12.06.2020 Author: Vladimir Terehov

The Taiwan Issue: Recent Developments


New Eastern Outlook articles have repeatedly pointed out that issues stemming from the SARS COV-2 pandemic (with medical problems not necessarily posing the key challenges), which have recently become prominent features of the media and political landscape, have, essentially, not had any effect on the long-established trends in world politics. In fact, some political “activists” from various countries have been able to use the global health crisis in their own interests.

And perhaps, such actions have been especially apparent when it comes to the Taiwan Issue, which became even more prominent within the framework of relations between the two world powers (the USA and PRC) as the Coronavirus continued its spread. This problem has a tendency to come to the fore periodically, and in the second half of May 2020, it intensified yet again in light of two significant developments that occurred almost at the same time. The first was linked to the inauguration ceremony, held on May 20, to mark the start of presidential term of Tsai Ing-wen, who had triumphantly won the general election in January of this year for the second time in a row. The second event, which took place towards the end of May, was China’s scheduled “Two Sessions” that included a gathering of CPPCC members (the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body to the ruling Communist Party) and a meeting of the National People’s Congress.

During her inauguration speech, Taiwan’s re-elected President mainly focused on the nation’s domestic affairs and covered “four major topics: industrial development, social safety, national security and the strengthening of Taiwan’s democracy”.

Tsai Ing-wen also talked about foreign policy issues. She vowed yet again “to continue efforts to push for peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, adding that the nation would not accept Beijing’s ‘One country, two systems’ framework’,” which is a constitutional principle of the People’s Republic of China. The “1992 Consensus”, which refers to the outcome of a meeting in 1992 between the semiofficial representatives of China and Taiwan, along with the principle, formulated in the early 1980s during negotiations between the PRC and UK over Hong Kong, were both meant to aid in the process of Hong Kong and Taiwan becoming a part of China.

Clearly, Tsai Ing-wen’s speech did not come as a surprise for the PRC leadership, and once they took into account the rising tensions between their nation and the key external backer of Taiwan’s current government, their response to Taipei was tough.

First of all, China’s leadership decided to focus on achieving goals aimed at “strengthening the national defense and armed forces for 2020, while maintaining effective epidemic control on a regular basis”. President Xi Jinping made the aforementioned statements at a plenary meeting of the delegation of the People’s Liberation Army and People’s Armed Police Force on May 26 (during the “Two Sessions” event.

Secondly, after a draft decision on national security law for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) was adopted by the 3rd session of the 13th National People’s Congress, a symposium was held “to mark the 15th anniversary of the implementation of the Anti-Secession Law”, which had been passed by the 3rd session of the 10th National People’s Congress (structured as a unicameral legislature) in March 2005 (l). The Anti-Secession Law essentially formalized China’s long-standing policy (discussed by politicians since the founding of PRC in 1949) “to use non-peaceful means against the Taiwan independence movement in the event of a declaration of independence”.

During a press conference focusing on work of the “Two Sessions” in relation to foreign policy and external relations, PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi reiterated that “the Taiwan question was China’s internal affair”. He also urged “the US side to fully appreciate the great sensitivity of the Taiwan” Issue and “abide by the one-China principle and the three Sino-US communiqués,” signed in the past 3 to 4 decades.

In fact, the principle was first mentioned in the Shanghai Communiqué of 1972, in which the United States acknowledged PRC’s claims on Taiwan as its own territory. And this had happened 8 years before the two countries established full diplomatic relations. A decades-long loss of international support for the Republic of China (Taiwan) regime led to the loss of its UN seat in 1971 to the government of PRC as the only legitimate representative of China to the United Nations. At the time, Taiwan also seized to be a member of UN agencies, such as the World Health Organization. Recently, the United States called for Taiwan “to receive observer status in the World Health Assembly (WHA)”, thus making this issue another key point of contention between Washington and Beijing.

In response to the staging of the aforementioned symposium and certain statements made by Li Zhanshu, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee (or the Standing Committee of the Central Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CCP)) and Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress during this event, Taiwan’s Defense Minister said, on May 29, that since the CCP had “never relinquished the threat of force against the island nation, the Ministry of Defense” was preparing for the worst.

It is also worth mentioning that in Taiwan, recently, there has been an increased focus on events in Hong Kong, which the New Eastern Outlook has reported on from time to time. Taiwanese politicians and media have started bringing up this topic particularly frequently after the decision to establish and improve the legal framework and enforcement mechanism for safeguarding national security in Hong Kong was made during the “Two Sessions”, as mentioned earlier. The proposed national security law immediately became the focus of anti-Chinese campaigns by Western media and politicians.

In response to the aforementioned decision and numerous negative comments directed at the PRC because of it, the author would like to remind the readers about a key aspect of the Hong Kong issue, which is not often mentioned in anti-Chinese texts and speeches. In 1997, the crown colony of Hong Kong officially reverted to Chinese sovereignty, becoming the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of the PRC. According to the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the “One country, two systems” principle, “Hong Kong’s previous capitalist system and its way of life” was to remain unchanged for a period of 50 years.

It would be unacceptable and simply inhumane to subject the population and the leadership of HKSAR to sudden (one day, in 2047) radical changes in the judicial and political systems of Hong Kong, inherited from the times under British rule. There appear to be no other options but to ensure HKSAR gradually adopts to the way of life on the “mainland”, where important changes are also happening. The PRC leadership probably does not need any external advice on the pace of Hong Kong’s transition process and its implementation strategy.

A fanciful promise, made by Britain’s eccentric Prime Minister, to grant almost 3 million Hong Kong residents a pathway to British citizenship would actually mean something if changes to Hong Kong’s judicial and political systems were all to be made suddenly, in 2047. Supposedly, most residents of Hong Kong associate the future of the administrative region with being a part of PRC. despite their grievances with China. Hence, in reality, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will probably end up facing a manageable challenge of allowing dozens (or maximum hundreds) of refugees from Hong Kong into the UK. In fact, some Hong Kong riot supporters are currently upset about the unrest in the United States, their main backer.

It is also worth noting that Beijing explicitly warned Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and its leader Tsai Ing-wen “to stop baseless accusations and slandering the newly proposed national security law in Hong Kong”. Ma Xiaoguang, the Spokesperson of Taiwan Affairs Office of China’s State Council, also accused the DPP, along with secessionists from Taiwan and Hong Kong, of “colluding to meddle in Hong Kong affairs, taking advantage of Hong Kong’s social turmoil”.

In relation to the Taiwan Issue, a June 1 press conference commemorating the fifth anniversary of the founding of the Global Cooperation and Training Framework (GCTF) deserves a mention. In 2015, the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT, the de facto US Embassy in Taiwan) and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States (TECRO) signed an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) creating the GCTF. It is particularly interesting that Hiroyasu Izumi, the Chief Representative of the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association (which, like AIT, also functions as a de facto embassy), took part in the celebration. In fact, he was one of the signatories of a joint statement issued to mark the anniversary of the GCTF.

A clarification seems apt at this point in the article. There are different political movements and groups in Japanese society (just as anywhere in the world). Some support the United States, while others back the PRC (but less openly). In such a context (as well as for other reasons), Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and his supporters can be said to occupy the middle ground. And over the past two or three years, this group has indicated a desire to improve political ties with Beijing.

And if Shinzō Abe is still keen on pursuing this goal, there is, undoubtedly, a need for sensitivity when dealing with PRC’s key foreign policy problem, i.e. the Taiwan Issue. Hence, a statement saying that Japan would not, and could not, leave Taiwan alone by itself, made by Hiroyasu Izumi at the end of the aforementioned press conference is unlikely to go unnoticed in Beijing.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that the recent events in connection with the Taiwan Issue have not been conducive to its successful resolution. At least that is the case for the short term.

Vladimir Terehov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook“.


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