In recent weeks, China has engaged in an unprecedented show of force against Taiwan, flying dozens of fighter planes near the island nation it views as a breakaway province.
Official government media mouthpieces have stated, “the current status of the island of Taiwan is only a short period in history that will definitely come to an end.” Beijing has made clear that it plans to ratchet up military pressure on Taipei — and, in the wake of the U.S. retreat from Afghanistan, has warned Taiwan’s pro-independence ruling party that Washington can’t be counted on to come to the rescue.
But, according to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, all China wants is the “reunification” of the motherland “by peaceful means.”
According to CNN, Xi made the remarks at the Great Hall of the People in commemoration of the 110th anniversary of the revolution that overthrew the country’s last imperial dynasty.
“Those who forget their heritage, betray their motherland and seek to split the country will come to no good,” Xi said, calling for a reunification under a “one country two systems” policy — a policy which, as you might recall, hasn’t worked out so swimmingly for pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong.
“To achieve the reunification of the motherland by peaceful means is most in line with the overall interests of the Chinese nation, including our compatriots in Taiwan,” Xi said, according to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post.
During the speech, Xi invoked the ideals of Sun Yat-sen, the revolutionary who was the first leader of the Chinese republic. According to Xi, Sun believed “unification is the hope of all Chinese nationals,” adding that “[t]he Taiwan issue was a result of the nation that was weak and chaotic, and will surely be resolved with national rejuvenation.”
This message might not be received so warmly in Taiwan, which has long battled the Chinese Communist Party over which government can properly lay claim to Sun Yat-sen’s legacy. But then, the same thing could be said for much of Xi’s message.
For instance, Xi said that pro-independence forces were “the biggest obstacle to the reunification of the motherland and a serious hidden risk to national rejuvenation.”
“Those who forget their ancestors, betray the motherland, or split the country are doomed. They will definitely be spurned by the people and judged by history,” he said.
The most powerful political force in Taiwan at present is the Democratic Progressive Party, the more independence-minded of the two major parties. Of course, the party has U.S. support on its side — but Xi had a warning on that front, too.
“The Taiwan issue is entirely China’s internal affair, and no external interference can be condoned,” he said. The South China Morning Post said Xi avoided “naming any country directly,” but I’d wager there’d be few wrong answers if people were asked to guess what nation the Chinese leader was referring to.
“People should not underestimate Chinese people’s determination to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Xi said. “The task of complete reunification of China must be achieved, and it will definitely be achieved.”
Probably not by peaceful means, though — no matter what Xi has to say.
Xi knows this, too. Beijing has been busy testing both Taiwan and its allies of late; on Monday, China flew 56 warplanes toward Taiwan, described by The Associated Press as “largest show of force on record” and “continuing the three days of sustained military harassment against the self-ruled island.”
“The first sortie of 52 planes included 34 J-16 fighter jets and 12 H-6 bombers, among other aircraft, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense,” the AP reported.
“Later, four more Chinese J-16s flew toward the southwestern part of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone — a buffer outside a country’s airspace.”
For what it’s worth, President Joe Biden’s administration made an early show of support for the Taiwanese government, including approving an arms deal with Taiwan in August over Chinese objections. Much of that went up in smoke after the Biden administration’s abandonment of Afghanistan that same month — a failure Beijing used as a warning to Taiwan and the DPP, arguing it was demonstrative of what would happen if there were ever a cross-straits conflict between Beijing and Taipei.
“The DPP authorities need to keep a sober head, and the secessionist forces should reserve the ability to wake up from their dreams,” an Aug. 16 editorial from the Global Times, an English-language propaganda mill for the Chinese Communist Party, read.
“From what happened in Afghanistan, they should perceive that once a war breaks out in the Straits, the island’s defense will collapse in hours and the US military won’t come to help. As a result, the DPP authorities will quickly surrender, while some high-level officials may flee by plane.”
The CCP’s designs on Taiwan are as old as Taiwan itself, but only a blind man or a fool would fail to notice China’s newfound assertiveness on reunification, peaceful or not, over the last few years. Even before the U.S. failure in Afghanistan, the Global Times was crowing about how China’s irredentist claims regarding Taiwan would come to fruition sooner rather than later.
“We must no longer hold any more illusions,” read an October 2020 article by the Global Times’ editor-in-chief. “The only way forward is for the mainland to fully prepare itself for war and to give Taiwan secessionist forces a decisive punishment at any time. As the secessionist forces’ arrogance continues to swell, the historical turning point is getting closer.”
“It’s certain that the current status of the island of Taiwan is only a short period in history that will definitely come to an end.”
For right now, Biden and Xi seem to be talking about China’s latest raft of saber-rattling, with the U.S. president outwardly appearing convinced no serious issue is afoot.
“I’ve spoken with Xi about Taiwan. We agree … we’ll abide by the Taiwan agreement,” Biden said, according to a Reuters report Wednesday. “We made it clear that I don’t think he should be doing anything other than abiding by the agreement.”
It wasn’t clear what this “agreement” was, although Reuters speculated, “Biden appeared to be referring to Washington’s long-standing policy under which it officially recognizes Beijing rather than Taipei, and the Taiwan Relations Act, which makes clear that the U.S. decision to establish diplomatic ties with Beijing instead of Taiwan rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means.” Our president hasn’t been reading the Global Times or the reports about the fighter planes, apparently.
But, in the midst of all this, Xi is assuring the world all he wants is “the reunification of the motherland by peaceful means.” If what he means by that is that Taiwan will give up the ghost and allow itself to be absorbed by China, this is unlikely.
A 2020 poll by the Taiwan National Security Survey found 75 percent of Taiwanese believed they were an independent country, 60 percent oppose a Hong Kong-style “one country, two systems” setup and support for maintaining the status quo had increased dramatically in just one year, from 24 percent to 31 percent. A plurality of respondents — 47.5 percent — believe independence is more likely than unification.
Even then, it’s worth pointing out “the reunification of the motherland by peaceful means” doesn’t mean the reunification of the motherland by happy means. All it means is that it would happen without China having to fire a shot. Taiwan finds itself dependent on the aid of the United States and its allies. While the two situations aren’t entirely analogous, it’s worth noting this arrangement didn’t work out too well for the former Afghan government, thanks in no small part to President Biden.
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