Chinese Taiwan 'grab' threatens global security
by Francesco Guarascio
No date has been set, but Taiwan's return to Chinese rule is becoming somewhat of a safe bet – with huge implications for global security, reports Francesco Guarascio from Taipei
MaoTse-tung used to say that China could "do without" Taiwan for 100 years, but eventually the leaf-shaped island off the coast of South China would return to the motherland; even if this required the use of force. The recent strategy of Beijing toward the rebellious republic has not wavered, although the issue is now handled with improved subtlety. The threat of military intervention has never receded, but the favoured policy is now to retake the island by stealth rather than force.
China's strength in this endeavour is its impressive growth. When the economic differences between the mainland and Taiwan are gone, the argument to maintain the separate rule will lose ground. This is the same strategy that Beijing applied to Hong Kong, which was returned to China in 1997 by the United Kingdom but is set to enjoy a special status for the first 50 years after the handover. China's main ally in this potentially dangerous embrace is Taiwan's president Ma Ying-jeou, a man strengthened by his re-election for a second four-year mandate. During his first term, he pursued a policy of engagement with China. This produces considerable economic benefits, but risks driving Taiwan into a political cul-de-sac where the only option is to eventually rejoin China.
Ma's moves have created a dramatic increase in trade. China is now easily the island's largest trading partner, accounting for around 40 per cent of total exports. More than two thirds of this massive flow of goods "is made of parts and components," explains Kao Shien-quey, chief secretary of Taiwan's Council for Economic Planning and Development - a government advisory body. Taiwanese companies mainly export components to China that are then assembled in Guangdong or Fujan - often by Taiwanese companies that have moved their production to the areas.
This growing cross-strait traffic is not only about goods though. The movement of people has rocketed in recent years. "Chinese visitors to Taiwan have increased from around 80.000 before Ma to 1.3 million in 2011," says Joseph Hua, director general at the Mainland Affairs Council - another advisory body to the Taiwanese Government. A short trip to Taipei's 101 building - one of the tallest skyscrapers in the world - provides visual confirmation as masses of Chinese tourists queue at the tower's gates to visit it. Not everything is so rosy though, as many Taiwanese are concerned about the growing numbers of mainland Chinese who arrive as visitors and then stay on the island despite a strict policy to limit property purchases.
China's preference for Ma and his Kuomintang party is explicit. The KMT of the 'generalissimo' Chiang Kai-shek has always been the other face of the same Stalinist coin to which the Communist Party belongs. "They hated each other but it was the hatred of rival brothers," says Jonathan Manthorpe, the author of Forbidden Nation - a comprehensive history of Taiwan. "In the first decades in power following the retreat of Chiang Kai-shek to Taiwan in 1949, the KMT has always been dedicated to the island's reunification with China; as were the Communists in Beijing," adds Manthorpe. "The only question was the terms, not the intent."
In 2000, when the Democratic Progressive Party won its first presidential elections in Taiwan with the pro-independence candidate Chen Shui-bian, the reunification policy was damaged. When Chen was reconfirmed in 2004, after a failed attempt on his life during the election campaign, the damage seemed to be permanent. Beijing exercised as much pressure as it could to restore the KMT to power, including the alleged purchase of plane tickets to facilitate a pro-KMT vote by 100,000 Taiwanese workers posted in China.
The first victory of Ma in 2008 was therefore a success for Beijing and his re-election opens the way for a new phase of even closer relations. A few weeks ago, a top KMT official introduced the new motto of 'one country – two areas' to describe Taiwan's relations with mainland China. The formula clearly resembles the "one country – two systems' adopted for Hong Kong - which is meant to lead the former British territory towards full Chinese rule by mid-century. Ma has reiterated his support for this formula in his inauguration speech last week.
The ceremony even played host to a new flag. The small blue rectangle which is at the top corner of Taiwan's current red flag was enlarged in the new flag as to create two strips of equal size with the Taiwanese star in the middle. It is not an exaggeration to interpret it as a visual representation of the 'one country – two areas' formula. As a European diplomat in Taipei admits: "The return of Taiwan to China is only a matter of time."
There is much more at stake than the future of the only democratic state ever run by Chinese. Also on the table is the security of the entire planet, at a time when the role of the United States as a hegemonic super power is challenged by China's growing ambition. Should China manage to bring Taiwan back under its control, Washington's security hold in the Asia-Pacific region will be at risk. The loss of 'the unsinkable aircraft carrier' will surely have very serious consequences.
Europe's security has already been affected by these geopolitical moves as Washington has begun to reposition its military might from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The economic ties between the US and China are much too strong for there to be talk of an emerging cold war between them, but the possible end of the six-decade status quo in Taiwan may be the shift that changes the delicate balance of power. Then, perhaps, the world will return to talk of the too often forgotten Taiwan dispute.
You're basically saying that China is a threat to the world. That after retaking Taiwan, China will embark on a quest for global domination and in the process start World War Three. What you suggest sounds awfully stupid to me. Just saying.
Jonathan - Canada