D. in law, Beijing University, 1999), Professor of Law at the Chinese University of Political Science and Law and a leading scholar of constitutional reform, is legal advisor to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. Professor Cai has been instrumental in drafting legislation on, among other things, the recognition and protection of private property, and on compensation to individuals for the government’s requisition of land.
Cai is also Director of the Institute for the Study of Constitutionalism in China at the Chinese University of Political Science and Law, and Executive Director of the Center for the Study of the People’s Congress and Foreign Legislatures at Beijing University. Professor Cai has published widely (more than 100 articles and many books) on legal reform in China.
Shyh-fang Liu (M.S., Oklahoma State University, 1987) is a former member of Central Executive Committee of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Taiwan. She was formerly the Secretary General of the Executive Yuan, Government of Taiwan. Ms. Liu is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Brookings Institution, where she is working on project on Taiwan's democratic consolidation and cross-Strait relations.
Published: Tuesday, May 03, 2005
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