Sat, Oct 21, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan, China: the European view

By Alexander Goerlach

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) speech at the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th National Congress has been watched and listened to closely in Western capitals.

Will the old and new Chinese leader tighten his grip on civil rights in the People’s Republic of China? Will he further infringe on Hong Kong? Will he threaten Taiwan?

Liberal democracies in the West might think parts of Xi’s speech in this regard were modest, but they were not.

The term “one China” leaves many Westerners clueless. This is why Xi’s remarks on Taiwan — in which he made it staunchly clear that any sort of movement on Taiwan that might be perceived as separatist would be met with drastic consequences — did not sound much of an alarm in Berlin, London or Paris.

Surely, Western powers are aware of the complicated situation and pending threat between China and Taiwan, but their electorates are not.

Declining support for the values of Western liberal democracy across the world in recent years, which not only led to the Brexit vote but also to a rise in mostly far-right xenophobic movements, does not serve as a breeding ground for compassion and action for a far-away nation such as restricted Taiwan.

Prior to Double Ten National Day on Tuesday last week, an article was widely shared and discussed on social media.

The text claimed that the Chinese military would finally meet the necessities required to invade Taiwan by the year 2020.

However, others would argue that China’s military would neither dare nor have the capacity to conduct a long-term invasion and occupation of Taiwan. Alas, that does not mean that Taiwan will not see some serious infringement on its liberal democracy.

For Beijing, Taiwan is a threat because the leader of the Chinese Communist Party sells the idea to his followers and the West alike that being Chinese and a liberal democrat is not compatible. The great, and exclusive, tradition of Confucianism can only live on in the form of a one-party state. Emerging therein to the very top is only possible by applying the highest ethical standards.

Xi’s fight against corruption and moral misconduct needs to be seen as him catering to the narrative that he has deployed in his first term as president.

In the West, where liberal democracy is often deliberately limited by the rights of the individual or specific groups such as minorities, leaders do not cease to praise the Chinese president — and leaders before him — as visionary, innovative and thoughtful. What they mean is that, due to autocratic one-party rule, Beijing is capable of following through with policy ideas — such as tackling climate change — that would take years in a democratic framework.

However, the existence of Taiwan reminds Xi and the West of the existence of a democracy in a Confucian context.

In fact, Taiwan is not the only liberal democracy in the region. It has potentially powerful allies in South Korea and Japan. All three are allies of the US and all three have a similar set of interests when it comes to fighting off a power-hungry China.

Yet, for historic reasons, the three have not elaborated on their common policies and it is doubtful that they will do so anytime soon.

China is all but sad about the disagreements of its democratic rivals across the sea. In Taipei, Seoul and Tokyo, observers might already be nervous when they anticipate US President Donald Trump’s visit to China in a few weeks. The US president has been marveling at autocratic rule.

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