February 19, 2021 at 12:59 pm
Ernesto M. Hilario
The prudent thing to do is to urge both sides to exercise restraint and conduct peaceful dialogue to prevent any escalation of current tensions.
It is said that on a clear day, those in the northernmost islands of Batanes province can already catch a glimpse of the southernmost city of Taiwan, which is the port city of Kaoshiung. That's how close we are to Taiwan.
Taiwan was where Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Army fled from the Chinese mainland after the victory of Mao Zedong's Red Army in 1949. Today, it has a current population of 23 million and experienced sustained economic growth that makes it among Asia's success stories since the end of WWII.
But while Taiwan has enjoyed an economic boom and relative political stability after a period of authoritarian rule from the 1950s to the 1980s, its future hangs under a cloud of doubt as China considers it as a province that should be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.
Beijing's stand has been consistent: It will not countenance Taiwan's independence and wants the government in Taiwan to stop seeking independence and instead return to the 1992 Consensus as the necessary conditions for the resumption of official contact and dialogue between the two sides. Beijing insists that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China with strong legal bonds, and that the short distance between the two sides of the Straits also makes this historical fact unchangeable.
The 1992 Consensus refers to the outcome of a meeting that year between semiofficial representatives of Beijing and Taipei where they supposedly agreed that there is only one China. But both sides interpret the meaning of "one China" according to their own definition.
The new Biden administration has signaled that it wants to continue to forge a closer relationship with Taiwan.
When China recently flew an unprecedented number of military aircraft, including eight bombers, into Taiwan's air defense identification zone, the Biden administration swiftly condemned this: “We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan's democratically elected representatives...Our commitment to Taiwan is rock-solid.”
The Biden administration later authorized a new warship transit through the Taiwan Strait, in a what was intended to send a clear message to Beijing of its full support for Taiwan.
The Biden administration team also supports the TAIPEI [Taiwan Allies and International Protection and Enhancement Initiative] Act passed by the US Congress in 2019 that encourages governments and international organizations to increase their official and unofficial relations with Taiwan. Taiwan’s leadership and its Mainland Affairs Council insist that the mainland should think carefully and not underestimate the island’s determination to defend its “sovereignty” and “uphold freedom and democracy.”
All this tells us one thing: Taiwan remains a flashpoint for possible US-China contention in this part of the world.
China’s Ministry of National Defense recently warned that “Taiwan independence” means war. But the Pentagon said it “sees no reason why tensions over Taiwan need to lead to anything like confrontation.” It reaffirmed US obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act and asserted that the US military “remains ready in all respects to meet our security commitments in the region.”
The current US position on the Taiwan question, however, seems to ignore the advice of the influential US think tank RAND Corporation, if Chinese military expert Yang Cheng-jun is to be believed. He said that the research group concluded that since China has risen, Washington can actually abandon Taiwan, lower its commitment to Taiwan, and recognize China’s interests in East Asia.
Yang cites a 2018 RAND report saying that the probability of “military unification” on the mainland has increased significantly. ‘The mainland is capable of striking US and Taiwan air bases and inflicting heavy losses on the US and Taiwan air forces in the theater,’ the report said. The rapid growth of China’s military power in recent years would make it capable of attacking U.S. bases on its borders, not to mention Taiwan’s military might.
A 2020 RAND report titled “China’s Grand Strategy: Trends, Traces and Long-Term Competition” argues that China will become the world’s largest economy after 2030. At the same time, China’s technological prowess in some areas will also lead the world by 2050. The innovation and capability of China’s science and technology will contribute to China’s further economic development.
What's going for Beijing, the report said, is that China’s diplomatic strategy has been very successful as it has strengthened ties with neighboring countries and the developing world as a whole, thus maintaining its sustained economic growth and prosperity. The report said that as China seeks to dislodge U.S. forces from the western Pacific, the potential for confrontation and conflict between the two big powers will be greatly increased. However, the researchers say China still wants to avoid a war with the United States because it would be bad for business and the economy. Therefore, China will actively seek to manage the possibility of escalation.
For the Philippines, with its proximity to the Taiwan Straits and close ties to China, on the one hand, and Taiwan and the US, on the other, the prudent thing to do is to urge both sides to exercise restraint and conduct peaceful dialogue to prevent any escalation of current tensions and thus maintain peace and stability in the region for as long as possible.