It all started in 1949, when Chiang Kai-Shek led a revolution against the Mao led Communist Party of China. Being defeated, Chiang Kai-Shek retreated to Taipei and declared Taipei as the capital of Republic of China (ROC). Whereas Mao Zedong was representing Peoples Republic Of China (PRC). Subsequently, both China and Taiwan laid claim to all of China.
Then Taiwan was ousted from the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and also from the National Security Council. Then in 1979, US ended all diplomatic ties with Taiwan, thus boosting China’s position against Taiwan. But since then, the dynamics have changed a lot.
Many analysts believe that the reason China is so desperate to get Taiwan back is that China is threatened by Taiwan. Threatened in a sense that, Taiwan is a thriving, vibrant democracy. Taiwan is a champion of freedom of speech. China is scared that the Chinese citizens might look at Taiwan and demand something similar for their country also. China already spends a lot of their energy in suppressing any voice of dissent.
UNDERSTANDING THE 1992 CONSENSUS
In 1992, a historic meeting took place between China and Taiwan in Hongkong. In this meeting was signed the 1992 Consensus. This consensus brought with itself a lot of optimism about the future relations of both the countries on either side of Taiwan Strait. The deal was signed between Communist Party of China and the Kuomintang (KMT) party of Taiwan. The deal was used by the leaders of both the countries as an icebreaker and was used as a base for constructive dialogue.
The text of 1992 Consensus is very complex. Both the countries have their own interpretation of the deal. China believes that the text states that both China and Taiwan belong to “one China” and that both countries will ultimately reunite, and Taiwan will function under the “one country, two systems” framework. But Taiwan reads it as both the countries belonging to “one China” without the reunite part. Both the countries also have different definitions of what China in “one China” stands for. For China, “one China” means Peoples Republic of China and for Taiwan, “one China” means Republic of China.
China has been using the consensus to reiterate its stance on Taiwan, saying that it should reunite with the mainland. But the deal is not acceptable to Tsai Ing-Wen, the president of Taiwan and leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). She does not recognize the deal as the basis for a dialogue with Beijing.
CHINA FLEXES MUSCLES
Since the election of Tsai, China has been very aggressive in opining its stance in Taiwan. Most recently, in 2018, celebrating the 40th anniversary of its reforms, Mr. Jinping said that China will not hesitate to use force to bring Taiwan back to the mainland. China has also been playing its typical brand of politics.
According to a report by Engadget in July 2018, Apple’s devices with v11.3 have been crashing whenever the user types in “Taiwan” or uses the Taiwan flag emoji. Initially, this bug created by China was only supposed to affect the Chinese user, but it spread to other countries also. Now this bug has been fixed by Apple. Apple recently during a launch of one of its products referred to Taiwan as a separate country which invited a lot of flak from China. China insists that Taiwan is referred as “Taiwan, China” instead of just Taiwan, implying that it is a part of China.
In another instance, in Golden Horse Film awards being hosted in Taipei, the director of the best documentary, Fu Yue said that it is her one dream to see her country being genuinely considered independent. This part of the speech was censored in China.
China has also been forcing dozens of airlines to recognize Taiwan as a part of China. Although many airlines have done this, airlines in US have not followed suit. China is also opposing selling of military technology to Taiwan by other countries. China has said that all countries should accept the “one China” policy. China does not want any country to have a military relationship with Taiwan.
China has been doing all this to get the international community on its side. This will strengthen China’s claims and will put pressure on Taiwan to bend under the pressure. But this kind of trickery and all the brouhaha over the 1992 Consensus has been counterproductive for China.
US COMES INTO THE FRAME
US position in Taiwan has changed significantly since 1979. Tsai Ing-Wen upon being elected, phoned the US president to extend a hand of friendship. Since then US has been making efforts to improve diplomatic relationship with Taiwan. US has signed into law the National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA), which means that US is now legally bound to strengthen ties with Taiwan. It also means that US now has to invite Taiwan to participate in military exercises.
US also has the Taiwan Relations Act which states that US has to provide defense equipment and services to Taiwan to enable Taiwan to maintain a self-sufficient defense capability. US has said that any change in the status quo by China in Taiwan will invite retaliation by US which will have its own grave consequences.
Some experts believe that invading Taiwan will be a pyrrhic victory for China. This is because, Taiwan has a huge amount of investments in China, if Taiwan is invaded, China will lose those investments. US has also signed the Taiwan Travel Act clearing the way for the visit of high-ranking US officials to Taiwan.
At the end I would like to posit that if China hopes for a peaceful resolution to the Taiwan problem, it will have to change its tactics. China will have to move from all the rhetoric over the 1992 Consensus towards a new strategy. People are aware of China’s deceptive politics in Hongkong and Tibet, so it will be tough for China to sell the “one country, two systems” framework. Provocative statements will only make the situation worse.