Status-quo: The Best Bet for Taiwan

Rup Narayan Das
12th October 2021

Picture Courtesy: Reuters

Although Taiwan, regarded by the People’s Republic of China, as its renegade province which broke away from the Communist China after the defeat of Chiang –Kai Sheik’s Kuo-min-tang (KMT) Party in the civil war in 1949, has been used to intimidation and sabre-rattling by Beijing, China’s hostility has become more pronounced in recent times particularly after the outbreak of COVID-19. The trespassing of Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) by the Chinese fighter  jets for days together in the first week of October in the wake of China’s National Day celebration and ahead of Taiwan’s National Day  on 10th October prompted Taiwan’s fiery  President Ms Tasi Ing-wen  to forewarn of  ‘catastrophic consequences for regional peace’, if Taiwan falls. With a firm resolve, she vowed to “do whatever it takes’ to guard Taiwan against invasion by Communist China.  She also articulated that without help from its allies “authoritarianism has the upper hand over democracy.” It is unlikely that China will indulge in a military adventurism, which will invite retaliation by the U.S.A., which is under obligation to protect Taiwan’s territorial integrity under provisions of Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. A military brinkmanship in the Straits is fraught with dangerous consequences; because in the unlikely scenario of a military confrontation all the democratic countries will get united to foil any attempt by China to threaten Taiwan and its hard earned democracy. No way can China invade Taiwan, the way it invaded Tibet.

Taiwan’s successful handling of COVID-19 and its unsuccessful bid for observer status at the World Health Assembly with the active support of USA and some other countries and Taiwan’s international goodwill has exacerbated China’s hostility towards Taiwan. China, however, succeeded in foiling Taiwan’s bid for a seat at the high table. While China’s position with regard to Taiwan is that “reunification is inevitable and China would never tolerate Taiwan’s independence,” the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of Taiwan maintains that it cannot accept becoming part of China under ‘one country, two systems’.

During the 50 years of rule under KMT, the relationship between mainland China and Taiwan had considerably improved, first under martial law which was lifted in 1987, and then under KMT rule. In 1996, Taiwan held its first ever direct Presidential election, which was won by the KMT. The DPP lost in the Presidential elections held in 1996. However, it came to power in 2000 and was re-elected in 2004. After years in office, it lost the legislative and Presidential elections to KMT in 2008. It faced defeat again in 2012 election. The DPP chairperson Ms Tsai Ing-wen got elected as President of Taiwan in 2016 and got re-elected in January 2020 with a very comfortable majority. The DPP is anathema to China because it does not subscribe to ‘unification’ with the mainland; rather proclaims ‘independence’ and this makes a huge difference. President Tsai Ing-wen has said that Taiwan is an independent state called Republic of China, its official name and does not want to be part of the People’s Republic of China.

Taiwan’s relationship with China is not just a bilateral issue between China and Taiwan, it has geo-strategic and security implications for the Asia-Pacific, now rechristened Indo-Pacific. What kind of equation Taiwan will have with the mainland will have its resonance in the Indo-Pacific, particularly in the context of China’s belligerence.  China’s reunification with Taiwan, if and when it happens, will embolden its hostility in the region. It will enable China to take control of South China Sea and grip over the strategically important sea-lanes to Japan, Korea, and the Indo-Pacific and make China the formidable and indisputable maritime power in the region. That is why an independent Taiwan under DPP is an anathema to China. An independent Taiwan with strategic alliance with the USA is a bulwark against China’s assertive behaviour in the region. DPP’s gradual consolidation of political base in Taiwan is detrimental to China’s goal of unification with China and for its power projection.

It is in the larger interests of both China and Taiwan, and the Indo-Pacific that the status-quo in Taiwan is maintained. Perhaps it is not known that China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping had broached the novelty of ‘one country, two systems,’ allowing two divergent systems to exist, not in Hong Kong first, but in Taiwan. Though China did not suffer a colour revolution, yearning for freedom and democracy is persistent in China.  The pent-up aspiration for democracy and freedom only manifested in Tiananmen Squire Incident in 1989 and its echoes was also found in Hong Kong. The failure of China to honour the ‘one country, two systems’ in China in letter and spirit has dented the faith and confidence of both the people of Hong Kong and Taiwan in the efficacy of the novelty of, ‘one country, two systems’. It is, however, not too late for China to repair and rectify the damage done to one country, two systems in Hong Kong. Be that as it my, as of now the status-quo in Taiwan is the best bet for all concerned.

*The Author is a Senior Fellow of the Indian Council of Social Science Research at the Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi. Earlier he was a Senior Fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.

Disclaimer: The Views expressed in the Article are of the Author