Even before the announcement of scrapping the National Unification Council, China warned Mr Chen that such action would "certainly trigger a serious crisis across the Taiwan Straits".
Some analysts, however, see it as a mere symbolic issue as in reality the council has not met since April 1999. Its budget has been reduced to a mere $31.
However, President Chen is likely to inflame China further with suggestions that Taiwan might apply this year to the United Nations as Taiwan instead of the Republic of China and put his country to work on a new constitution.
The US admitted being surprised as they were not consulted on this decision. "We certainly weren't expecting it, we weren't consulted about it, so I'd say it was a surprise," Mr. Ereli said. Initially when the President announced it, the stock market in Taiwan dropped, fearing that it may hit Taiwanese businesses. Despite this, President Chen has gone ahead with his decision to abolish the NUC. Others saw this as a domestic political play for Chen to outdo his conservative hardline opponents within his own party. These hardliners have long argued for Taiwanese independence, the abolition of the unification council and a historical awareness of the massacre of local Taiwanese by Nationalist soldiers in 1947.
China is aware of this internal party strife. According to the China Post, Chen made the remarks “apparently designed to win the support of Taiwan independence radicals” and claims “that a crisis has developed in relations between Taiwan and the mainland and in Taiwan's ties with the United States, Taiwan's staunchest ally.” The Chinese press was generally appreciative of US reactions to this issue. China Post for example stated that Christopher R. Hill, assistant secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said the United States' policy on cross-strait issues is clear and has been stated on a number of occasions. The Chinese press was also quick to pick up on Chen’s popularity dip recently from an approval rating of nearly 70 percent to a mere 10%.
Chen however seems defiant. His party DPP has lined up a series of programs, including mobilizing 100,000 supporters islandwide for a March 18 rally to restate its opposition to the China’s anti-secession law. DPP also wants an open public debate on the party’s own position towards China in order to unify positions on the issue. Moderates within the DPP who are at a minority are said to have expressed disagreement with Chen for ignoring their views. Chen’s decision to scrap the NUC has revived national spotlight on himself.
To prepare for Chen’s crusade, the opposition Kuomintang is organizing an impeachment procedure against Chen with its chairman accusing Chen of breaking his promise after first becoming president in 2000 of not doing away with the NUC. The motion however is likely to fail as two-thirds majority in the parliament is required to proceed with the public vote. The KMT is also planning a mass rally on March 12 against Mr Chen to counter the DPP’s rally on 18 March.
International reactions have also been swift. Russia expressed regret yesterday at Chen’s decision to remove the NUC. The European Union’s position was even stronger, labeling his actions as 'provocative and highly regrettable' and said both sides 'should be looking to build mutual trust, not undermine it'. Japan urged both countries to open dialogue. Washington has also reacted negatively to it when Chen snubbed its request not to scrap the NUC.
As for China, there have been calls for China not to play into Chen’s hands by overreacting and giving Chen a propaganda media blitz since Chen has only two years left. Many see this as a last minute ditch to leave a legacy for his presidency. China, the argument goes, still has a card to play by soft power and winning over Taiwanese public opinion, offering more business opportunities and other long-term measures. Plus a Taiwanese newspaper poll had shown that 51 per cent of respondents did not support the President's move.
In the meantime, China is taking no chances. Its official media stated: 'We sternly warn Chen Shui-bian not to wrongly evaluate the situation...Do not underestimate the mainland's ability and determination to crack down on separatist activities.' Beijing also persuaded the US not to send 'wrong signals' to the island's pro-independence advocates and cross the red line. Chinese analysts also asked for a stronger reaction from Washington.
Taiwan set for unification clash (BBC, February 27)
Taiwan Leader Calls for End of Unification Council (NY Times, Jan 31)
Taiwan set to disband council on unification (Abcnews, Feb 26)
President Chen's credibility problem (Chinapost, Feb 10)
Stormy month ahead for Taiwan, China ties (ST, March 2)
KMT plans move to impeach Chen (ST, March 2)
Reactions to Chen's move (ST, March 2)
Chen's act of mischief (ST, March 1)
Chen’s Move to Drop Unification Council (ST, March 1)
Chen taking dangerous step: China (ST, March 1)