In 2021, reconciliation over Taiwan Strait, please

December 28, 2020 08:20
Photo: AFP

2021 is the year of many anniversaries – 110 years after the Xinhai Revolution, 109 after the foundation of the Kuomintang and 100 after the foundation of the Communist Party.

All three had two main objectives – the renaissance (復興) and reunification (统一) of China. On the first, much progress has been made. The country is now an industrial, technological and military world power.

But the second is fading further and further into the distance. During 2020, the gap between Taiwan and the mainland greatly widened. The mass protests in Hong Kong, followed by the National Security Law (NSL), have made Taiwan people more skeptical about “one country, two systems”.

But Beijing insists that this formula is the only basis for negotiation and that Taiwan’s government must accept the 1992 consensus; it refuses. So, since 2016, there have been no political or other talks between the two governments.

Into this void has stepped the military. During November, PLA fighter jets entered Taiwan airspace in 26 out of 30 days, a record for a single month. Each time they were shadowed by Taiwan air force planes. In response, the United States has this year increased sales of arms to Taipei, in both quantity and quality. Not since the Kuomintang retreated to Taiwan in 1949 has there been such intense military activity above and around the island.

War has never been closer. In August, the Global Times in Beijing said: “If a war breaks out in the Taiwan Straits, the PLA is capable of acting fast and leaving no time for the US to come to the secessionists' aid and rescue. U.S. bases in the Asia-Pacific region are all reachable by PLA missiles. Two PLA aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and Shandong, could be deployed east to the island of Taiwan to cut off easy access of US forces to the region.”

In response to these tensions, Taiwan manufacturers are making a historic shift to move production out of the mainland. They include Pegatron and Quanta Computer, which rank second and third in the world for electronic manufacturing services.

This poisoning of relations has also affected Hong Kong. In July, the acting chief of Taiwan’s de facto consulate here returned home after refusing to sign a document supporting Beijing’s claim on the island under its “one-China” policy. In response, Taiwan rejected the residence permits of two officials of the Hong Kong Economic, Trade and Cultural Office in Taipei.

Fearing the NSL, Hong Kong people, companies and institutions increasingly censor themselves in speaking and writing about Taiwan. No-one dares to say its official name, the Republic of China.

In last week’s issue of Asiaweek (亞洲周刊), Chen Fu (陳復),a professor of the Liberal Education Centre at the Hualien Tunghwa University (花蓮東華通識教育中心)wrote an article entitled “Beijing Should Greatly Recognise the Republic of China”.

He argued that Beijing’s policy is alienating the people of Taiwan. “Have not the mainland authorities discovered that, by continuing not to recognise the Republic of China and constantly denigrating its existence, they are making Taiwan people not understand what is ‘the ideal China’? They only see ‘the existing China’.

“The mainland authorities are using military means to force reunification. This will build up deep hatred in the long-term future in the peoples of the two sides, hatred that cannot be resolved. This foolish policy completely cannot reflect the traditional wisdom of Chinese thinking,” he said.

It should not be a binary issue of “either me or you”, he said. The current policy denies the sense of Chineseness among Taiwan people.

Chen’s article reflects the majority opinion on the island. During the eight years of Kuomintang rule from 2008 to 2016, this opinion became more favourable toward China. But, since 2016, this has reversed, as Beijing’s response has become more harsh and militarised.

A military conflict would be a catastrophe for both sides. It might lead to unification, but would sew hatred in the hearts of Taiwan people for generations to come. It might cause a war between the United States and China, with incalculable consequences. From his seat in heaven, Dr Sun Yat-sen would weep at how his grandchildren are destroying his dream.

Professor Chen is asking for reconciliation and listening to the ideas and feelings of the other side. Is that not something for which we should all hope as we enter a momentous year?

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.