Beijing’s point man on Taiwan recently asserted that China was more capable than ever of reuniting with the self-governed island, given the rise of the nation’s global influence and profile.
Liu Jieyi, the director of the Chinese State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office, a career diplomat who also served as Beijing’s permanent representative to the United Nations between 2013 and 2018, said in an op-ed in Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily last month that China was now closer than in any other period in history to realizing its great renaissance and redeeming its glory.
“[Therefore] we have stronger abilities and better conditions in pushing for [Taiwan’s] reunification with the motherland … When comparing the strengths between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, the mainland has a comprehensive and overwhelming advantage over the island.”
Mainland China was Taiwan’s largest export market, investment destination and source of a trade surplus totaling US$128.95 billion in 2018, according to the Chinese Commerce Ministry.
Still, Liu’s optimistic remarks were not well-received among voters in Taiwan as the island heads to the polls this Saturday to elect a new president and lawmakers, consequential elections that will determine the island’s course in the next four years as well as the state of cross-strait ties.
Beijing continues to put the squeeze on Taiwan, calling it a wayward province pending reunification, in a thinly-veiled move to intimidate its people into ditching the independence-learning Tsai Ing-wen, of the Democratic Progressive Party, and picking Han Kuo-yu, fielded by the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party, as the next leader if they want calmer cross-strait ties.
The mainland has halted all official exchanges with the island since Tsai came to power in 2016, and Chinese President Xi Jinping in January 2019 reiterated the intention to foist the “one country, two systems” paradigm, now in place in Hong Kong and Macau, on the island, after its return to the mainland’s bosom, either through peaceful talks or force.
But Tsai has vowed to reject the model and safeguard the island’s sovereignty. Recent opinion polls showed Tsai was enjoying a 20% lead over the KMT’s Han.
As seen in the island’s previous presidential races, the more Beijing renews its threats, the more votes go to the pro-independence candidate. For instance, the Chinese military’s drills in the Taiwan Strait and firing of missiles in the island’s littoral waters in 1996 helped Li Teng-hui, who openly stated that Taiwan was a sovereign state, secured another term.
Ted Yoho, a US representative who sits on the House’s Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation, argued in a column in Taiwanese papers this week that Beijing was operating on a misguided belief that Taiwan was part of its territory.
“Misdirected foreign policy under then-US President Richard Nixon and then-US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger created a cloud of confusion over the status of Taiwan. This culminated when former US President Jimmy Carter nullified the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty [protecting Taiwan] in 1979, and convoluted diplomatic arrangements were created to avoid offending delicate communist sensibilities,” wrote Yoho.
“’Reunification’ is a deception based on a false premise. Taiwan has never been a part of the People’s Republic of China, so ‘reunification’ is impossible … The question that must be answered is this: Is Taiwan an independent country or a province of the PRC? The people of Taiwan already know the answer and will give it during this month’s elections.”
The hawkish China firebrand, a key advocate who pushed for several pro-Taiwan bills passed by the US Congress, also said that Beijing ignorantly assumes that Taiwan and its citizens desired to be part of China as they were lured by China’s increased world influence, and that this confusion must be cleared up as otherwise China would make another Hong Kong misstep in Taiwan.