2019 is shaping up to be the year of Chinese aggression and challenges to the west. On the technological front, they just landed a spacecraft on the dark side of the moon. Far more troubling is the increasing level of military saber-rattling going on. After launching their first domestically constructed aircraft carrier, one of their admirals suggest that they might sink a couple of ours. And now, renewing a diplomatic battle that’s been going on for decades, China’s president is suggesting that they will bring Taiwan back under the direct control of Beijing, even if they have to do so by force.
Chinese President Xi Jinping stated outright on Wednesday that Beijing’s goal is to absorb Taiwan and that China could use “force” to achieve the goal if necessary.
Mr. Xi’s comments, which are likely to elevate tension over the prospect of Taiwan’s independence from Communist mainland China, came a day after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen vowed the democracy-oriented island will forever resist the sort of reunification being pushed by Beijing.
“Taiwan will never accept ‘one country, two systems,’ Ms. Tsai said in a speech Tuesday, referencing China’s long-held claim that it’s open to allowing Taiwan to have its own semi-autonomous government as long as the island’s sovereignty is fully folded under Chinese rule.
As I suggested after the threat to sink our aircraft carriers was revealed, it’s unlikely in the extreme that China would take any direct military action against the United States. That’s a war neither of us could afford and both sides will likely do whatever is required to avoid open warfare because of how tightly entwined our economies are.
Taiwan, however, is another matter. The communist People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been itching to regain full control of the Island since the 1940s when it was officially run by the exiled Republic of China (ROC) after being taken back from Japan. While Taiwan claims to be an independent nation for the most part, the One China policy makes it clear that mainland China and the PRC consider them a breakaway province in need of corrective action.
The official position of the United States in this mess remains somewhat contradictory and muddled. We’ve tried to maintain friendly relations with Taiwan and encourage the growth of their democracy. But our own State Department describes our connection as “a robust unofficial relationship.” They go on to specifically state that the United States does not support Taiwan independence and since 1979 (thanks, Jimmy Carter!) we have recognized the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China, acknowledging the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China.
Having that as our official policy for forty years puts us between a rock and a hard place when it comes to helping the government of Taiwan and their new president, Tsai Ing-wen. While we may be sympathetic to the far more democratic government of Taiwan, we couldn’t exactly go to war with China on their behalf without a major change in foreign policy. And that seems unlikely under a President who wants closer ties to Beijing, providing he can get this little trade war out of the way.
If China actually pulls the trigger (literally) and uses military force to bring Taiwan under their direct control, many countries around the world would likely issue statements of condemnation, including us. But that’s probably about it, and China knows it. If they’re looking to be more aggressive on the world stage this year, that might be one of the steps they take. And as far as I can tell, there’s pretty much nobody who would move to stop them beyond possibly passing a few new sanctions against them.