In a survey carried out from April 21 to May 28 of this year in Taiwan, 75.3 percent people in Taiwan consider themselves “Taiwanese,” 20 percent selected both, and only 4.7 percent think of themselves as “Chinese.” The survey clearly indicates the rejuvenation of nationalism of Taiwan post thumping victory of President Tsai in January 20 elections and her swearing in for second term in office. Chinese government since Tsai’s re-election as the President, has left no stone unturned to coerce Taiwan to prevent Tsai crossing the red line of declaring independence. The fact that in post NPC statement, PRC omitted the world ‘Peaceful’ while talking about re-unification of Taiwan, gave rise to the media buzz, that Beijing seems to be looking at unification of Taiwan by force. The speculation was also backed by PLA’s military posturing in Taiwan Strait along with some exercises of amphibious operations.
Why Taiwan thinks itself like a Nation?
President Tsai Ing-wen in her inaugural address, after being sworn in on May 20, vowed to continue efforts to push for peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, adding that the nation would not accept Beijing’s “one country, two systems” framework. This has certainly set the alarm bells ringing in Beijing. Taiwan also outperformed most of the other societies worldwide in containing the corona virus. Taiwan has deservingly earned global goodwill, despite Beijing’s coercion, as China continues to earn global anger by continued aggression and over adventurism. Taiwan’s free grants of medical equipment worldwide dented the Beijing’s PR campaign of profiteering out of pandemic through its ‘Health Silk Road’. This track record not only spurred renewed calls for Taiwan to be allowed to join last month’s World Health Assembly (which did not happen due to Chinese opposition), but made a mark for future discussions, as a global consensus seems to be emerging for Taiwan’s access to the WHO and other multilateral agencies.
Taiwan has own reasons to demand a national status. Ever since Communist Party of China (CPC) took control over Peoples Republic of China (PRC) and Republic of China (ROC) Government fled to Taiwan in 1949, Taiwanese historians maintain that they represent entire China and lost mainland to PRC in a civil war, which has not yet been officially declared to be over. The Convention on Rights and Duties of States signed in Montevideo on 26 Dec, 1933, is the key document on statehood. According to Article 1 of this Convention a state has “a) a permanent population; b) a defined territory; c) government; and d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.” Taiwan clearly meets these requirements for statehood.
It’s a democratic society, having elected government, own constitution, own defence forces, own currency, strong economy with a population exceeding more than three-quarters of the world’s nations; and territory larger than two-fifths of the world’s nations. Taiwan is a member of WTO, Pacific Economic Cooperation Council, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum as Chinese Taipei, and has been participating in Olympics by the same name, so far. Being an economic and technological giant, Taiwan aspires for greater position and role in international environment. In Taiwan the DPP Government did not seem to be intimidated despite Chinese aircraft carrier moving in Taiwan Strait. In fact Taiwan daringly rejected China’s coercion to stand in support of Hong Kong protestors. It is even considering revoking special status of Hong Kong and Macau, if Beijing applies National Security Law, to hurt PRC’s economy. It promises continued support to political activists fighting for democracy of self-ruled Hong Kong by considering granting of asylum to them, if they wish to.
Beijing’s anger prompted some CPC supporters to think of using pandemic situation for reunification outside peaceful domain. In my opinion, attempting to take Taiwan by force does not make any strategic sense internationally as well as domestically. It has all the negatives and no positive except false bravado, with bright chances of loss of face globally and domestically. Chinese strategist Qiao Liang, a retired PLA Air Force Major General, has warned that the corona virus pandemic should not be seen as a chance for Beijing to take back Taiwan by force. Chinese redline of “Taiwan going nuclear/declaring independence” has not been crossed as yet, giving no justification to adopt such an option.
Taiwan with its national spirit, modern arsenal from US, determined armed forces and US backing is unlikely to give a walkover. Chinese amphibious capabilities to capture Taiwan are suspect, more so if US warships are around. China has enough missile arsenals to destroy Taiwan, but such a massive destruction of Han Chinese (95 percent of Taiwanese population is Han), who have relations, investments and inseparable linkages with their relatives in mainland and vice versa will not go well with domestic population of mainland. Over two 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 marred by trade war, failing BRI and COVID effect.
In terms of economics, bulk of Taiwan’s investments are already in China. Roughly 26 percent of Taiwan’s trade is with China, which is its largest trading partner. China has replaced US as No. 1 destination for Taiwanese export accounting for approximately 40% of total exports (Hong Kong included), with Taiwan having a trade surplus of approximately US $ 2.27 billion with China. A cross strait war is therefore not in Chinese economic interest.
Getting Taiwanese under its wings will also bring a fresh democratic wave in China, which CPC may not be ready to handle, with Hong Kong already on the boil. Taiwanese people do not want to sacrifice their democratic freedom and prosperity, which is the main reason for success of Tsai.
Why Taiwan is more of US-China Issue?
PRC may keep claiming Taiwan to be its domestic issue, but it has much greater external dimensions. Diplomatically US may claim to follow ‘One China Policy’ but it treats Taiwan no less than an ally. The Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act of 2019, effective from March 26, 2020 is an indication. The Taiwan Relation Act,1973, Taiwan Travel Act signed last year, sale of state of the art weaponry and joint exercises justify the statement. US will always like to trade and strategically partner with democratic Taiwan outside Beijing’s influence, and not Taiwan under CCP and is already looking for FTA with Taiwan.
Considering US involvement in COVID-19 effects, use of force by the PLA towards Taiwan, within its comfort zone, may not prompt Washington to declare war immediately, but it could join forces with its allies in the region to use their sea and air advantages to cut off Beijing’s maritime lifeline in and outside South China Sea. Chinese supply lines outside the “Nine Dash Line” are still vulnerable to choking, and it will draw out PLA to get into war outside its comfort zone. Taking Taiwan by force, therefore involves mobilisation of all its combat resources, expecting an escalation from limited war to an all-out war, as the operation amounts to crossing US redline of “No Change in Status Quo of Taiwan”. China has to cater for the repercussions of its strategic miscalculations. Economically Chinese heavy reliance on the US dollar is far from over, and such a war over Taiwan would be a massive economic blow for China, that would see capital flooding out, and companies moving of the country, much sooner than it thought.
An attempt to unite Taiwan by force will certainly up the ante with US, prove China as irresponsible bully, may lead to loss of life of Han Chinese both ways, lead to economic destruction of its one of the largest investors and jeopardise China’s goal of national rejuvenation. Internationally, China may have miscalculated US resolve and Taiwan’s resistance and all may not go their way. The pandemic is a temporary phase, but if Chinese ambitions grow beyond global tolerance, it could be seen to be following the path chosen by Hitler in Second World war in the “Ongoing Undeclared Third World War with change in instruments and dimensions”. It has bright chances to bring rest of the world against China.