From China’s constant repression of Taiwan on the international scene, it is not hard to see that China is rapidly raising its geostrategic objectives in the Asia-Pacific region.
Geostrategically, continental China has a longstanding military need to reach eastward into the Pacific Ocean. Almost all of China’s coastline is hemmed in by semi-enclosed seas, and the first island chain is indeed a geostrategic feature that makes it difficult for the Chinese navy to move freely into and out of the Pacific Ocean.
To make up for this deficiency, China is expanding its construction of bases in overseas ports to normalize the presence of its armed forces and provide logistical support. This will allow China to become one of the nations that can project their power all around the world.
History shows that a rising power will always pose a challenge to existing powers, which will see it as a strategic competitor and respond accordingly. The pattern of strategic competition between the US and China has been established.
There is tension between the two nations in the area of trade, but each has its strengths and weaknesses. This international pattern in which two big powers — the US and China — are competing with each other means that Taiwan occupies a more important position than ever before.
The US views Taiwan as one of its partners in the Indo-Pacific region. During the Cold War, Taiwan and the US cooperated to oppose the expansion of communist forces, but after they terminated their diplomatic relations on Jan. 1, 1979, the US set political limits on US-Taiwan exchanges.
However, the US is concerned about its global strategic interests. Over the past few years, US-Taiwan relations have been getting closer, because the US thinks that China is becoming a bigger and bigger competitor, and this has naturally prompted the US to make certain adjustments to its policies regarding Taiwan.
Of course, there are other international frameworks that explain geopolitical changes. As far as the US is concerned, Taiwan’s strategic position has grown in importance, so one would expect the US to strengthen bilateral cooperation and maintain robust unofficial relations with Taiwan. As well as helping to maintain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, this makes Taiwan more confident in its interactions with China.
Taiwan’s geopolitical landscape is such that it occupies a key position between the East China Sea and the South China Sea, which is the Chinese navy’s most important gateway to the West Pacific. This explains why China sees the question of unification as one that touches on its core interests.
China’s policy concerning Taiwan is to silence Taiwan on the international stage, but it is still trying to promote unification by peaceful means, thus reducing the pressure to do so by military force, for which it would have to pay a much higher price. China aims to first achieve unification by peaceful means and then use a combination of economics and culture to get Taiwan to accept China’s values.
The Taiwan Strait region therefore remains in a state of cold confrontation, in which it faces continual challenges arising from geostrategic changes.
Taiwan lies at one of the Pacific Ocean’s major strategic crossroads, where it plays a pivotal role in many aspects, be it international relations, the security environment or potential crises. The principles underlying China’s constant restriction of Taiwan’s room for movement will therefore remain unchanged.
For Taiwan, its goal in the development of cross-strait relations must be to gain the initiative. Its first objective must be to develop and grow stronger, because only then can it maintain a dynamic equilibrium between the two sides of the Strait.
Faced with complex international situations, the stronger Taiwan is, the more cards it holds. It should therefore more actively draw attention to its role, demonstrate the universal values of freedom and democracy, and find more avenues through which to promote its national interests.
Amid the trends of economic globalization and trade liberalization, Taiwan needs to resolve differences through dialogue and consultation, strive to achieve parity and respect, and seek common ground while accommodating differences. Only through exchanges based on real strength can Taiwan achieve the best possible conditions for development.
Chang Yan-ting is an adjunct professor at National Defense University.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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