Why unification by force is just an empty threat

January 17, 2020 15:15
Taiwanese troops pose for pictures after conducting drills in Kaohsiung on Wednesday. Beijing maintains that reunification by force is still an option. Photo: Reuters

In the wake of her landslide election victory, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) gave the BBC an exclusive interview, during which she urged Beijing to face the reality and show respect for Taiwan.

“We don't have a need to declare ourselves an independent state,” Tsai said in the BBC interview. “We are an independent country already and we call ourselves the Republic of China (Taiwan).”

In a press conference after winning the presidential election, Tsai also said that the key to reviving benign cross-strait interaction and long-term stability are peace, an equal footing, democracy and dialogue between Beijing and Taipei.

But Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesperson of the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, told a regular press conference on Wednesday that the DPP is to blame for the deteriorating cross-strait relations because it has continued to reject the 1992 consensus, under which both Beijing and Taipei have accepted the “One China Principle”.

Ma also stressed that the results of the just-concluded Taiwan elections won’t change the fact that the island is a part of China, and that it is up to the entire Chinese people to decide, together with the Taiwanese public, the future of Taiwan.

Judging from the uncompromising remarks of both sides, it would probably be logical to infer that cross-strait interaction is unlikely to be too “benign” over the next four years.

But one should feel thankful as long as the interaction between Beijing and Taipei doesn’t turn “malignant” during Tsai’s second term in office.

If one is being optimistic, the cross-strait status quo is likely to remain over the next four years. Yet pessimistically speaking, unification by force may still be pretty much an option for Beijing.

Yet the question is, is Beijing ready to use force to unify Taiwan?

Based on a recent article written by Hu Xijin, the chief editor of the hawkish Global Times, our answer is: “Not even close.”

According to Hu, forcing unification on Taiwan implies facing off with the United States.

And China must meet two conditions before it can embark on this daunting task: 1. The People’s Liberation Army must have an overwhelming military advantage over US troops along the “first island chain”, and 2. China’s market size and comprehensive economic strength must surpass the US by a huge margin.

However, as everyone can tell, these two conditions are almost impossible to meet in the foreseeable future.

As such, we believe unification by force as an option for Beijing still pretty much exists only on paper at this stage.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 16

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal