TAIWAN’S DEEPENING UNIFICATION CRISIS
Taiwan is in a precarious political state today. If the present conditions prevail, President Tsai Ing-wen’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) will likely lose the presidential election slated for next January, allowing the pro-Beijing Nationalist Party to regain control of the government. That would effectively place the island nation under the control of China.
Popular non-fiction author Ryusho Kadota, who revisited the small Taiwanese island of Quemoy only 1.3 miles off China’s Fujian Province earlier this month, stressed that supporting Taiwan is in Japan’s national interests. I fully agree. Kadota was a guest on my regular weekly “Genron” Internet TV news last Friday. He observed:
“The Nationalist Party, Taiwan’s main opposition, is synonymous with China. A reversion to Nationalist rule would not mean just a change of administration. It would mean a wholesale transformation of Taiwan into a province of China. That would be the worst-case scenario for Japan.”
A prolific author, Kadota has published two successful works depicting the lives of two Japanese who played invaluable roles in bringing Japan and Taiwan closer together in the 20th century—“Devoting My Life to Justice” (Shuei-sha, Tokyo; 2010), and “Dying for Two Motherlands” (Kadokawa Shoten, Tokyo; 2016).
Against the backdrop of a new “cold war” between the US and China, the political situation in Taiwan as a free state has become increasingly critical. On March 5, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang delivered a keynote address in China’s 13th National People’s Congress, asserting that China will resolutely safeguard its core interests and that it will not permit any move towards Taiwan’s independence.
Early this year, President Xi Jingpin spelled out Beijing’s Taiwan policy in a speech commemorating the 40th anniversary of the normalization of US-China relations. Xi stressed that China will “support the 1992 consensus,” is committed to the “one country, two systems” scheme, and will “make no promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option of taking all necessary measures.”
Using force against Taiwan—an expression that fell into disuse in the latter half of the Jiang Zemin era and was rarely used in the Hu Jintao era that followed—has been revived by “Emperor Xi.”
Xi credits Mao Zedong with having enabled China to “rise” against foreign forces and Deng Xiaoping with having made an impoverished China “rich.” Xi further claims that he in turn is committed to making China “strong.” This resolve has obviously led him to declare he will prevent Taiwan’s independence by even resorting to the use of force as part of China’s resolve to protect its core interests. Handicapped by the ongoing trade war with the US, however, China can ill afford to take tough measures against Taiwan at this juncture. As a result, Xi is compelled to assume a more flexible posture towards Taiwan for the time being.
Trap of China’s Appeasement Policy
On March 10, Xi joined deliberation with deputies from Fujian Province during the 13th National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s national legislature. Xi, who had worked in this province for 17 years, explained his government’s Taiwan strategy as follows:
“We (will) make efforts to explore new ways for integrated development across the Taiwan Strait…The two sides should enhance economic and trade cooperation, infrastructure connectivity, energy and resources exchanges, and shared industry standards.”
With these remarks, Xi was simply asserting that Beijing will continue to view Taiwan as a Chinese province and will forge ahead with plans for its eventual reunification with the mainland. In an attempt to pacify Taiwanese, however, China actually began to supply water to Quemoy last August and is now reportedly preparing to provide electricity (The Sankei Shimbun, March 2). Xi also noted:
“China will bring welfare to our compatriots in Taiwan in the same way as we serve the people on the mainland. We will listen to our compatriots in Taiwan and further introduce policies and measures to benefit them.”
In other words, Xi has vowed to adopt a soft approach in pursuing a “Sinicization of Taiwan.” Premier Li, who earlier put a check on Taiwan by emphasizing in his NPC address China will deal strictly with any move aimed at Taiwan’s independence, toned down his hard stance when he met the press immediately following the end of the NPC on March 15. He said:
“China will introduce more ‘preferential policies’ for the people of Taiwan so they can work and study on the mainland and enjoy the same treatment as mainland Chinese citizens.”
China’s Taiwan reunification scheme progresses steadily with the economic and social appeasement policy in the fore against the backdrop of solid military preparedness. One may see a common denominator in the ‘debt diplomacy’ being pursued in implementing Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative, or in the modus operandi under which China has tricked Tibet, oppressing its people and wresting their land away from them. Taiwan should beware of the trap Beijing is setting in pursuing its appeasement policy but I do not believe the people of Taiwan are aware of the danger or making the necessary preparations to deal with it. Reflecting on his recent visit to Quemoy, Kadota pointed out:
“Only 1.25 miles from the Chinese mainland, Quemoy is a tiny island where the last battle between the Nationalists and the Communists was fought. As I have written in Devoting My Life to Justice, Quemoy was miraculously defended against the Communists thanks to the heroic efforts of dedicated Japanese, including Lieutenant General Hiroshi Nemoto of the Imperial Japanese Army. It was my first trip to Quemoy in ten years, but I was truly startled by the sheer number of tourists pouring in from the mainland.”
The hard-fought battleground has since turned into a busy departure base for those visiting the mainland from Taiwan. Kadota explained that the cheapest and most popular way to travel from Taiwan proper to the mainland is to first fly 180 kilometers (113 miles) to Quemoy and then take a 20-minute ferry ride from the island’s Shuitou Pier to the Amoy port in Fujian Province.
While receiving tourists from the mainland has completely changed the landscape of the former battleground, most Taiwanese do not want their country to become part of the mainland. That the approval rating of President Tsai, who has adamantly brushed aside China’s persistent efforts to impose “one country, two systems” as “absolutely unacceptable,” has risen from 15% to 23% since her party’s loss in local elections last November is a clear reflection of the fear Taiwanese have of China.
The Nationalist Party well understands the mindset of the Taiwanese. So they refrain from making “one country, two systems” their campaign pledge. While hiding their true intentions, the Nationalists are maneuvering to further weaken the leadership of Tsai and her ruling party in order to recapture the presidency in the January 2020 election.
Taiwan Needs Help from Japan
Kadota shared the predictions of the next presidential election, which were shocking:
“According to a survey by TVBS of Taiwan, it will be extremely difficult either for Tsai or another DPP candidate, Lai Ching-Te, the former mayor of Tainan and a big fan of Japan, to defeat their Nationalist rivals.
“Of the four Nationalists who are widely seen as possible candidates, the only candidate whom Tsai may have a chance to defeat is Wu Yeng-yih (71), who in any event may not enter the race because of his advanced age.”
There is another likely candidate whose action deserves attention—Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je. A former medical doctor who won the 2014 election backed by the DPP, Ko hasn’t necessarily acted in accordance with the party’s policies.
But Ko is a highly popular politician who has the strong support of voters. Should he decide to run as an independent, even Nationalist candidates would not stand a chance. The exception would be Han Guo-yu—a former fruit and vegetable market president elected mayor of Kaohsiung last November. If Ko runs, the DPP would also be ineffectual against him, Kadota quoted observers as predicting.
“The DPP’s loss would be almost certain,” observed Kadota. “How would that outcome change Taiwan? To maintain the status quo most Taiwanese desire will requires a certain degree of power on the part of the state. Whether Taiwan will have sufficient power—that’s the question.”
On March 2, the conservative mass-circulation daily Sankei Shimbun front-paged an exclusive interview with Tsai in which she called for a stepped-up dialogue between Taiwan and Japan, specifically stressing the “importance of raising the level of dialogue on security cooperation.” Taiwan is asking for Japan’s help. I think it sensible for Japan to respond positively by working closely with the US.
Over the years, Japan has maintained a dialogue with Taiwan on various matters, including trade, with the Liberal Democratic Party taking the leadership. A certain level of military information presumably has been shared between the two countries. Closer cooperation in the economic field, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, will now be mutually beneficial. There have been other areas of cooperation in which no concrete results have yet to emerge. Now is the time to call on all of our wisdom and ingenuity to powerfully promote the relationship between our two countries. Our shared democratic values, including respect for the rule of law, are a strong platform upon which to build.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 845 in the March 21, 2019 issue of The Weekly Shincho)