The ASL comprises 10 articles.
Articles 1-5 restate Beijing’s fundamental principles on Taiwan, so there is little new there.
Article 6 deals with cross-Strait exchanges and article 7 with cross-Strait negotiations. Both are moderate in nature.
Articles 8 and 9 constitute the “hard” portion of ASL, but they are short and are far outweighed
by the “softer” elements in the document.
Article 8 stipulates how the decision to execute “nonpeaceful means” should be made. A decision to do so must be reached by both the State Council, an all civilian body, and the Central Military
Commission, in that order. Moreover, the decision shall be promptly reported to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. Article 8 strikes a remarkable departure from the past. When China took military actions beyond its peripheries, it used to require a decision made by the Central Military Commission alone, which meant simply that the directives were given by the topmost strongman such as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Now, under the ASL, additional hurdles need to be passed before “nonpeaceful means” could be waged on Taiwan.
Article 9 provides the caveats of Article 8 by setting limits to the damage incurred by the use of nonpeaceful means (eg. Taiwanese civilians and foreign nationals are not to be harmed).
In this sense,
Article 9 is essentially a “mission impossible.” With the weapons platform used in warfare, successfully striking “Taiwan independence secessionist forces” while avoiding “Taiwan civilians and foreign nationals” is not possible. However, the concept of “nonpeaceful means” used here is much broader than traditional war fighting. On an imaginary scale of 0-100, with traditional war being 100 and absolute peace being zero, “nonpeaceful means” could extend from 10 to 100, giving China’s future civilian leaders plenty of elbow room to comply with the ASL, while still avoiding a bloody military conflict across the Taiwan Strait. In light of the soft-offensives launched at Taiwan after the passage of the Law, it would appear that: (1) the ASL was meant to be, instead of a legal preparation for war against Taiwan, a legal preparation for Beijing’s efforts to win over the hearts and
minds of Taiwanese; and (2) rather than intimidate the Taiwanese, the ASL was meant more to
unshackle the hands of Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs officials to promote cross-Strait engagement
from internal hawkish opposition – although Taiwan was further antagonized and alienated
as a result.
Article 10 simply declares the ASL come into effect when promulgated.
Lin, C.-P. (2008). More Carrot Than Stick: Beijing's Emerging Taiwan Policy. China Security, 4 (1), 29-39.