In the recent Foreign Affairs, Snap, 2-15-2019 (online), there is an essay entitled, Will China Seize Taiwan? Wishful Thinking in Beijing, Taipei, and Washington Could Spell War in 2019, authored by Prof. Peter Gries and a PhD student, Tao Wang. The paper appears to be a research work on the Taiwan Strait Issue consisting of some close monitoring of the events happened in recent years concerning Taiwan Strait and some reasonable interpretation of media reports including other scholars’ assessment on the central issue - how China will unite with Taiwan? The authors took an observer’s position to examine the issue from the perspectives of Mainland China, Taiwan and the U.S. The Taiwan Strait issue was historically regarded as a domestic dispute by two sides, People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the Mainland and Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan. Each side claimed itself as the legitimate representation of the entire China, but the U.S. was intimately involved in this dispute by the fact that she first recognized and supported ROC (1911-1979) and later recognized PRC (1979- present) but wished to maintain a formal diplomatic relation with PRC and an informal relationship with Taiwan.
The main conclusion of Gries and Wang’s paper is to warn the three sides that there is a danger of war if every side maintains its own wishful thinking: Firstly, China is determined to reunite with Taiwan. She feels a growing confidence in her economic and military strength to do so and use force if necessary. China is witnessing the rapidly deteriorating Cross Strait Relation due to Taiwan’s current Administration’s (DPP) anti-China Policy making peaceful reunification elusive. An interpreted belief was cited that the U.S. would sit out if a military confrontation occurred. Secondly, Taiwan’s current Administration is leaning towards pro-independence. The DPP Leader feels that Mainland China, with too many domestic problems and pressure from the U.S., is too sensible to take a military action to reunite Taiwan. A complacency attitude in Taiwan is resulting in a weakened military force by giving up compulsory military service and relying more on the U.S. military weapon sales. Thirdly, the U.S. is considering America first, not likely to send troops or want to send troops on behalf of Taiwan in the event of a military conflict at the Taiwan Strait. President Trump seems to think he can rock the boat such as toying with revisiting the One China Policy or using Taiwan as a bargaining chip against Mainland China without consequences.
Gries and Wang concluded, the above wishful thinking by the three sides might lead to a dangerous situation. China might think that the Trump era would offer a “window of opportunity” for reunification. China can easily take Taiwan by force even possibly having no bloodshed, but the authors feel it may provoke the U.S. with an unpredictable reaction from Trump Administration. Here I would like to command Gries and Wang for their discussion and warning of a possible military conflict at the Taiwan Strait. However, I would also like to add a deeper analysis than their observations on the Taiwan Strait issue so that the three sides could understand, deal and resolve the root and obstacles of the reunification issue.
It is well known to the scholars who study the U.S. - China relation, including the Taiwan Strait issue, that the U.S. has adopted a “Status Quo” Strategy for Taiwan Issue, meaning to maintain the separation of Taiwan from the Mainland China in a status quo. Under this strategy, the U.S. honors the one China policy, but insists that the Mainland China cannot take Taiwan by force so long as Taiwan does not declare independence. (Gries and Wang termed this as “Dual Deterrence” in their paper) The “status quo” was maintained in the 80’s and 90’s when Taiwan was having a decent GDP while Mainland China was busy improving her economy. However, this strategy no longer works as China has improved her economy to be the number two in the world making Taiwan heavily depended on Mainland China in trade. This trend started during the Chen Shui Bian Administration (Democratic Progressive Party, DPP 2001-2008) and accelerated during the Ma Yin Jeou Administration (Kuo Min Tang, KMT 2009-2016) while China rised rapidly bypassing Japan becoming the number two economy in the world. Then DPP regained power and leaned towards pro-independence pushing an anti-China movement.
The anti-China movement has its root in Japanese descendants left in Taiwan post WW II. This small population grew and gained power through the party of DPP and had a tie with Japan and her right wing parties (LDP+). The growth of DPP owed to the support of Japan and the tolerance of the U.S. under the “Status Quo” Policy. The current DPP Administration, Tsai Yin Wen, (2016-) just lost heavily in the mid-term (2018) election. Apparently, DPP’s anti-China Policy backfired. Mainland China has always been taking a paternal view about Taiwan looking forward to its reunification like expecting a runaway child to return home. Taiwan benefitted from Mainland China’s favorable policies offered to the Taiwanese, but Taiwan government behaved like a spoiled teenager taking those benefits for granted. The recent vivid anti-China movement gave Mainland a wakeup call.
Although the rapid rise of China from a poor country ranked in the bottom of the world to her number two position surprised many, but the process was a humble one. As a very poor and weak nation, China experimented with communism and learned through many mistakes, diplomatically swallowing quite a few abuses. As a large country she was modest on the world stage, gradually beginning to appreciate the value of capitalism and market strength. Then China decided to embrace the West, accepting capitalism and trading her market for industrialization. She was cautious and industrious with rigorous economic development planning. In four decades, China had transformed herself and succeeded in her economic development but yet maintaining a governance model and development process of her own. Now China is a major contributor to the world economy with the ability to assist other developing nations.
Barring the evolvement of the anti-China sentiment in Taiwan through textbook revision and education reform, the reunification would be peaceful and smooth since the PRC constitution provides a liberal multiple governance system to coexist in China. (Hong Kong is an example even with her own currency) Clearly, it is the current DPP Administration that has created an urgency (‘window for action’) for Mainland China to set a timetable to reunite with Taiwan. The “window of opportunity” for reunification perceived by Dries and Wang was attributed it to the fact that Trump Administration might have given China the impression that his Administration will sit out if China would use force to unite Taiwan. Hence, they imply that window is open before the US 2020 election. I disagree with this assessment; rather I believe that the ‘window’ is really mandated by the behavior of the DPP Administration. Since the majority population in Taiwan has spoken through their 2018 election, accepting the One China Doctrine and willing to increase interaction with Mainland China, it would be logical for the U.S. to sit out the Cross Strait Reunification Process unless the U.S. deliberately wanted to initiate a war.
The “Status Quo” Strategy does not make sense anymore. There is indication that Japan has revised her China policy realizing her interests is really in Mainland China not a wishful thinking of reoccupying Taiwan. Japan is embracing China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR OR BRI) initiative for mutual benefits. Japan must have realized that muddling with the minority pro-independence group in Taiwan does not help her relationship with China. The same logic applies to the U.S. China policy. Targeting China as an enemy has little justification, whereas collaborating with China brings mutual benefits to both nations. Especially, when the majority of people in Taiwan has spoken, any interference from the U.S is meddling and cannot be twisted as Human Rights action.
So while we should warn the three sides of the danger of war in the Taiwan Strait like Gries and Wang did, more importantly, we should make a deeper analysis and understanding of the issue to advise the parties to revise their policies to support a peaceful reunification of Mainland China and Taiwan, which not only fulfills the Chinese mandate for reunification but also insures a peaceful Asia and a prosperous world.
Ifay Chang. Ph.D., Inventor, Author, TV Game Show Host and Columnist (www.us-chinaforum.org) as well as serving as Trustee, Somers Central School District.