Sun, Mar 01, 2009 - Page 8 News List

The bottom line that Taiwan faces

By Dennis V. Hickey

Despite recent improvements in cross-strait relations, tensions between Beijing and Taipei have jeopardized world peace and stability on numerous occasions. Many people do not understand the nature of this quarrel.

As Republican Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee observed, it is difficult for Americans to understand “why a little, small place like Taiwan would be so important to the People’s Republic of China.” Numerous explanations for this have been offered over time.

Some argue that the restoration of China’s territorial integrity is the driving force behind Beijing’s claims to Taiwan. According to the Chinese government, “Taiwan has belonged to China since ancient times.”

The loss of Taiwan to Japan during the first Sino-Japanese War in 1895 is described officially as a “wanton betrayal and humiliation [that] shocked the whole nation and touched off a storm of protest.” In 1943, the Cairo Declaration returned Taiwan “to the Republic of China [ROC].”

Following the ROC’s retreat to Taiwan in 1949, the new government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) proclaimed that it must be considered the “replacement of the old regime” and that the ROC no longer existed. Beijing emphasized it now exercised sovereignty over Taiwan.

Unification proposals have changed significantly since then. But Beijing’s bottom line remains that Taiwan is Chinese territory and it is determined to prevent the island from ever achieving de jure independence.

Others contend that Taiwan’s strategic importance is the genuine reason behind Beijing’s claims to the island. In 2007, then vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) declared that Beijing “clearly recognizes Taiwan’s strategic importance, as access to Taiwan is necessary for China to fully develop into a Pacific power.”

Recent US government studies concur that the PRC’s acquisition of Taiwan could “have very practical applications, such as providing access to shipping lanes or oil and gas resources.”

Moreover, PRC military officials contend that possession of Taiwan would hinder efforts by unfriendly forces to use the island as a “gateway” to bully China. And some argue that Beijing will never allow Taiwan to formally secede from China because this would encourage other restive areas — including Tibet and Xinjiang — to follow in its footsteps.

Still others point to Taiwan’s economic prowess as a critical factor. The island’s incorporation into the PRC would bolster the country’s economic muscle significantly.

China would inherit Taiwan’s advanced technology, educated workforce and economic power if it managed to secure the island largely intact and would replace Germany overnight as the world’s largest exporting nation.

There are other explanations that might help one understand Beijing’s longstanding claims to Taiwan — an island that has never been administered by the PRC since its founding 60 years ago.

Some suspect that the People’s Liberation Army has a vested interest in keeping the “Taiwan issue” alive as it justifies annual double-digit increases in defense outlays and ensures that the military retains a voice in policymaking. Others contend that domestic political considerations are the driving force in the campaign for eventual unification.

Nationalism and economic prosperity have replaced the communist ideology as the Chinese mainland regime’s primary source of legitimacy. Preventing Taiwan’s independence is critical to the legitimacy of the government.

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