Seanad debates

Wednesday, 23 March 2005

7:00 pm

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach for including this matter on the Adjournment. I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Treacy. As this matter is more relevant to his brief than that raised by Senator O'Toole, I am pleased he is present.

In recent weeks, China, through the 10th PRC National People's Congress, passed what is known as the anti-separation law. This law presents unification as the only valid option in cross-straits relations between the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China.

The law would also enforce legal responsibility and possible punishment for actions perceived as promoting independence, as well as guidelines for the treatment of "separatists" before, during and after the potential use of force against Taiwan. These regulations would apply to citizens, enterprises, organisations and Government officials in China and Taiwan. The law can be seen as an enabling act of legalising war, authorising the People's Liberation Army, armed police and militia to resolve the "Taiwan problem" through non-peaceful measures. At the same time, the law will again declare the "Taiwan problem" as an internal affair and state that no external force should interfere in the Taiwan Strait. The passage of this law will have a severe impact not only on cross-straits relations but also on the stability of the entire region.

I fully support the Government's position on the One China policy. I have no doubt the Minister of State will refer to the latter. This is not about impacting or infringing on that policy in any way. However, it is somewhat ironic, in the month the National People's Congress passed the law legalising war, that Ireland is publicly identifying itself with a growing consensus among the EU partners towards ending the embargo on arms sales to China. This is in a country that has a proud record on human rights.

I understand that, in terms of politics involving larger powers and at international level, Ireland is a small player and punches way above its weight. I am also acutely aware that Ireland has an open trading economy and that China, because of its vast size and huge population, will be the real power in the 21st century and beyond. It is right and proper that Ireland should position itself to pursue bilateral relations with China. That is not what this matter is about. It is about highlighting a situation that has existed because of an historical anomaly.

Despite its international isolation and lack of recognition among practically all the developed countries of the world, we should acknowledge the existence of Taiwan. There are 23 million people on the island of Taiwan. It is the tenth largest trading nation in the world and, in the political sense, it is treated like an international pariah. That is a result of the historical reality and I emphasise that is not what this matter is about.

I would like Ireland to be seen to have a position on this law. I would like the Taoiseach and his ministerial colleagues, including the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, in bilateral negotiations, dialogue and discussions with the Republic of China, here at home through its ambassador, or in Beijing. This issue should join the others in respect of which we engage in dialogue. Those other issues primarily relate to human rights violations in China. I wish to see the Taiwan issue, in the context of the passage of the law to which I refer, put on that agendawhenever discussions take place at bilaterallevel.

The US, which would be the defence guarantor of Taiwan in the event of an attack by mainland China, has come out strongly against this law. I understand that Ministers were buttonholed and door-stepped by senior American politicians during their visits to the US for the annual St. Patrick's celebrations. It was conveyed to them that America is against this law. I can understand the reason for this. China is a growing military power. We are already aware of its economic might, from which we are benefiting to a large degree. However, cross-straits relations were beginning to get on to a proper footing and there had been a lessening of tension. In recent months, mainland China had allowed charter flights to operate across the strait and there was increasing optimism among the Taiwanese and the international community.

The Chinese authorities have tended to downplay this law and say it is nothing more than a reiteration of their legal right and that Taiwan is part of China. I plead with the Minister of State not to allow this issue slip off the agenda. If the Taiwanese have nobody to speak for them internationally, we, as parliamentarians, in defending a democratic Taiwan, as against a totalitarian China, have some responsibility to ensure its views are put forward whenever the occasion arises.

Photo of Noel TreacyNoel Treacy (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I wish to make a statement to the House on the Government's views regarding the decision of the Chinese National People's Congress to pass an anti-secession law.

Since 1971, when Ireland voted in favour of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758, we have recognised the Government of the People's Republic of China, as the sole legitimate Government of China. Ireland, together with its EU partners, adheres to the One China policy and, therefore, accepts that Taiwan is a part of China.

The anti-secession law, which was debated an approved by the National People's Congress on Monday, 14 March 2005, is formulated, according to Article 1 of the law, "for the purpose of opposing and checking Taiwan's secession from China, by secessionists in the name of "Taiwan independence", promoting peaceful national reunification, maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Straits, preserving China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and safeguarding the fundamental interests of the Chinese nation".

The law reiterates the position of the Government of the People's Republic of China that there is only one China, that Taiwan is part of China, and that China will never allow Taiwan, to"secede" from China by any means. The law further states that the resolution of the Taiwan question and achieving national reunification is China's internal affair and that it will not accept interference from outside forces.

It is important to note that Article 5 of the law recognises that the peaceful reunification of China best serves the fundamental interests of people on both sides of the Taiwan Straits and goes on to say that China will do its utmost, to achieve a peaceful reunification of the country. Article 5 also states that once the country is reunified, Taiwan may practice systems different from those on the mainland and enjoy a high degree of autonomy.

The law also sets out the means by which links might be improved between China and Taiwan, including personal visits, developing economic and trade links, cultural exchanges, air and sea connections, exchanges in the fields of education, science, technology, health and sports, and co-operation in combating crime.

The law also states that any negotiations with Taiwan will be on an "equal footing between the two sides" and sets out the steps by which the such negotiations might take place, including officially ending the state of hostility between the two sides, mapping out the development of cross-straits relations, steps and arrangements for peaceful national reunification and the political status of the Taiwan authorities. Despite the many positive elements contained in the law, Article 8 also provides that in the event of Taiwan's secession from China or the prospects for peaceful unification having been exhausted, non-peaceful means shall be used to protect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity. While the threat of the use of force by the Beijing authorities to prevent Taiwanese independence is not new, its restatement in this manner gives rise to concern.

On 14 March 2005, the EU issued a declaration on the law, in which it expressed its continued adherence to the One China policy, to the resolution of differences between China and Taiwan, by peaceful means, and its opposition to the use of force. The declaration also called on all parties to avoid any unilateral action, which might aggravate tensions across the Taiwan Straits, and expressed the concern that the legislation might impact negatively on the recent improvement in links, between China and Taiwan including the inauguration of flights, between China and Taiwan, at the time of the Chinese New Year. These concerns were also conveyed to the Chinese authorities by a Troika of EU Heads of Mission at Beijing on 12 and 14 March last, just over ten days ago.

The Government fully supports the position adopted by the EU on this matter as expressed in this declaration. The Government continues to examine these issues with our EU partners in the context of our overall relationship with China, our ongoing commitment to human rights and the broader regional and international context. This position has also been conveyed to the Chinese ambassador in Dublin.

Ireland and our EU partners believe it is important that both China and Taiwan avoid actions which could serve to exacerbate existing tensions. We continue to emphasise the importance of dialogue between the two sides so that a peaceful solution may be found. We will continue to convey this position in all our contacts with the Chinese authorities.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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I am very grateful to the Minister of State for his response. I am also pleased that Ireland is aware of the concerns that have been expressed within Europe and internationally. If the Republic of Ireland were to introduce a law in this House along similar lines to that which was introduced in the Beijing People's Congress, which on the one hand called for a peaceful reunification of the North and South of this island but on the other had within it a threat of military action in the event of all else failing, I am sure the Minister of State will agree that the reaction, not only within this island but internationally, would be one of total opposition. It is in that context that the concern the Minister of State has expressed is correct. I am glad he has reiterated the One China policy. I reiterate that I too support that policy but that this wider issue should not in any way interfere with the stability of the area.

Rory Kiely (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator is only permitted to ask a question of the Minister of State.

Photo of Noel TreacyNoel Treacy (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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In response to Senator Mooney, I affirm that the Government is deeply concerned and interested in this situation. The matter is constantly on the EU agenda. Ireland and the EU are totally committed to the One China policy. We believe that constant dialogue, communication and negotiation will create the opportunity to ensure that this issue can be resolved in a peaceful and positive manner in the interests of both China and Taiwan and in the interests of global peace and economic opportunity for all, which is the only way forward.