Yesterday, three closely related events occurred in three cities -- two in Taiwan and one in China. Major rallies were held in Taichung and Kaohsiung by tens of thousands of Taiwanese supporting the nation's bid to join the UN. Meanwhile, Shanghai held its largest air raid drill since 1949, with sirens ringing across the city for as long as 20 minutes. These events indicate that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait will not back down over Taiwan's sovereignty.
Yesterday's air raid drill in Shanghai was not widely publicized by the Chinese government. Despite the sirens, people and cars were not required to stop or take refuge. Instead, everyone went about their day as usual. It goes without saying that the intended audience of the air raid drill was on the other side of the Taiwan Strait, and the message conveyed was the possibility of war.
The truth of the matter is that Taiwan has very little chance of entering the UN in the immediate future, regardless of whether it applies under the name "Taiwan" or "Republic of China." After all, China wields great power within the UN, holding a permanent seat on the Security Council and having formal diplomatic relations with most UN members.
So why does it matter if Taiwan holds a referendum on entering the UN? Even if an overwhelmingly large percentage of the people in Taiwan vote in favor of joining it, this would not make Taiwan a UN member.
But if Taiwanese were to vote in a referendum on the UN bid, the act would represent a clear example of Taiwanese self-rule, which is intolerable to Beijing.
Taiwan's frustration over decades of international isolation has become increasingly acute as Beijing tightens its iron grip on Taiwan's "permissible" international activities. In the past, the Taiwanese government has focused on joining non-political organizations such as the WHO. With the exception of the WTO, which Taiwan joined not as a sovereign state but as a "custom tariff territory," almost all its efforts to join international organizations have been blocked by China.
With the Beijing Olympic Games just around the corner, Beijing cannot threaten Taiwan as it has before.
Therefore, the job of warning Taiwan against independence activities has been left in the hands of the US, which has already publicly cautioned Taiwan against holding a referendum.
Between Beijing and Washington, the latter obviously still carries more weight with the Taiwanese government. Unless Beijing is ready to go to war, it has very little leverage over Taipei.
But what if there is something slightly less than a formal declaration of independence, such as a referendum on UN entry?
It seems there is little consensus on what China would do.
But one way or another, Beijing had to respond to yesterday's rally in Taiwan. The air raid drill in Shanghai clearly showed its true colors.
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