Xi’s Taiwan Policy: China just made it harder to actualise a pragmatic cross-strait policy

07-Jan-2019 Intellasia | Times of India | 6:00 AM Print This Post

In his first major speech about Taiwan, Chinese President Xi Jinping laid down a hard line that completely rejected independence and made re-unification the ultimate goal of any talks between the two sides. Xi was categorical that as China grows strong, unification between two sides of the Taiwan Strait is inevitable. It will be recalled that China and Taiwan split in 1949 after a civil war that saw the communists take power on the mainland while the nationalists formed a rival government in Taiwan. In the subsequent decades, this situation eventually led to the international community recognising the government in Beijing over the government in Taipei.

But Taiwan continued to develop and became an Asian economic dynamo. In 1992 the semi-official representatives of Beijing and Taipei met, leading to a tacit understanding that there is only one China with each side free to interpret this differently. This later came to be called the 1992 Consensus, a term that Taiwan’s former mainland affairs council chief Su Chi made up. However, Beijing has made the 1992 Consensus the bedrock of cross-strait relations. Meanwhile, there’s no consensus on the 1992 Consensus within Taiwanese polity. While the current opposition Kuomintang affirms that the Consensus includes the freedom to differently interpret one China, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party points out this is invalid as Beijing has a completely different perception of the Consensus.

This actually was highlighted by Xi’s speech where he said that the 1992 Consensus reached by both sides on the one China principle espoused that both sides of the Taiwan Strait belonged to one China and will work jointly to seek national unification. Thus, it is now clear that we have two different readings of the 1992 Consensus one asserted by Beijing and one espoused by Taiwan’s Kuomintang. Add to this the fact that Xi has not renounced the use of force against external entities and pro-Taiwan independence groups who come in the way of peaceful re-unification.

Plus, Xi has proposed exploring a Taiwanese version of the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ arrangement that would respect the private property, religious beliefs and legitimate rights of Taiwanese. However, given how ‘One Country, Two Systems’ has worked in Hong Kong where Beijing is accused of eroding the special administrative region’s autonomy, it is unlikely that the arrangement will be acceptable to the Taiwanese. Indeed, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has rejected the idea outright.

So where does all of this place China and Taiwan? Although Beijing has been threatening Taipei with military drills in recent years, a real military conflagration will be highly dangerous for both sides. It would also contradict China’s claims of a peaceful rise and benign efforts at fostering development in the region. The US and possibly Japan would be dragged into the conflict on Taiwan’s behalf, raising the possibility of a nuclear super war. So while Beijing threatens military action, it is most likely just that a threat.

Additionally, there’s no escaping the fact that today’s Taiwanese youth, raised under a democratic system, do not identify with China. Thus, the harder a line China takes against Taiwan, the more it will push away Taiwanese from anything that remotely resembles re-unification. True, last November’s nine-in-one local elections in Taiwan did give a jolt to the Democratic Progressive Party government and shook any complacent assumptions that the Taiwanese people will fall for any anti-China propaganda. The right reading of those election results is that the Taiwanese people are still very pragmatic and open to a reasonable relationship with China. That, however, is not ‘One Country, Two Systems’. It could be a reversion to what existed under the previous Kuomintang government when cross-strait ties blossomed, Beijing didn’t make much public noise about re-unification and Taipei didn’t rake up independence. But with Xi explicitly making re-unification central to his Taiwan policy, it remains to be seen how the Taiwanese people respond.

Again, a pragmatic path for cross-strait relations is still the best option. But is Beijing listening?



Category: Taiwan

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