Does threat of conflict over Taiwan worsen after DPP victory?

February 26, 2024 23:17

A group of foreign residents is seeking a place of refuge – probably a temple or monastery – to hide if PLA soldiers arrive in Taiwan.

“We have heard these threats for 30 years,” said a Taiwan engineer in his 50s. “We pay no attention and do not care about them. Look at housing prices – they are at record levels.”

The possibility of an attack, or a blockade, has increased since the election in January of Lai Ching-te of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as President. The DPP is the most strongly anti-Beijing of the three major parties.

Beijing has refused to hold talks with it since it came to power in 2016.

Last week Wang Huning, China’s most senior official in charge of Taiwan policy after President Xi Jinping, said Beijing “must resolutely fight ‘Taiwan independence’ separatism”. He told the Communist Party’s annual Taiwan work conference that China must also “further grasp the strategic initiative to achieve the complete unification of the motherland”. He used language more aggressive than in his previous statements on Taiwan.

There is no hope of a peaceful resolution. None of the candidates in the January election accepts the “one country, two systems” that President Xi Jinping offers as the only formula for unification.

A survey published last week by National Chengchi University found a record low of 2.4 per cent of Taiwan people identifying as “only Chinese”. It was the lowest figure since the survey began in 1992. By contrast, 61.7 per cent identified as “only Taiwanese”. Only 1.2 per cent supported unification as soon as possible.

A veteran Taiwan journalist said that bilateral relations would worsen with Lai Ching-te. “He does not listen to others and likes to talk. (Current President) Tsai Ing-wen is cautious because she is a scholar and studied in the United States. She has always spoken carefully and not rocked the boat. She listens to her advisers. Lai will not even listen to his Vice-President Hsiao Bi-khim.”

He said it would have been better if the KMT candidate Hou Yu-ih had won. “Beijing would have felt more comfortable and there would be talks and exchanges, even if no major breakthrough. The Taiwan people do not accept ‘one country, two systems’. If you live next to a tiger, it is better not to poke it in the eye. Unfortunately, Hou was not a good candidate, not charismatic nor with the leadership qualities needed at this moment. Taiwan needs a leader who can inspire its people and deal with China.”

“Xi is planning to reunify Taiwan during his term in office, however long that is. He is preparing for it. Most likely is an air and sea blockade. The Taiwanese are not the Ukrainians. For 70 years, they have enjoyed a stable, peaceful life. After a blockade of two-three months, they might be prepared to surrender, to preserve their peaceful life,” he said.

During martial law from 1949 to 1987, men in Taiwan had to perform two-three years of military service. The government later reduced the term to four months. As from this year, it will be increased to 12 months because of the increased military threat from China.

Most people say that one year is not long enough to train a professional soldier. But Lai is reluctant to implement a longer term because he knows that this would be unpopular with young people.
Liang Kuo-chiang, a high school student going to university this year, said: “I plan to study French and German and become a flight attendant for Emirates Airlines. After I graduate, I am supposed to do a year of military service. I do not want to; the equipment is so old. I will try to avoid it. The attitude of my generation is that, if China attacked, we would surrender.”

In an editorial last Saturday, the United Daily News said: “the united front tactics of the Chinese Communists have never changed, but their methods have become more diverse and flexible. We must accurately understand ourselves and the other side and be prepared to win in all kinds of warfare.”

For the business community, a war or blockade is unthinkable, because of the economic consequences for China and the world.

One European businessman in China said that a blockade would not be a regional matter like the Russia/Ukraine war, but global. “Eighteen per cent of global trade passes through the Taiwan Straits. It would be the end of globalisation,” he said.

Wang Mei-hua, Taiwan Minister of Economic Affairs, said: “We occupy an extremely important place in production of semiconductors, especially the most advanced ones, of less than seven nanometres. We are researching those of less than two nanometres. We also produce servers, graphic cards and printed circuits.

“If we cannot provide enough of these to the international market, all the global economy will be paralysed. The consequences will be disastrous, especially for China, and more dramatic than those following the war in Ukraine,” she said.

A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.