The historical position of the United States and an unstable equilibrium. Taiwan remains conditioned by the founding act of 1949, no government has ever dared to pursue independence. For Beijing that act is the red line not to cross
For Xi Jinping the necessary, necessary, inevitable reunification even by force. Taiwan considered a rebel province, since Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist forces on the mainland were defeated by Mao Zedong’s communists at the end of the civil war (1945-1949) and took refuge on the island. The historical legitimacy questionable. Taiwan has not always been an appendage of the Chinese nation as Xi would have us believe. The oldest inhabitants of the island are an indigenous ethnic group, the result of migrations from the Asian continent that took place between 30,000 and 6,000 years ago. But today the indigenous community is reduced to 2% of the population.
Taiwan has been invaded from time to time by ethnic Chinese mainland such as the Hakka who have come to consider themselves indigenous; by the Portuguese who baptized it Formosa; by the Dutch; by the French. Since the end of the nineteenth century it has long been a colony of Japan. Its history as a territory annexed to mainland China is fairly recent and discontinuous, even if the last imperial dynasty (Qing) did everything to affirm its sovereignty, to prevent Japan from maintaining that island from which it threatened the Chinese coasts.
The Beijing version
The fact that the last invasion, in 1949, had Chinese nationalists defeated by Mao as protagonists, has magnified the geopolitical importance of its status. Since Beijing has always maintained that Taiwan is a province occupied by illegal secessionist forces. Be wary of the governments of Taiwan, even if democratically elected, from taking any action that could lead to a declaration of independence. Beijing exerts pressure on all other states to prevent them from recognizing Taiwan. The People’s Republic calls the international community back to coherence. Wang Yi, foreign minister, compared it to Catalonia, recalling what happened when Barcelona tried to declare itself independent: the Madrid government ignored the response of the local referendum and the Catalan legislative assembly; arrested former autonomous government ministers; others were sent into exile. The European Union, the United States, supported Madrid.
For Xi Jinping, whatever method he chooses to use to annex the island, including military aggression, his legitimacy is all his own. an internal matter. To help him, at least in part, is the fact that the other two actors in the drama have ambiguous behaviors: Taiwan and the United States.
History has messed things up as early as 1949. The leader of the nationalists, Chiang Kai-shek, harbored dreams of revenge. He wanted to prepare for the return to the mainland, defeat the Communists and replace them for the Beijing government. For him, Taipei was a temporary seat, he considered himself the only legitimate head of all of China. The two enemies, Mao and Chiang, shared the idea that there was only one China: each considered itself the legitimate leader, excluding that there could be two Chinese states. The one China principle was thus long supported by Taiwanese politicians. Over time it became a fiction. Chiang’s nationalism had imposed martial law on Taiwan (theoretically in view of military revenge) and an authoritarian right-wing regime. Since the late 1980s, Chiang’s successors have steered the island towards a pluralist democracy. Just as in Beijing the Communist regime was staining itself with a crime against its own people by crushing the Tiananmen Square protest in blood (1989), in Taipei liberties were blossoming. The Taiwanese elections allowed the alternation to the government and often rewarded the Democratic party, the most independentistto which current president Tsai Ing-wen belongs, the first woman to hold this office. The new generations on the island feel less and less Chinese and more and more Taiwanese, also thanks to the flourishing of a very creative cultural life, from literature to cinema, from painting to pop music. For Taiwan it remains conditioned by its founding act of 1949, and no government has ever dared to openly pursue independence. Also because unequivocal signals have come from Beijing: that act the red line not to cross, the consequences would be terrible.
Prisoners of History
The United States is also a prisoner of history. In 1945-49 they supported Chiang Kai-shek in the civil war. They continued to help the nationalist leader after his escape to Taipei. All American presidents, both Republican and Democrat, adhered to the fiction about one China; for the first decades of the post-war period they recognized as legitimate the one with (provisional) headquarters on the island. In the beginning, thanks to the support of America, it was Taiwan that occupied the Chinese seat in the United Nations. Taipei received economic and military aid from Washington and for years there was a formal treaty by which the Americans guaranteed its defense in case of aggression. Then the turning point: the surprise summit between President Richard Nixon and Mao in Beijing in 1972; the thaw between the Western superpower and the Asian giant. Finally, diplomatic recognition between Washington and Beijing on January 1, 1979 during the presidency of Jimmy Carter and the leadership of Deng Xiaoping.
Washington continued to adhere to the one China principle, moving for recognition from Taipei to Beijing. The relationship with Taiwan remained very close for informal: there is no longer a real US embassy in Taipei nor the Taiwanese equivalent in Washington. With regard to China, for half a century, American presidents have been content to defend an ambiguous and therefore precarious status quo. In exchange for the recognition of the People’s Republic, the United States has always asked – and in the past has obtained – that Beijing undertake not to reunify with Taiwan by using force. The US administrations themselves hinted that they would defend Taipei from aggression; even without renewing a formal treaty. Today there is nothing as binding as NATO’s article 5 which requires intervention in defense of an ally under attack. The United States has helped Taiwan fend for itself, with tens of billions of arms sales. America accepts the principle that there is only one China, but does everything it can to make sure there are two in reality.
An unstable balance
This unstable equilibrium is now compromised. In the days of Mao, and also of Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese armed forces were gigantic but backward; US arms sales gave Taiwan a technological superiority that was enough to compensate for the numerical inferiority. In some cases the conflict was touched upon, but only the ships of the US Seventh Fleet appeared in the Strait, and the deterrent effect on the Chinese was effective. All this a thing of the past. China’s astonishing advance in armaments brings it closer to par with the United States. In terms of number of ships, the Chinese fleet has already exceeded the size of the American one. If you add the geographical advantage, the ease of crossing the Strait, the military confrontation is much more favorable to the Chinese. The most optimistic scenarios in Washington point to Taiwan’s ability to resist the invader a few weeks, giving time for US reinforcements to arrive. But military doctrine views this as an almost desperate undertaking. In wargames, the simulations of the various conflict scenarios carried out at the Pentagon, a US-China clash over Taiwan is almost always won by the Chinese.
August 6, 2022 (change August 6, 2022 | 07:29)
© REPRODUCTION RESERVED