An Aggressive Irredentist: China Expanding Its Geography
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 06 Jan , 2019

Two decades into the twenty first century, and  here we have the head of a huge state issuing threats to a tiny nation off its eastern coast that it would not hesitate to use armed force to swallow and digest it wholly!! It brings to fore eerie scenes of some National Geographic Animal Planet video film in the Amazon rain-forests of a giant Anaconda swallowing an adult Capybara!! China, a giant Anaconda swallowing Taiwan, an adolescent Capybara?!

Taiwan was under Japanese rule between 1895 and 1945 in which the island of Taiwan (including the Penghu Islands) was a dependency of the Empire of Japan, after Qing Dynasty in China lost the First Sino-Japanese War to Japan and ceded Taiwan Province in the Treaty of Shimonoseki. In 1945, when the Japanese were defeated in the War, Taiwan was placed under the administrative control of the Kuomintang’s Republic of China (ROC) by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) after 50 years of colonial rule by Japan. However, Japan did not renounce its sovereignty over Taiwan until April 28, 1952, with the coming into force of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which further complicated the political status of Taiwan.

After the ousting the Japanese from the mainland, which was the common mission of the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), a civil war broke out between these two Chinese factions. By 1949, the Communists succeeded in defeating the forces of the Kuomintang (KMT) which had been faced with heavy desertions of its troops who joined the Communists forces. The KMT with its remaining loyalists fled to Taiwan. On October 1st 1949, the CCP proclaimed the creation of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC). The Communists had planned to pursue the KMT across the Taiwan Straits.  The Taiwan Strait, ranges from 220 km (140 miles) at its widest point to 130 km (81 miles) at its narrowest. Part of the continental shelf, the Strait is no more than 100 meters (330 feet) deep. However, the Communists forces did not have the necessary wherewithal to launch such a massive “amphibious operation” across the Straits of Taiwan to capture the Island territory. Had they attempted such a venture, it would have been disastrous, half the force would perished in the passage across the Strait and the other half on the shores of Taiwan. Divine intervention saved the day. The assembled troops succumbed to bouts of severe dysentery and the operation had to be abandoned.  Taiwan was saved. So was the PLA!!

As the Kuomintang was establishing a “provisional” base in Taiwan, the Party began to plan and threaten counterattacks on the mainland, hoping to retake the Chinese mainland. United States was disillusioned with KMT and its corrupt and incompetent leadership and was preparing to grant diplomatic recognisation to mainland China. But just then Communist China intervened in the fighting in Korea and US recognisation was withheld. Thus, changing the fate of Taiwan.

Taiwan had adopted democracy since 1935. When the ROC relocated to Taiwan in 1949, the Chinese Youth Party, China Democratic Socialist Party, and KMT were the only legal political parties in Taiwan. The other established parties operated under the Tangwai movement. Until the early 1970s, the ROC was recognized as the sole legitimate government of China by the United Nations and most Western nations, refusing to recognize the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on account of the Cold War. The KMT ruled Taiwan under martial law until the late 1980s, with the stated goal of being vigilant against Communist infiltration and preparing to retake mainland China. Therefore, political dissent was not tolerated.

China has relentlessly coerced Taiwan diplomatically and with muscle power whenever it felt that the Taiwanese leadership has made pronouncements that hint at pursuit of an agenda for independence. It has resorted to blockade by sustained firing of surface-to-surface conventional missiles and recently by naval live firing exercises in the Taiwan Straits as well as military bombers flying around the Island.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), has refused to recognise the “1992 Consensus” which President Xi insists on. The term “1992 Consensus” is controversial. The KMT has insisted on the existence of a “consensus” between Taiwan and China during a meeting in Hong Kong in November 1992 that both sides should adhere to the “one China” principle. However, the DPP government has insisted that no such consensus existed. Stating that “no consensus” was reached on the definition of “one China” during the 1992 meeting, President Chen Shui-bian had said that the “1992 meeting” would be a more appropriate term to describe the conference in Hong Kong.

Therefore, in actuality no such Government –to-Government “Consensus” exists. However, that has not impacted the PRC interpretation of “One China”.  Interestingly, this consensus which acknowledges ‘One China’ policy is interpreted by both countries as it suits their own agenda.

Over the last couple of decades China has used its growing military and economic power to coerce nations to break any diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Shamefully, today most nations have kowtowed to the ‘imperial’ didactic dictates of Emperor Xi Jinping of the CCP Dynasty in this regard. Taiwan stands alone ploughing a lonely furrow.

Philosophically analysing the reality of accession of the territory of Taiwan would mean not merely an acquisition of additional land surface area of the planet by China but also it is an acquisition of the lives, properties, homes and subjugation of the aspirations of the people inhabiting this geographic area. Can these people be usurped into another system without their free will? In an era where there is much ado about “human rights” to accept such an inglorious occurrence is sheer hypocrisy and shameful duplicity by the developed nations. It will result in prolonged internal uprising as has already been the precedent in China and also worldwide.

In 1950 China was checkmated in its occupation of Outer Mongolia by the presence of Russian forces. Now it cannot amalgamate this territory as Mongolia is a sovereign nation. However China marched into Outer Tibet in 1950, because Britain was economically too weak and militarily too crippled to take any stern measures while US was too involved in managing the global “Cold War” to spare any time or effort to protect Tibet from the Chinese invasion. World history would have been different had China been kept out of Outer Tibet. It is now sixty-nine years but China has not yet been able to amalgamate the people of Tibet into its mainstream system and continues to call them “splittists”. It is the same with regard to Xinjiang. Putting people into ‘concentration camps’ under the guise of re-education is another bitter example of the failure of China’s aggressive irredentist geographic integration passed off as consolidation of ‘strategic frontiers’. 

China’s frequent diplomatic and aggressive media interventions and military incursions, with regard to Arunachal Pradesh, are aimed to keep an option alive to later assertively claim the geographic inclusion of this Indian state into its own territory. Its claim that this area was historically South Tibet is farcical and ludicrous. If Tibet is restive how does it expect this area to be eagerly waiting to be amalgamated into China? China needs to accept the reality of its history. The heartland was and is what China is limited to. Earlier the periphery paid tribute, but today the ‘periphery’ is being held and subdued by brute military force.

Surely the Chinese will draw an analogy to India’s territory of J&K. Here the difference is that India’s sovereign territory of J&K was invaded by Pakistan in 1947. At the end of the conflict Pakistan managed to retain a portion of it but has been unable to amalgamate its people into Pakistan. For 45 years J&K was at peace. The region was ignited by a proxy war instigated and fought by Pakistan under the guise of Islamic Jihad. The ethnic cleansing of the minority communities from the Kashmir Valley by the Islamists highlights the nature of the violence. India inherited J&K but had lost part of it. Hopefully, it will be taken back in due course of time to restore full sovereignty of independent India.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen (Dr) JS Bajwa

is Editor Indian Defence Review and former Chief of Staff, Eastern Command and Director General Infantry.  He has authored two books Modernisation of the People's Liberation Army and  Modernisation of the Chinese PLA

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3 thoughts on “An Aggressive Irredentist: China Expanding Its Geography

  1. An articulate and very informative article on the historic confrontation between Taiwan and Mainland China. Request yo enlighten with Taiwan 2ould be able to maintain its territorial integrity and what type of support it is likely to get from USA and the rest of democratic world like Japan, EU, India and vibrant democracies in the neighbourhood region.

    • Davinder, Taiwan on its own cannot hold back China if it undertakes to ‘annex’ it by use of force. USA is the only one who overtly stand by to support it in case such dire measures are initiated. There will be a change in the stance of many western countries, Japan and Australia to support USA. ASEAN countries and India will weigh the pros and cons and if they see China cornered they will support the US.
      It will be a big strategic setback for China to initiate an operation to take Taiwan by force and not succeed. So for it is not likely to rush into such a venture for the foreseeable future.

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