TIME FOR TAIWANESE TO UNITE UNDER GROWING CHINESE THREAT
As the US-China trade war progresses, the international community is at the crossroads of a fierce clash between two choices—American-style freedom and democracy or the totalitarian rule of the Chinese Communist Party.
At this juncture where the US is resolutely enhancing its China policy and engaged in a conflict of values far beyond mere economic gain and loss, the geopolitical importance of Taiwan has become greater than ever before.
The crushing defeat suffered by Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the local elections on November 24 has serious implications for the future of the island nation. The DPP led by President Tsai In-wen, which had controlled 13 of Taiwan’s 22 counties and cities before the elections, is now left with only six, compared with 15 for the opposition Nationalist Party (Kuomintang).
The DPP now controls only two of Taiwan’s six biggest cities, which account for some 70% of its total population. Prior to the elections, the party had controlled four of them. Meanwhile, the pro-Beijing opposition collected 6.1 million votes—1,200,000 million votes more than the DPP’s 4.9 million.
On election night, a dejected Tsai appeared before a downhearted crowd in her usual attire of a simple pantsuit and read a prepared statement, saying among other things:
“We did not work hard enough and let our supporters down. For this I must express my sincere apologies.”
Assuming responsibility for her party’s crushing defeat, she announced her resignation as head of the ruling party, although vowing she will remain as president of the party for the remainder of her term, which ends in late 2020. Expressionless throughout, Tsai left the press without accepting questions.
What accounts for Tsai’s shattering defeat less than three years after winning a landslide victor in the presidential election of January 2016? On that occasion, she was beaming as she appealed to an enthusiastic crowd before her: “Let us usher in a new era for Taiwan together!” Taiwan-born commentator Kim Bi-lin, now a naturalized Japanese citizen, puts the blame on Taiwan’s voters, who she alleges completely failed to understand Taiwan’s delicate geopolitical position.
“Two years ago, the people of Taiwan left their fate in Tsai’s hands,” emphasizes Kim. “That meant standing face to face with Beijing—a very tough assignment for the former university professor turned politician. And yet, the voters started criticizing her over trivial matters. I must say the voters have been very foolish.”
Kim notes that living in Japan has enabled her to better recognize the Chinese threat Taiwan is faced with—and what the Taiwanese must do to overcome it. The answer is for the Taiwanese to enhance their national strength and band together so as to be able to cope with a national crisis at any time. Unless the people of Taiwan are committed to protecting the administrations run by native-born Taiwanese, Taiwan will never be able to preserve the current status quo.
If the people allow a Nationalist administration run by mainlanders to take over the government, they most likely will try to move in the direction of unifying Taiwan with the mainland, as former Nationalist president Ma Ying-jeou did. Therefore, the DPP’s resounding defeat this time, i.e., the Nationalists’ sweeping victory, has been a major shock in view of what lies ahead for Taiwan.
Suspicions about Referendum
What kind of future do the Taiwanese long for? One can read several important matters from the concurrent national referendum held this time, in which the voters were asked ten questions. One of the questions was whether they favor applying for entry into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics under “Taiwan,” instead of “Chinese Taipei”—a deliberately ambiguous name used since the 1970s to placate Beijing while allowing Taiwan’s participation in international events.
In response, the vote was 5.77 million “no” and 4.76 million “yes.” As a matter of fact, Japanese and Taiwanese officials had frequently met behind the scenes to consider ways to enable Taiwan to take part in the Tokyo Olympics under “Taiwan.”
But the results proved that more than half the voters came out against using their nation’s authentic country name for the Tokyo Games, seriously concerned that such an action would provoke Beijing more than necessary.
Be that as it may, why was this matter put to the ballot?
Another question was whether or not Taiwan should maintain a ban on food products imported from five northern Japanese prefectures, including Fukushima, affected by the 2011 nuclear disaster. Food products from the region—including rice, fruits, and marine products—are all packaged for shipment only after passing extremely rigid examinations. Fukushima itself boasts among the world’s strictest food safety standards. But I suppose this fact was not shared with the consumers in Taiwan.
President Tsai herself was said to be positive about lifting the ban. But the issue was put on the referendum ballot before she could take action. It was only to be expected that the question would draw a negative response, as the voters had hardly been briefed on the rigid safety measures implemented by the Japanese authorities. The upshot was that Taiwan’s consumers said “no,” with 7.79 million voters for the ban and only 2.23 million against it.
The representatives of the prefectures who had been vigorously appealing for a resumption of food exports to Taiwan were more than disheartened by the results of the referendum. They were frustrated over the unscientific conclusions the Taiwan side rendered on the safety of foods from their prefectures. But this result is obviously welcome news for the forces eager to contribute to a cooling of Japan-Taiwan relations.
Over the years, operatives from the Chinese mainland have been engaged in secret maneuvers to harm Taiwan. It would be reasonable to assume that they have infiltrated not only the media and the business world but the military as well. Presumably, they will do everything they can to contribute to tearing Taiwan away from the US and Japan. One naturally views the recent referendum with suspicion.
Beijing Intensifies Diplomatic Pressure on Taipei
Over the two and a half years of her presidency, President Tsai has been subject to frequent Chinese interference in Taiwan’s internal politics, and has suffered much from China’s actions in the diplomatic arena as well.
Tsai has refused to acknowledge the so called “1992 Consensus”—a “one-China” agreement Beijing claims Taipei consented to. Meanwhile, China has continued to strip away Taiwan’s diplomatic allies one after another so as to isolate it from the international community.
So far, five nations, including Panama and Dominica, have forsaken Taiwan and established diplomatic relations with China, attracted by offers of huge economic assistance. Today, only 17 nations out of the 193 United Nations member nations maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
The Chinese are succeeding in adroitly forcing Taiwan into international isolation, dispiriting its soldiers and planting the seeds of fear of China among the populace—a psychological warfare the Chinese are good at.
Against this backdrop, China is intent on strengthening its military forces, with an invasion of Taiwan constantly in mind. The 2018 annual US Department of Defense report to the Congress on China’s military and security developments, which compares the war waging capabilities of China and Taiwan, reveals an ever-widening gap between the two in the former’s favor.
This year the US has enacted two new major laws aimed at further aiding Taiwan—the Taiwan Travel Act and the National Defense Authorization Act. Through these laws, the US has made clear its intent to assist Taiwan diplomatically and militarily.
How will the changing geopolitical map of Asia affect Japan? Despite the shattering loss suffered by the DPP this month, I don’t suppose the Taiwanese would readily allow the Nationalists to turn towards Beijing after their return to power. Even so, it is quite possible that Taiwan will see a period of chaos and crisis.
The situation on the Korean Peninsula looks equally unstable, as the South under the liberal Moon Jae-in administration appears to have totally lost sight of the proper goals of a modern democracy. In Moon’s eagerness to subordinate the South to the North, we must even consider the possibility that South Korea will cease to exist as an independent country.
Japan must prepare for these major changes in Taiwan and the Korean Peninsula by strengthening its own national security. With that in mind, we should increase our national defense outlay to 2% of GDP, as President Trump has been urging NATO members, so as to double the military muscle of our Self-Defense Forces. That will be hard to accomplish in a short span of time, but that is all the more reason to resolutely forge ahead with an early revision of our “peace” constitution. (The End)
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 830 in the December 6, 2018 issue of The Weekly Shincho)