At the closing ceremony of China’s annual meetings of the national legislature — the Chinese National People’s Congress — and its top political advisory body — the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference — Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) said Beijing would uphold its “one China” principle and the “1992 consensus.”
He also said China would expand cross-strait economic and cultural exchanges, while at the same time sharing the opportunities offered by its development with its Taiwanese “compatriots.”
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) said China would not tolerate any attempt, proposition or act aimed at promoting Taiwanese independence, nor would it allow any external forces to play what China likes to call the “Taiwan card.”
Li said China is willing to engage in dialogue and consultation with all political parties and groups in Taiwan, as long as they recognize the “1992 consensus,” which is part of its “one China” principle.
What Xi and Li did not say is that China is still prepared to take military action against Taiwan at any time.
At the moment, Beijing is putting even more force behind its “united front” work, directing it at Taiwan’s civic society and bypassing the government in an attempt to deprive President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) government of any potential leverage.
The appointment of Wang Qishan (王岐山) — who has had to retire from the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Politburo Standing Committee due to the stipulated age limit — to the Chinese vice presidency is a sign that Xi has not appointed a successor and that he will be around to continue his fight against the Taiwanese government and foreign forces to the end.
The “one China” principle has never been a problem, because it is an indisputable fact that there is only one China in the world. The problem is instead that Beijing continues to insist that Taiwan and China both belong to the same country.
The reason why “one China” has different meanings in today’s international politics is that Beijing is doing all it can to include Taiwan in the “one China” concept.
If other countries oppose this view or fail to support it, Beijing will vilify them and insist that they are “foreign forces” trying to play the “Taiwan card.”
However, if Taiwan really were a part of China, what kind of “Taiwan card” could these “foreign forces” play?
For example, Henan (河南) and Hebei (河北) provinces, Hunan (湖南) and Hubei (湖北) provinces, Shandong (山東) and Shanxi (山西) provinces and Guangdong (廣東) and Guangxi (廣西) provinces are all really Chinese provinces, so how could “foreign forces” play any card aimed at separating them from China?
The problem, then, is not that foreign forces are playing the “Taiwan card,” it is that China wants to annex Taiwan.
The “one China” concept was a product of a war between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), led by Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), and the CCP, led by Mao Zedong (毛澤東), over who would have the right to represent China.
As the international community chose between the two parties, it recognized that both parties were part of “one China.”
The reason for this was quite simple: Both parties were fighting to establish their legitimacy as leader of China. One after the other, countries abandoned Chiang in favor of Mao.
However, this only solved the problem between the KMT and the CCP; it did not mean that Taiwan — where Chiang’s regime relocated after having lost the Civil War — should also be handed to China.
It might not have been necessary to clearly separate Chiang and Taiwan during the Cold War era, but following Taiwan’s democratization — and especially in the face of China’s military threats — the international community’s originally ambiguous political attitudes toward Taiwan’s status have become increasingly clear.
Perhaps one should say that this global trend is a result of Beijing’s rashness, rather than the result of Taiwan’s pro-independence movement, because the former has changed the landscape of international geopolitics.
The changes in the US’ Taiwan Strait policy are typical examples of such changes and the US is leading the way worldwide. Since US President Donald Trump took office last year, Beijing’s strategic provocations have forced Washington to make its “one China” policy increasingly clear.
The strategic intent behind Trump’s decisions, from accepting a congratulatory call from Tsai on his election to signing the Taiwan Travel Act, is not to recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state, but rather an attempt to tell Beijing more clearly that Taiwan is not part of China, that it does not belong to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and that assisting Taiwan to resist invasion is an essential part of the US’ “one China” policy.
From this perspective, Taiwan must also be fully aware that the US has a red line for Taiwan, as well as China, and make sure that it understands how much room it has to maneuver before it crosses this red line.
Trump did not sign the Taiwan Travel Act into law until just before the act was about to take effect automatically and as the first salvos in the coming trade war could be heard.
The American Institute in Taiwan then announced the visit to Taiwan of Alex Wong (黃之瀚), deputy assistant secretary at the US Department of State’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, who on Wednesday attended a banquet hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei.
The message that Trump is sending to Taiwan and China is that he is the one who calls the shots in this thriller.
Last year, he signed the US National Defense Authorization Act, which recommends resuming port-of-call visits between the US and Taiwanese navies, thus implying that US warships may visit Taiwan at any time.
In addition, a Taiwanese delegation led by Minister Without Portfolio John Deng (鄧振中) departed for the US not long ago to engage in negotiations over the punitive tariffs on steel and aluminum imports to the US, hoping to seek an exemption from the penalties.
Deng has said that Taiwan would not rule out talks on other economic and trade issues that the US might be interested to discuss.
This is the pragmatic side of Taiwan-US relations, which involve both give and take, and this is the kind of pragmatism that both the government, the opposition and the Taiwanese public will have to get used to from now on.
Mutual benefits are an important part of the interactions between states. China has always wanted to exchange Taiwan’s sovereignty for business interests, which would lead to short-term gains, but long-term pain.
Unlike China, the US is helping Taiwan maintain the “status quo” of its sovereignty, while asking the nation to remove its trade barriers.
A win on both sovereignty and trade would of course be the best scenario for Taiwan, but when dealing with Trump — who believes that “business is business” — it would be unwise to think that the US would assist Taiwan on both sovereignty and trade. Taiwan cannot play along in terms of defense, but reject the US’ trade demands.
At a time when Trump approaches Taiwan separately from the US’ “one China” policy, while a US-China trade war could break out at any moment, Taiwan must seize the opportunity to occupy a strategic vantage point, consolidate its sovereignty and devote itself to the normalization of the nation, while other domestic industrial and economic structural adjustments should serve this strategic opportunity.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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