Beijing threatens to 'Lebanonize' Taiwan

December 15, 2016 15:00
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen had a phone conversation with US President-elect Donald Trump that raised concerns in Beijing. Photo: Reuters

The phone conversation between US President-elect Donald Trump and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, and Trump’s remarks about the "One China" policy, have grated on Beijing's nerves.

The state mouthpiece Global Times said in an editorial on Monday that China might “Lebanonize” Taiwan if necessary, the first time such a strategy was mentioned in China.

What exactly would that mean?

"Lebanonization" is a word coined in June 1983 by Shimon Peres, then Israel's Labor Party leader, when he talked about Israel removing its troops from Lebanon: "Our policy should be maximum Lebanonization of the territory and minimum permanent Israeli army presence.”

Peres meant Israel would return Lebanon to the Lebanese, which was a good thing.

However, the Israeli withdrawal was followed by a permanent state of civil war among the religious, ethnic and political factions in Lebanon.

As a result, Lebanonization took on a more negative meaning and became a phrase to describe a failed state that keeps struggling with religious and other disputes.

The chaos in Lebanon stabilized after a former army general, Michel Aoun, was elected president in October.

Even though the presidential vacuum was resolved, Lebanon's key political blocs continue to disagree on almost everything else.

On the other hand, Israeli troops have yet to fully withdraw from Lebanon's borders. Relationship between Lebanon and its neighbors remains tense and economic development stalled.

As such, "Lebanonization" is used to describe how a country can cripple another jurisdiction just by occasional exchanges of fire or by blocking the border without going into a full-scale war.

Lebanon had been one of the richest nations in the Middle East for two centuries. The capital city Beirut used to be called Paris of the Middle East, until the civil war in 1975 changed everything.

Going back to the Global Times editorial, titled No More Fantasy And Get Ready To Wrestle With Trump, the article attacked Trump’s comments on the “One China” policy and said China’s core interests have been violated.

Interestingly, the newspaper did not touch on what action China would take against the US.

Instead, it suggested that Beijing should crack down on "Taiwan independence" forces, noting that “we will 'Lebanonize' Taiwan, if necessary".

The article also said attacking Taiwan is one of the real options.

That said, China’s invasion of Taiwan is still pretty much unthinkable and unrealistic.

Although the "hawks" in Beijing have always threatened to use force to unify with Taiwan, the idea has never gained serious attention in mainland China and Taiwan or even in the global community.

Unification through force could easily agitate the US and even trigger open hostilities between the two powers, something which could escalate into a global conflagration.

Lebanonizing Taiwan, by comparison, is a far more practical option.

Through occasional conflicts in the waters between China and Taiwan, or by the use of economic sanctions, the island could be dealt a heavy blow.

Let’s just wait and see how Tsai would react to the new threat.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 14.

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist