Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian urged China on Wednesday to come to the bargaining table, relinquish weapons of mass destruction and agree to a series of confidence-building measures designed to ease tensions across the Taiwan Strait.
Although some of the ideas in Chen’s address were included in previous speeches by the Taiwanese leader this year, analysts said the timing was significant.
The proposals come amid concern in his administration over a planned meeting between President Bush and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum this month in Chile. In particular, Taiwan is worried that the two giants might reach an agreement involving the island that undercuts its interests.
“He’s trying to preempt that meeting,” George Tsai, a cross-strait expert with the National Chengchi University in Taipei, said about Chen’s address. “It’s called defensive diplomacy.”
As such, analysts added, Chen’s message probably was aimed as much at improving his government’s standing with the Bush administration and Taipei voters as it was at his communist rivals in Beijing.
China, which views Taiwan as part of its territory, had no immediate comment.
But Chinese analysts said the proposals were probably a nonstarter. In particular, Chen’s call for China to relinquish weapons of mass destruction and adopt a code of responsible conduct suggests Taipei and Beijing are on equal sovereign footing.
“That would be impossible for mainland China to accept,” said Jin Linbo, a senior research fellow with the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing.
Chen hopes with this proposal to shed his reputation as a sometimes-erratic figure prone to baiting Beijing and to get off to a good start with the Bush administration during the American president’s second term, analysts added. The U.S. would not welcome having to grapple with another global hot spot while dealing with conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Chen reasons that an angry reaction from Beijing would only make his government appear more reasonable in Washington’s eyes, the analysts said.
The proposal is also aimed at impressing voters at home before legislative elections Dec. 11. Chen is hoping that his Democratic Progressive Party will win its first majority.
His call for a ban on the development or use of weapons of mass destruction and for a military-free zone between the two rivals also appears to be a response to growing tensions in the Taiwan Strait, analysts said. Late last month, Chinese jet fighters were reported in the vicinity of the plane carrying Chen as it flew in the area.
“This sent a very transparent signal from China that we are able to threaten the president of Taiwan anytime we want to,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a China expert at the French National Center for Scientific Research in Paris.
There also were reports Wednesday that a submarine -- possibly from China -- had violated Japanese territorial waters around the southernmost islands of the Okinawa chain, near Taiwan.
China has a history of making aggressive moves before Taiwanese elections. Beijing also has been displeased with a proposed U.S. arms sale to Taiwan worth $18 billion amid talk that Taipei could develop its own deterrent capability.
A possible implicit threat in the proposal outlined Wednesday may be that Taiwan could develop its own weapons of mass destruction in response, Cabestan said.
Beijing would have to overcome its enormous distrust of Chen before any thawing of relations could occur.
“With this latest proposal, Chen is trying to project goodwill and sincerity, but it only proves his hypocrisy and insincerity,” said Zhu Weidong, a Taiwan expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. “He’s just trying to impress the U.S. and the world with this deception.”
Chen’s administration needs to show some tangible sign of its good intent if it wants China to soften its stance, said Tsai of the National Chengchi University. “China is looking for concrete actions rather than just lip service,” he said.
Yin Lijin in The Times’ Beijing Bureau and special correspondent Tsai Ting-I in Taipei contributed to this report.