- Charlie Sainsbury
China and Taiwan: One country, two claims, one system
There is no doubt that China is a global superpower both militarily and economically; Beijing’s influence extending across the globe. Yet, one close neighbour of the Chinese seems to continually defy Beijing - the small island of Taiwan. The question of Taiwanese independence is an incredibly nuanced one, and within this article I hope to address and form a judgement around both the question of Taiwanese independence, and the methods that China is using to suppress even the notion of an independent Taiwan.
Since 1949, this small island has operated under almost complete sovereignty and independence from China in regards to its domestic policies and national government. After the fall of the Chinese government in the Chinese civil war nearly a century ago, over two million refugees fled to Taiwan and set up their own official government of Taiwan - even representing the country in the United Nations until 1971. Beijing on the other hand has argued that the island is a part of China - an ideological concept known as the one-China principle - and unsurprisingly this has been a cause of concern for Taiwan and many states that support it, including the United States.
The election of the pro-independent Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen has caused the People’s Republic of China to intensify the methods it’s currently using to isolate Taiwan economically and push the island towards political reunification with mainland China.
Although Tsai Ing-Wen has never openly announced the complete independence of Taiwan - even blocking attempts to expand a referendum law that addresses the question of sovereignty - China has seen her election as a contentious issue in regards to the question of Taiwan’s political independence. It is because of this that China has put pressure on its international partners and friends to push Taiwan into a corner that it cannot escape from, even going so far as to shut down the Chinese website of the Mariott hotel because it called Taiwan a country in its customer questionnaire.
It’s perfectly fine to agree to disagree on the question of Taiwanese sovereignty. However, to shut down a political debate that has both an economic and an ideological impact on the millions of people that continue to reside in Taiwan is morally indefensible and damaging to the people of Taiwan. I would argue that the Chinese, simply through the vigorous censorship of the opinion that Taiwan should be it’s own state, has already lost the debate. If they actually had valid reasons to establish political control in Taiwan, then there would be no reason to shut down the debate.
In another case, the Civil Aviation Administration of China has asked 36 international air carriers to review their websites and remove any mention of Taiwan as an independent region, with the US aptly describing this as ‘Orwellian nonsense’. These demands and contentions may seem trivial, but for China, even the concept of an independent Taiwan has to be snuffed out. Frankly, these attempts to shape perceptions of this unique and complicated debate only works against the argument against independence.
However, all out war over the island seems unlikely. The US still maintains close military ties with Taiwan, as well as adopting a protective stance in regards to the island’s sovereignty; the Chinese, unsurprisingly, view this as a clear deterrent and a reason not to engage in physical conflict. Equally, China understands that forcing Taiwan, which operates under a far more democratic and accountable system than China, to regress to a one-party system would inevitably spell trouble and dissent amongst the Taiwanese populace. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean the Taiwan will gain the complete sovereignty it desires. China is picking off Taiwan’s smaller allies one by one as they use an economy generated by over a billion people to suffocate their economies, whilst for many people going to war with China is a much worse option than coming under the political control of China.
That being said, the independence movement within Taiwan is growing – with a poll in 2017 showing 57% supported independence, whilst 54% identified as Taiwanese. Sadly, China’s incredibly large economy and emerging political clout means that the rights of the Taiwanese to decide their own future and their future relationship with China is an increasingly diminishing prospect.
The people of Taiwan should have the right to decide who they believe they are through rational debate with both the Chinese and themselves. Once that decision has been reached it is, in my opinion, the moral duty of the nations surrounding Taiwan to respect this decision. It is rather dangerous if we allow China to steamroll and economically destroy a country because of a disagreement of identity. Give the people of Taiwan a binding vote.