Like a ripe melon, Taiwan may eventually fall from the tree and into China’s open arms, a new political analysis from the Washington-based East-West Center said.
“China can be expected to exercise strategic patience buttressed by internal political confidence,” read the report, written by Asia Studies Visiting Fellow Sung Wen-ti (宋文堤).
Cross-strait relations will remain stable in the foreseeable future, but the continuation of Taiwan’s strategic autonomy may gradually come into question, Sung said.
“There is an old Chinese saying: ‘Melons prematurely harvested from the trees don’t taste sweet.’ With favorable internal and external factors in place, Beijing can patiently await the melon to fall down from the tree on its own,” he added.
A doctoral candidate at the Australian National University of Taiwanese origin, Sung said that the intensifying dynamics of the Beijing-Taipei-Washington triangle are contributing to the “melon” scenario: the Chinese leadership is consolidating, there is growing cross-strait “enmeshment” and the US is suffering from attention deficit.
“In Beijing, a favorable combination of institutional integration, political consolidation and leadership expertise is enabling China’s leaders to manage cross-strait relations with confidence and patience,” he wrote in the report.
The newly installed Chinese State Security Committee should make it easier to present a cross-strait policy that is more coordinated, pragmatic and oriented toward “winning hearts and minds,” the study said.
“The new policy environment will be more insulated from inter-agency bickering, coordination challenges and individual actors’ political urge to play the assertive nationalist card regarding Taiwan,” Sung wrote.
Under Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), the leadership in Beijing is well-positioned to exercise “strategic patience” over the Taiwan issue, he added.
“Beijing’s patience is predicated on the belief that time is on Beijing’s side, for reasons of economics, military, and the perceived attention deficit of the US,” the academic wrote. “As more sectors of the Taiwanese society become reliant on cross-strait commerce, this economic dependency has the potential to spill-over into politics and nurture more Beijing-friendly voices.”
Sung said there are also signs the US may be losing its ability to appreciate the nuances of Chinese policy.
“For Beijing, there is little incentive to pursue unification with Taiwan in the foreseeable future,” he wrote. “Pursuing unification through coercion runs the risk of a costly conflict with the US.”
“The pursuit, however, of unification through peaceful negotiation, presumably under an augmented version of the ‘one country, two systems’ formula, is also not necessarily desirable,” for that could oblige Beijing to sustain Taiwan’s economic prosperity, Sung said.
In addition, Beijing may fear that Taiwan’s democracy could increase pressure from China’s middle class for China to democratize, he added.
Given these considerations, China can be expected to wait for the “melon” to fall of its own accord, the report said.