China has never been so eager to participate in international affairs as it is today, actively playing a role in regional peace and security. But the "Taiwan question" has always been a mirror for China -- a way to gauge itself. Whenever China sees itself in this mirror, its true colors are reflected.
The enactment of the "Anti-Secession" Law has stirred up concern in the international community because China has damaged its image. China's territory is vast, its population large, and its problems serious. Why does it care so much about Taiwan and insist on claiming sovereignty over it?
General Wen Zongren (溫宗仁), a former political commissar of the Nanjing Military Region, publicly admitted in an interview that only when the "Taiwan question" is resolved can China break through the blockade imposed by the international community on its coastal security. Wen also said that only by controlling Taiwan can China develop its naval prowess and truly rise up.
His remarks pointed to the essence of the cross-strait issue. Prior to the 1970s, the cross-strait issue was a remnant of the civil war between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). From the 1980s on, it gradually became an issue of nationalism and patriotic sentiment. But after the end of the Cold War, it slowly emerged as an issue of strategic interest.
China has a formidable land-based military force, but in order to become a regional superpower, it must also possess sea power. As China becomes more dependent on oil imports, naval strength is required to maintain its energy and maritime security. But China's navy cannot move beyond the boundaries of the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea, and is locked in by a chain of islands which keeps it from exerting influence in the Pacific. Therefore, control over Taiwan is of strategic military importance to China, in its goal of projecting power in the region.
If Beijing does gain control over Taiwan, its submarines will be given a berth in Ilan County in eastern Taiwan, making the Taiwan Strait domestic Chinese waters and instantly making it a dominant Pacific nation, placing the South China Sea within range of China's military.
Gaining control over Taiwan, doesn't necessarily entail the use of military force. This can be achieved by adopting the Hong Kong model and creating a China-friendly government in Taiwan. Any reduction in Taiwan's national and psychological defenses will play into the hands of China.
However, a change to Taiwan's status will unavoidably affect the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region, which is not what the international community wants.
The development of cross-strait relations is closely connected to changes in the international environment. Changes to any international strategy might affect Taiwan's interests, as it is an essential piece in the strategy game.
Antonio Chiang is a former deputy secretary-general to the National Security Council.
Translated by Lin Ya-ti