As has previously been reported in the NEO, Taiwan can be considered a “quiet backwater” (a very relative description, of course) against the backdrop of what is happening south and, in particular, north, of the island. The continuous deterioration of the situation around the South China Sea and on the Korean Peninsula in recent years has been the subject of the constant attentiveness of both news agencies and experts, including those working with the NEO.
The reality that there is a problem with Taiwan that is potentially no-less dangerous for the stability of the Asia-Pacific region is evidenced by the occasional noise in the world press concerning events that, at first glance, appear quite ordinary. For example, within the context of the outcome of the presidential elections that were held in late 2015 on the island or (a year later) the congratulatory phone call that Tsai Ing-wen made to the-then President-elect Donald Trump, who, in turn, had won the US presidential elections.
The media alarm (apparently) “at trivialities” is provoked not by the triviality of the problem, which is due to the ambiguity of the international status of the “Taiwan Republic”, which was blotted out of the list of UN member countries in 1971.
Its place was overtaken by the People’s Republic of China. For the Chinese leadership there is no “ambiguity”, and everything is crystal clear: there is only one China, with its capital in Beijing. And the so-called “Taiwan Republic” is nothing more than a rebellious province that is subject to finally return to the womb of the Motherland “one way or another”.
The danger of the situation is associated with the fact that the geopolitical opponents of the PRC (especially the United States and Japan), not having publicly entered into disputes with Beijing over “status” issues, and also while having declared their agreement with the “one China” principle, and not maintaining formal diplomatic relations with the island, are treating it as a de facto independent state. For example, the US is supplying Taiwan with weapons, and the “cultural and economic offices” in Washington and Taipei actually serve as embassies.
The situation is worsened when the pro-independence supporters of Taiwan are victorious in any election on the island. Such were the events of two years ago, when the “Sino-Nationalist” Kuomintang suffered a crushing defeat in the parliamentary and presidential elections, and a “pro-Taiwan” Democratic Progressive Party led by Tsai Ing-wen came to power.
Since then, the relations between Taipei and Beijing have been continually deteriorating for different reasons, and the act of appealing to the nation on the occasion of the national holiday (“The Day of the Republic”),organized by Tsai Ing-wen on October 10, will unlikely contribute to their improvement, despite the declaration of the desire to act in this direction.
It is noteworthy that Taiwan has its main national holiday, which is associated with the uprising in Wuhan (which began October 10, 1911) that ended the almost 300-year rule of the last imperial dynasty of Qing. In the PRC, the main holiday is October 1, since it was on that day in 1949 that the formation of the PRC was announced.
Ms. Tsai Ing-wen’s speech focused on three key topics: the progress with the fulfilment of electoral promises as well as the promotion of reforms in the economic and social spheres; “Protecting Taiwan’s democracy and freedom”; “The search for Taiwan’s place in the new international order.”
From the standpoint of international politics, the disclosure of the second and third topics by the Taiwan President was of particular interest. It is from this part of the statement that the intention of the current leadership, “to continue protecting the freedom, democracy and way of life of Taiwan, as well as the right of the Taiwanese people to decide their own future” was outlined in a very definitive way. The said thesis was reinforced by a promise to increase the defense potential by giving the armed forces of the island the most modern look at the expense of “qualitative rather than quantitative” characteristics. This includes relying on the achievements of their own industry.
Against the background of these points, the declaration of an “unwavering goodwill” towards the PRC, as well as the desire to avoid confrontation with Beijing (but also “not to succumb to pressure”), seemed to be nothing more than good wishes.
The comments of the major news agencies emphasize, first of all, the continuity of the position of Tsai Ing-wen to preserve the present de facto independence of Taiwan and the search for its place in the modern political world order, which could be interpreted as a de jure independence status.
The Reuters Agency draws attention to the sting inflicted by Tsai Ing-wen (rather unintentionally) on the leader of the PRC, Xi Jinping on the eve of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, an event that is extremely important to him. President Jinping is known as a staunch supporter of ensuring the “unity of the nation”, which excludes the existence of an independent “Taiwan Republic“.
In general, the restrained official response of the PRC to the speech of the Taiwan president is based on the desire to avoid undue attention to negative moments during the preparation of the most important event in the political life of the country. Everything was limited to the publishing on October 10 by the Xinhua Agency of a statement allegedly made by the representative of the Taiwan Affairs Office, who reiterated the thesis that “peace and prosperity on the Taiwan Strait is possible only if the “one China” principle is acknowledged“.
The comments of some Chinese experts referred to the “play of words” in the speech of the Taiwanese president, which was marked by negative facts, such as the growing socio-economic problems on the island and the declining popularity of Ms. Tsai Ing-wen herself.
As for the achievements to which she referred, we can note the negligible significance of their scale in comparison with what is observed in the “mainland”. Moreover, these achievements themselves are linked to the development of economic relations between Taiwan and the PRC.
Also worth noting is the view of those Sinologists who are predicting the completion in the near future of the period of the relative tolerance of Beijing’s position regarding the “liberties” of Taipei.
The tightening of the policy of the PRC towards Taiwan shall be due to the (inevitable) strengthening of Xi Jinping’s position in all aspects of the Chinese way of life, which will be one of the main outcomes of the work of the 19th National Congress of the CPC.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific Region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”