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31 July 2004

• U.S. Holds Firm on Taiwan Arms Deal Despite Growing Pressure from Beijing
• China Offers Families Cash Incentives to Produce More Girls
• Chinese Authorities Free SARS Whistleblower

U.S. Holds Firm on Taiwan Arms Deal Despite Growing Pressure from Beijing

The Taiwan issue has become the focal point of U.S.-China relations in recent weeks, with that subject dominating nearly every high-level meeting and discussion between the United States and China. On 2 August Chinese President Hu Jintao met with Senate leader Ted Stevens to try and convince him that arms sales to Taiwan will only further destabilize cross-Strait relations. Hu stated that "China hopes the U.S. side will keep its promises on the issue, translate its commitments into concrete actions, and send no wrong signals to the Taiwan independence forces." Stevens defended the U.S. plans stating that, the United States "believes we are still following the 1979 policy set down by China itself to recognize (the) One China (policy) but at the same time opposing any attempt by either side to change the relationship between Taiwan and the mainland by force."

Stevens' visit came just days after Chinese President Hu Jintao told George W. Bush by telephone that the United States should not sell sophisticated weapons to Taiwan. Hu stated that China will exert "utmost efforts to resolve the Taiwan issue peacefully... [but] that the current cross-strait situation was very sensitive and complicated and China would never tolerate independence for the island". Both President Hu and Central Military Commission Chairman Jiang Zemin repeated a similar message to Condoleeza Rice during her visit to Beijing in mid- July. At the same time, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing repeated the same message to the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific.

This repeated Chinese emphasis on Taiwan in U.S.-China relations reflects growing dissatisfaction in Beijing over what it perceives as Washington's support for Taiwan to "creep toward formal independence". Shortly after the election, the Pentagon issued a report warning that China's military was modernizing rapidly, with the express aim of conquering Taiwan. The U.S. government acted on the report's recommendations in June and invited a mission of Taiwanese politicians to discuss an $18.2 billion arms package that includes anti-missile systems, submarines and anti-submarine aircraft. Also in June, the House of Representatives voted to support Taiwan's bid to join the World Health Organization. Worse still in China's view, the United States allowed Vice President Annette Lu, reviled on the mainland for her pro-independence views, to make transit stops in the United States en route to and from Central America.

These repeated pleas suggest that China is urgently seeking the United States' assistance to manage the Taiwan issue. Beijing's own admonitions towards the island are no longer effective in deterring Taiwan’s government from working to upset the status quo, and it appears that the mainland is beginning to seriously contemplate the use of force to resolve this crisis. On 1 August Defense Minister Cao Guangchuan stated: "If the 'Taiwan independence' separatist forces obstinately persist in their course, the Chinese People's Liberation Army has the determination and ability to resolutely smash any 'Taiwan independence' separatist plot".

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China Offers Families Cash Incentives to Produce More Girls

China is offering to pay couples a premium for producing baby girls to counter an alarming gender imbalance created by the country's one-child population control policy. Last year, 118 boys were born for every 100 girls in China, compared with a global average of 105 to 100. Faced by a socially destabilizing shortage of more than 30 million women by 2020, senior family planning officials stated that they would offer welfare incentives to couples with two daughters and tighten the prohibition on sex-selective abortions. "China has set the goal of lowering the sex ratio to a normal level by 2010", said Zhao Baige, vice-minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission.

To reverse the trend, pilot programs are already underway in China's poorest provinces. In some areas, couples with two daughters and no sons have been promised an annual payment of $75.00 once they reach 60 years of age. The money, a significant sum in areas where the average income is around on dollar a day, will also be given to families with only one child to discourage couples with a daughter from trying again for a boy. Some regions have gone further. In parts of Fujian province, local governments have given housing grants of more than $2,000 to couples with two girls.

The state will expand welfare programs so poor couples rely less on producing a son to care for them in their old age. It will also push a "caring for girls" propaganda campaign to counter the preference for boys. But it is far from certain that the measures will be any more successful than previous attempts to reverse the preference for boys. Many families, particularly in rural areas, place greater value on sons, who are considered best suited to continue the family line, generate income and ensure that parents are cared for during their old age. As a result, a disproportionate number of female fetuses are aborted and girls are at greater risk than boys of being abandoned or sold.

While other Asian nations, notably India and South Korea, have experienced similar problems, China's demographic distortions have clearly worsened since the introduction of the one-child policy. In rural areas such as Hainan island, there are reports of classrooms filled mostly with boys and orphanages filled mainly with girls. In the future, population planners fear the lack of brides will create social tensions as men migrate and compete more fiercely for mates. Wife-selling, baby-trafficking and prostitution are all expected to increase as the first generation born under the one-child policy hits the normal marriage age. Despite such problems, the government insists the one-child policy is necessary. Since 1980, family planning officials say the restrictions have prevented 300 million births that would have otherwise have overwhelmed an overcrowded nation of 1.3 billion people.

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Chinese Authorities Free SARS Whistleblower

On 20 July Chinese authorities released Jiang Yanyong, the dissident physician who became a national hero for exposing the government's cover-up of the SARS epidemic, sending him home after 49 days of detention and pressure to disavow a letter in which he denounced the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. A person close to the family said Jiang succeeded in resisting the demands of his jailors and refused to back down during seven weeks of intense indoctrination sessions. The closest he came to expressing regret was a statement in which he conceded that others might have used his letter for their own purposes, but Jiang also wrote that he should not be held responsible for their actions.

In late February, Jiang sent a letter to the leadership urging them to admit the party's 1989 military assault on student-led, pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square was wrong. The letter, in which he recalled treating scores of wounded civilians, was leaked to foreign media during the annual meeting of China's legislature. China's military chief and former president, Jiang Zemin, rose to power in the political purge that followed the Tiananmen crackdown, and many believe Jiang gave the order to detain the doctor.

The doctor's release, which came amid rising international and domestic criticism, represented a remarkable retreat by the most senior leaders of China's ruling Communist Party. According to media reports, Jiang was never charged with a crime, and the government had said only that the military was "helping and educating him" because he had violated military discipline. But Jiang never disavowed his Tiananmen letter in the statement. Instead, he acknowledged that his jailors had helped him realize that the Chinese Communist Party in 1989 was "like a patient with complicated colorectal cancer" who faced imminent death without emergency surgery.

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