The Taiwanese question

When US President Donald Trump approved a travel bill allowing American representatives to meet their counterparts on the self-ruled Taiwan calling itself “Republic of China,” he was very much conscious of their ‘One China Policy’ and the likely reaction of Chinese, which would have been well thought through. This is sequel to newly declared trade war by US, slapping very heavy trade tariff on China. The travel bill has been quickly followed by visit of Alex Wong, deputy assistant secretary of state in the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau, visiting Taipei in the next two days for discussions. It reconfirms the resolve of US in implementing the same, thus signalling no pull back from the cold war pertaining to this Island, which started by passing of the Taiwan Relations Act by US which was passed in 1979. Under this Act despite following One China Policy, US could equip Taiwan with modern weaponry for self defence and could come to its rescue if its survival was threatened.

Chinese frustration

President Xi Jinping during his address to 19th Congress of CPC had given a strong message to Taiwan to stop dreaming of separate nation or an entity independent of PRC and a much softer message to accommodate Hong Kong. It was obvious and well anticipated that Xi will be deeply frustrated by such an act, who is already unhappy with President Tsai meeting dignitaries as head of an state, from the time she came to power. His coercive words during 19th Congress did not seem to work for variety of reasons including US support to them.

This year NPC, which made him the strongest power centre after Mao Zedang, with no limit on his reelection, demanded rhetoric to prove that he is the strongest leader. In this context his next round of coercive speech during closing session targeting Taiwan, Hong Kong and US is obvious response. His nationalistic messages, including a promise to crush any efforts to “divide the nation,” or “every inch of the territory of our great country cannot be separated from China,” did amuse the domestic population, but has not stopped US official from being there.

Reunification of Taiwan by force?

The rhetoric in Chinese media and speeches of president Xi Jinping notwithstanding, in my opinion China may not find it worthwhile to take Taiwan by force due to the reasons as under.

Bulks of Taiwan’s investments are already in China. Roughly 25 per cent of Taiwan’s trade is now with China, which is its largest trading partner. China has replaced US as No 1 destination for Taiwanese export accounting for approx 40 per cent of total exports (Hong Kong included), with Taiwan having a trade surplus of approximately $30 billion with China. A cross Strait War is therefore not in the economic interest of both.

It will amount to crossing red line of US, which although follows One China Policy but treats Taiwan no less than an ally. China has to cater for the repercussions in its strategic calculations. The North Korean issue is not yet settled and starting another war-like controversy may not be in its national interest at this point of time. Moreover, Chinese redline of “Taiwan going nuclear/declaring independence” has not been crossed).

China has enough missile arsenals to destroy Taiwan, but such a destruction of Han Chinese, who have relations, investments and inseparable linkages with their relatives in mainland will not go well with domestic population of mainland. Over one million Taiwanese live in China, mostly in Coastal areas, and over 20 per  cent have married there. This will also destroy Chinese and Taiwanese economy, which does not suit Chinese leadership struggling to revive its economy with trade war on its door steps.

Chinese amphibious capabilities to capture Taiwan are suspect, more so if US aircraft carriers are around. US is unlikely to give a walkover leaving Taiwan to its fate, because a Taiwan aligned to US is in their strategic and economic interest.   

Although president Xi has become stronger in China, but he cannot bulldoze every other country on the globe and hope that China will grow and fulfill its dream. We need to recall history that when Hitler thought that he can rule the world, he pushed rest of the world together and brought Germany to a historic disaster.

Getting Taiwanese (who are used to democracy) under its wings will also bring a fresh democratic wave in China which CPC may not be used to handle, with Hong Kong also echoing similar voices. Bulk of Taiwanese people do not want to sacrifice their democratic freedom , and prosperity, and are not interested in fighting China. Status quo ante is the most popular choice of their people.

I feel China should not be thinking of taking Taiwan back by force. A ‘peaceful stability framework’ based on the principle of no Chinese military intrusion and no formal declaration of independence by Taiwan for next few decades may be a practical and popular solution between China and Taiwan.  

(The wirter is the chief instructor of all Courses for military officers in United Service Institute of India)