How could China ever think of ruling Taiwan? It has its own problems to work out without setting into motion what would be a disastrous (for China) shift in regional relations. Yes, China is powerful, and yes, China is rich. However, it is in no way ready to leap into an era of empire-building by taking over Taiwan.
For a nation that prides itself on unity and holds unification as one of its holiest goals, China is far from united. Instead it is splintered into a myriad of virtual fiefdoms. Powerful local officials control the police apparatus and business relations in regions outside the major city centers, holding mafia or warlord-like power to decide who makes money and who does not. The military is an independent force that barely listens to the government, while members of the Chinese Communist Party inner circles use electronic surveillance to spy on each other.
There is a general lack of trust in China that pervades the entire society. People in the cities know they are being fed poisonous foods and that their water is being polluted, while many in the countryside see their land stolen without compensation by corrupt officials. The wealth divide is one of the sharpest in human history, with the haves trotting around with tablet computers, while the have-nots set themselves on fire to protest their dire lot in life.
Chinese leaders might think it prudent to turn their nation’s attention to the outside world by firing up xenophobic nationalism, but that is not a good idea. China is rich because the rest of the world buys its goods. It is the world’s shopping center, as can be seen on any train trip from Hong Kong to Guangzhou. If Beijing were to unwisely set off a regional conflagration fueled by jingoistic nationalism, which would make it impossible for foreigners to take shopping trips to China, a huge source of its income would dry up overnight.
Moreover, it appears that Chinese leaders have miscalculated the level of anger their people feel toward a government that shows them no sympathy. News that spreads over the Internet of simple misunderstandings between police and citizens is enough to spark violent confrontations involving hundreds of protesters, while land grabs are causing bloody backlashes nationwide.
Chinese leaders have sent numerous messages that they will not tolerate corruption, handing down death sentences to officials convicted of laundering money and those involved in the black market. However, while some minor officials get dealt with harshly, the biggest thieves go on stealing with impunity. Former Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai (薄熙來) was one of the biggest players to be pulled down, but whether corruption did him in or rather the perception of him as a threat to Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) ascension to the top rung of power, is hard to say at this point.
It has become a common view throughout China that officials are simply there to steal cash. Guangzhou is pushing to ban motorcycles by saying it would makes roads safer. However, ask anyone on the street why the city government is doing this, and they will likely say — with no small amount of resentment — that it is because car companies seeking to boost sales have greased the palms of officials.
China’s internal problems are getting serious enough to cause widespread social unrest if something is not done to address, or give people an outlet for, their anger. Trying to appropriate Taiwan would not solve China’s problems, it would just make them worse because a major source of its capital would disappear and the rest of the region would join forces against it. If China attempts a cross-strait land grab, it risks self-implosion.