The “Taiwan problem” that is being regularly discussed in the articles featured on NEO has been manifesting itself all that much on the international stage over the last two decades. However, the situation feels differently in the north and south of the island of Taiwan, on the Korean peninsula and in the South China Sea in general, where one could notice outbursts of political tension that resemble volcanic eruptions of different intensity levels.
In the Taiwan Strait, the last time such eruptions were observed back in 1995-1996 during the so-called Third Taiwan Crisis. It won’t be an exaggeration to state that during that period of time the US and China were on the verge of a direct military conflict.
Even though the situation here may appear relatively calm, one can still trace minor political tensions if he is to constantly observe the situation around the island. It’s been stated time and time again that if we were the keepers of the Asia-Pacific region, we would be forced to admit that the Taiwanese volcano that has by far the most destructive potential for the future of the region.
The last time this volcano made itself known last May, when Taiwan was preparing to take part in the General Assembly of the World Health Organization. Then, for the first time in recent years, Beijing blocked the participation of the Taiwanese delegation, being empowered by its status of a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and the WHO was established and operates under the supervision of this well-respected international organization.
China’s consent to allow Taiwan to take part in all the previous assemblies was nothing but a gesture of goodwill in response to certain steps that Taipei taken in establishing its relations with the “mainland”. Ever since 1971, the UN only recognizes the People’s Republic of China, while being reluctant to accept the existence of the “Republic of China” (as Taiwan continues to label itself).
Meanwhile, the level of Taipei’s discreteness took the plunge once Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party leader Tsai Ing-wen was elected president of the so-called Republic of China. It’s clear that the new Taiwanese president decided to transform the abandon One-China principle that was observed by all the previous governments and that has always been pivotal for the mainland China.
In just a year the political relations between “two Chinas” have deteriorated sharply, which eventually resulted Beijing deciding to block Taiwan from participating in the WHO Assembly. From Beijing’s point of view, its steps in reducing the scale of economic cooperation with Taiwan is viable option of applying soft power to Taiwan, since the latter will find it fairly difficult to carry on without it. China’s political circles seem to be fairly optimistic about the prospect of “curing separatism” manifested by the Republic of China recently, by applying a number of rather painful steps in a bid to reason Taiwan.
In this regard, the Chinese Global Times compared the situation around Taiwan to a beautiful eastern woman sitting at a table in a dark room. In disbelief she watches a burning candle, which, apparently, symbolizes the dreams of an independent state of “Taiwan”. However, this clever picture doesn’t fully reflect the complex situation with Taiwan’s steps on the international arena. One should not lose sight of the fact that the “Taiwan problem” is not a private Chinese matter, no matter how hard Beijing says it it.
Without entering into public debate on this issue and expressing their positions publicly one the issue of “One China” principle, Beijing’s main geopolitical opponents, such as the USA and Japan are getting increasingly involved in this issue.
The role that Washington and Tokyo are playing in the “Taiwan problem” is no less visible that in the events on the Korean peninsula and across the South China Sea region.
Although Washington has apologized for the sensational phone talk between Trump and Tsai Ing-wen that took place once the former got elected, it made no comments about the status of the 1979 Act that is regulating America’s approach towards the “Taiwan problem”.
Meanwhile, China remain fairly critical of this act and that’s pretty understandable why, since it explicitly states Washington’s expectation of a peaceful solution of the Taiwan issue, which looks like a warning against any Chinese attempts to use force against the island.
Contrary to the meaning and spirit of the so-called “three communiques” jointly adopted at various times by the US and China, Washington has been implementing large-scale deliveries to Taipei of American allegedly “defensive” weapons in recent years.
However, Taiwan itself, which has advanced enough industry to develop and produce modern weapon systems. At the same time, the island does not have any illusions about the balance of forces in the Taiwan Strait. Attempts to get its military potential modernized are aimed at fulfilling the limited task of resisting (hypothetical) large-scale invasion right up to the moment of the arrival of overseas forces.
Therefore, in the coming years, Beijing could reliably hope for a solution to the “Taiwan problem” only with the favorable development of political processes inside Taiwan itself. But even such a prospect looks more and more doubtful, which was manifested a year ago in the form of a crushing defeat that a “pro-Chinese” candidate suffered on the presidential election.
In fact, today’s Kuomintang party in Taiwan only shares a common with its political predecessor. The only difference it has with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party
lies in the approach towards the fate of the island, while its relations with the “mainland” China are rather tactical in their nature.
If the DPP stands for the independence, then the Kuomintang prefers to put an emphasis on the development of economic ties with the “mainland”, while leaving political aspects of bilateral relations out of the picture.
However, Beijing is unable to find any better political partner in Taiwan, so it’s forced to support Kuomintang. It’s curious that even though the Kuomintang hasn’t provide any comments about the future of Taiwan’s independence, it is still being largely referred to as Beijing’s puppet in the Western media sources. But with no political force being capable of holding comprehensive negotiations with Beijing mean that the chances for a peaceful resolution of the independence dispute look extremely slim. Which, in turn, puts the whole region in a state of uncertainty.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.“