Beijing's 19th Century Taiwan Policy

Keskiviikkona, 27. tammikuuta 2010     1 kommentti(a)
Kristian Kurki

Washington’s move towards approving further arms sales to Taipei is a sobering signal of a return to business as usual over one of East Asia’s greatest dilemmas: China and the United States still lack a common view over Taiwan’s fate. Moreover, Beijing’s prompt condemnation of the plans was a reminder of the lamentable fact that Taiwan’s own interests are still largely absent from Beijing’s considerations, featured only as an anomaly in the PRC’s claim to legitimacy as ruler of China.

Mainland Chinese officials have urged the US not to sell Taiwan weapons, warning that the deal would not only harm US-China relations but would also be a setback for cross-straits relations, which have improved since President Ma Ying-jeou’s inauguration in 2008. Essentially, Beijing is opposed to any move by any other state that improves Taiwan’s negotiating power vis-à-vis Beijing or affirms Taiwan’s status as an independent political entity. You do not need to sell Taiwan arms to upset China, it’s enough to invite Taiwanese officials for a visit.

Beijing’s bold rhetoric rarely corresponds with the level of complexity that the real world would warrant, and its position attracts precious little sympathy for two reasons.

First, Beijing fails to address the fact that Taiwan’s administration is actively striving to seal the arms deal with the US. Taiwan wants those PAC-3 missiles and Black Hawk helicopters, and F-16 fighters if it can get them.

Second, Beijing is being anachronistic. Although Taiwan is still officially known as the Republic of China, it is no longer vying for the title of government over all of China. Rather, Taiwan (or Chinese Taipei, or whatever your choice of denomination), with its unique identity, history and (democratic) political system, is merely trying to stay alive without compromising its own way of life within a confined geographical area. Taiwan has never been under de facto PRC rule, and the last time it answered to mainland Chinese administration was in the late 19th century.

Chinese officials underline that America’s arms deal with Taiwan is an obstruction to “fostering greater understanding and mutual respect” between the US and China, but what about greater understanding and mutual respect with Taiwan?

If mainland China were serious about respectful rapprochement with its island neighbour, it would remove Taiwan’s excuse for spending 3 per cent of its GDP on defence and for purchasing more arms by relaxing the military and rhetorical pressure it applies. Then Taiwan might actually look like “just another Chinese province”, as Beijing keeps calling it. Then America’s involvement would seem like “intervention”, as Beijing always insists. Then the CCP’s infinite objections would seem merited, and not sound like desperate laments from a monarch who wasn’t willing to share his kingdom with a cousin.

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Keskustelu (1 kommenttia)

27.1.2010, Jyrki Kallio

Kristian Kurki touches upon a very timely topic. The relationship between China and the USA is a delicate one, and even when the relations are at their warmest, the open questions relating to Taiwan can cool the atmosphere quickly.

This climatic equation is not a simple one.

Kristian Kurki suggests that the sounds the PRC government makes about Taiwan are “like desperate laments from a monarch who who wasn’t willing to share his kingdom with a cousin.” That is an interesting metaphor. But is Beijing really “being anachronistic”? I would not say so, not as long as the government in Taipei claims to be the ‘Republic of China’. There is still a state of civil war between two Chinese governments that do not recognize each other’s legitimacy. And in the Chinese political culture, sharing one’s kingdom with a cousin is simply not an option. “Maintain unity or die” is what all the Chinese monarchs have always lived by.

It is easy, and in many ways justifiable, to have one’s sympathies on Taiwan’s side, but in the reality, a solution to the ‘Taiwan issue’ has to take into account the concerns of all parties: Mainland China, Taiwan, and the USA, their governments and populations alike. Any attempt to treat the issue lopsidedly will not yield results.

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