By Anthony L Hall
And China will have it—either by agreement, the way it claimed Hong Kong, or by force, the way Russia claimed South Ossetia, Abkhazia … and Crimea.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, declaring that independence is not an option for Taiwan, urged both sides to reach an early consensus on unification and not leave the issue for future generations.
‘We are willing to create a vast space for peaceful unification, but we will never leave any room for any sort of Taiwan independence separatist activities,’ he said.
(The Associated Press, January 3, 2019)
One can hardly blame Xi for this New Year’s resolution. After all, there’s no better way to deflect his people’s attention from growing economic malaise than by feeding them this kind jingoistic red meat.
The U.S.-China trade war resulted in billions of dollars of losses for both sides in 2018, hitting industries including autos, technology—and above all, agriculture.
Broad pain from trade tariffs outlined by several economists shows that, while specialized industries including U.S. soybean crushing benefited from the dispute, it had an overall detrimental impact on both of the world’s two largest economies.
(Reuters, December 28, 2018)
For his part, President Trump is deflecting his people’s attention by feeding them jingoistic red meat about building a wall along the US-Mexico border. But Xi can be forgiven for thinking that the checkers-playing Trump won’t even notice his chess move (on Taiwan) in the midst of their trade war.
Meanwhile, Taiwan has even less power to resist a Chinese takeover than Ukraine had to resist Russia’s land grab. Not least because, where other presidents would challenge strongmen like Xi, Trump has made clear his antic disposition to hail them. This, even as they wield dictatorial powers at home and defy international norms abroad.
In fairness to Trump, though, this claim was inevitable. What’s more, it was bound to go unchallenged no matter who happened to be president of the United States.
Here in part is how I commented on this looming threat nearly 15 years ago in “China v. Taiwan (and the United States): Nuclear Friction in the Taiwan Strait,” July 19, 2005:
China regards Taiwan as a renegade province. And no country (including the United States) has ever denied China’s territorial claims over this self-governing island.
Yet successive Taiwanese governments have declared their preference for official independence from China. They have been emboldened in this pyrrhic quest by America’s Taiwan Relations Act 1979—under which the United States has been arming Taiwan to help
maintain the capacity of the United States [pursuant to its 1954 pledge] to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion [by China] that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.
But, significantly, the United States has stopped far short of supporting Taiwan’s drive for independence. In fact, it has endorsed China’s claim by cutting diplomatic ties with Taiwan in order to recognize only ‘one China and that Taiwan is part of China.’ Therefore, for all these years, peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait have been predicated on China’s commitment to
firmly abide by the principles of peaceful re-unification of one country two systems.
In recent years, however, China’s meteoric rise as a global economic power has allowed it to finance a military build-up that threatens to destabilize the uneasy détente in this trilateral relationship. And last March, in a foreboding gesture, its legislature passed an Anti-Secession law that grants China’s leaders legal cover to order its military to use any means necessary (including preemptive strikes) to prevent Taiwan from becoming an independent nation…
If China invades, American security guarantees would probably prove as helpful to Taiwan as British and French guarantees proved to Poland when Germany invaded 1939. Indeed, in that event, the United States would probably only issue a diplomatic reprimand and, perhaps, call for economic sanctions against China. What is certain, however, is that the United States will not engage China in a war over Taiwan; and China knows it!
Therefore, Taiwan seems fated to fall under China’s direct control. The only question is whether China will remain patient enough to accomplish its objective by political proxy (using Taiwan’s Opposition Party—the Kuomintang); or whether China will finally exercise its military might and take the island by force.
Add to that threat this ominous note, which I sounded in “China Tightening the Noose Around Taiwan’s ‘Independence,’ July 26, 2018:
In Donald Trump, we have a president who, for the first time, is sowing doubts about America’s (far more significant) NATO obligations to defend European countries, especially against Russian aggression.
Not to mention that Taiwan need only look at the capricious/unwitting way Trump undermined Israel and sold out the Kurds. After all, the bond between the United States and Israel was supposed to be beyond even cracking, and the Kurds are/were America’s most reliable partners in the fight against ISIS.
In one decision [to hastily withdraw all troops from Syria], the Trump administration abandoned two allies: Israel and the Kurds.
Transportation Minister Israel Katz told Israel Radio on Thursday morning that the decision represented a tough blow for the Kurds, but that fortunately, ‘we are not the Kurds’ [i.e., Israel can defend itself; whereas the Kurds face certain slaughter].
(The Times of Israel, December 20, 2018)
And to top it off, despite its best efforts to buy friends, Taiwan has seen country after country cut diplomatic ties to sell its allegiance to China. I have commented on their diplomatic buying game in such commentaries as “China Buying Political Dominion Over the Caribbean (Latin America and Africa),” February 22, 2005, and “Countries Queuing Up to Become as Indebted to China as US,” September 15, 2011.
The point is that China has as many reasons these days to be emboldened as Taiwan has to be afraid … very afraid.
Nonetheless, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen is putting on a brave face. In fact, she made quite a show of rejecting Xi’s claim, insisting that China will never lord over Taiwan the way it now lords over Hong Kong:
I want to reiterate that Taiwan will never accept ‘one country, two systems’.
(BBC, January 2, 2019)
But she might do well to deal with Xi the way Cleopatra dealt with Caesar, namely by putting aside pride and thinking of the best interest of her people. Lady Hillingdon’s famous lament compels this metaphor: when Xi checkmates, Tsai should
lie down on her bed, open her legs, and think of Taiwan.