When asked during a recent TV interview whether she believed Beijing would ever deploy its military forces against Taiwan, the island’s leader Tsai Ing-wen replied immediately in front of the camera that “no one would rule out such possibility”.
Tsai’s answer was a far cry from her response to a similar question raised by the media on another public occasion less than a month ago, during which she said in a rather confident tone that any decision by Beijing to use force against Taiwan would violate the consensus among the various East Asian powers, and therefore she believed “a rational decision-maker would never make such a call”.
If anything, Tsai’s latest radical departure from her previous view on the possibility of Beijing going to war with Taiwan is an unmistakable indication that she is finally willing to face the harsh reality, i.e. Beijing wouldn’t hesitate, not for a second, to send troops to besiege the island if Taipei unilaterally declares independence.
In fact over the years Beijing had already made it crystal clear over and over again without any shred of ambiguity that any attempt to seek formal statehood by Taipei would only lead to cross-strait reunification by force.
And Tsai’s past dismissal of Beijing’s grave warning had only highlighted her dangerous political naivety. Her ignorance of the reality had even become a subject of mockery among the Taiwanese news media.
So, now that Tsai is finally taking Beijing’s threat of force seriously, does her “rude awakening” represent a kind of self-depleting capitulation in face of Beijing’s intimidation? Well, it might, at least in the eyes of the so-called “dark-green camp”, i.e. diehard separatists in Taiwan.
However, from the perspective of political pragmatism, there is a silver lining to Tsai resigning herself to the harsh reality.
It is because as Tsai has now eventually come to terms with the mainland’s zero tolerance to any independence bid by Taipei and understood Beijing’s boundaries, perhaps it could substantially reduce chances of misjudgment or miscalculation by both sides on one hand, and facilitate cross-strait dialogue in the days ahead on the other.
Besides, if Tsai takes a further step to drastically review her policy towards the mainland and even extend an olive branch to Beijing based on her new understanding of the situation, she could help ease the current tense cross-strait ties and revive her own popularity among her people as well.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 24
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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