Friday, August 1, 2008

A Lengthy Analysis of China: The Status of Taiwan Part 2

Post 5 of an 11 part essay on how the recent unrest in Tibet is a barometer of the various internal issues and the international pressure that China is struggling to deal with.

The One-China policy became a mainstay of international diplomacy as recognition of the PRC increased. Even for those nations who did not have a strong position on the Taiwan dispute and simply thought it illogical to ignore a government that effectively ruled over more than 1 billion people, the PRC made acceptance of the One-China policy by other countries a condition for opening relations with the said countries, which in effect means renouncing ties with the ROC, since in recognizing the PRC a country affirms that the PRC, and not the ROC, is the legitimate government of the “one China” that includes Taiwan and the other islands ruled by the ROC.

As a result of being trapped by this rhetoric, Taiwan has no representation in the United Nations (it used to hold the China seat, but in 1971 the ROC representatives were expelled in favor of those of the PRC) and is no longer recognized by the majority of the world. This nominally illegitimate status makes dealing with Taiwan fairly difficult, as it cannot be party to any international treaties nor can it be directly negotiated with without alienating the PRC.

Even as it denies the legitimacy of the ROC, though, the PRC has established some informal ties with Taiwan, particularly on economic and travel matters. In addition, other surrounding countries, such as Japan, have unofficial relations with Taiwan due to the stake they have in Taiwan’s economy.[1] Indeed, although the United States officially renounced the ROC in 1979 in favor of the PRC and nullified the defense treaty, it still maintained close informal relations with Taiwan and continued to furnish it with high-tech weaponry and military funding in order to discourage the PRC from a potential invasion.

In a way, the PRC probably would not mind if the complexities of Taiwan’s status could just be swept away, allowing for Taiwan to officially become an independent state. The PRC’s informal contacts with the island demonstrate the PRC’s acknowledgement of the benefits of cooperation between the two, and indeed an independent Taiwan would still pale in comparison to the rising China and would probably loosen Chinese tensions with the United States.

The PRC, though, is compelled to continue to claim Taiwan and ensure that Taiwan does not declare independence in order to maintain the image of its strong authority, both domestically and internationally. The PRC has struggled throughout its reign to maintain its authoritarian hold over the Chinese people in general and in particular over the non-Chinese, dissatisfied regions of Tibet and Xinjiang. Any step viewed as letting Taiwan act more like an independent state will be duly noted by the Chinese as well as the Tibetans and the Uyghurs who will in turn likely push for similar treatment. In addition, the PRC fears, reasonably so, that its international clout would be weakened if it gave in to calls for Taiwanese independence.

As ridiculous as the Taiwan situation may seem and as outdated as it may be, it continues to have real implications for China and the rest of the world. The PRC has sought to influence Taiwanese politics, helping politicians that advocate adhering to the One-China policy.[2] Those that advocate otherwise are met with a weakening of informal ties and, in some cases, renewed invasion threats. In fact, in 2005, the PRC passed a law officially legalizing its right to invade Taiwan if it declared independence. Even before this law, fears of an invasion compelled Europe and the United States to ban the exportation of high-tech equipment and weaponry to China.

In another recent incident from 1995-1996, the PRC fired missiles close to Taiwan and practiced military operations for an assault on Taiwan after the United States granted a visa to the Taiwanese president at the time, Lee Teng-hui. In response, the United States deployed several aircraft carriers groups in the Taiwan Straits, a clear demonstration that U.S. military support for Taiwan in the event of a PRC invasion has not been ruled out. One can only hope that a devastating, nuclear war between the United States and China over Taiwan will not become the most far-reaching consequence of the dispute over Taiwan.

Truly, the controversial situation regarding Taiwan has become nothing but a nuisance and a hindrance for China, Taiwan, and the rest of the world. Unlike China’s other territorial disputes and, for that matter, its other lingering issues, this dispute, due to the potential implications it has for Tibet, Xinjiang, and, more critically, war with the United States, may never really be fully solved but rather continue to evolve and be a thorn in the side for China as it tries to develop into a superpower.

[1] http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/35855.htm
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/21/world/asia/21taiwan.html

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