How China Views the Taiwan Problem
The Taiwan question is not merely an issue concerning the national rejuvenation of China, but also concerns the peace and prosperity of Asia as a whole.
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan abruptly heightened tensions by provoking unprecedented Chinese military exercises in the Taiwan Strait. This led to concern about whether a large-scale military conflict between China and the United States will ensue.
Why is the Taiwan question so sensitive? It has a bearing on China’s core national interests.
China and the “Great Reunification”
The idea of “great reunification” has been part of China’s historical and cultural tradition for over 2,000 years. It is not only a political feeling but also a value system that has gained wide popularity in China. In China, primary school students can recite a poem by Lu You, a Song Dynasty politician: “That after death everything becomes void, I sure perceive; Yet, not to have seen my country unified is still what makes me grieve.” Safeguarding national reunification is an undying belief for the Chinese people, who regard the national division as a tragedy. A look at the history of China shows that it is replete with struggles for “great reunification.” The flourishing ages in Chinese history, such as the Qin, Han, and Tang dynasties, were all unified countries without exception, and a time of national division was often denounced as troubled times that would spell disaster for the people. This background to the civilization reveals why the Chinese people are so fond of national reunification. Why do the Chinese people attach so much importance to the Taiwan question? It is because “great reunification” runs in the DNA of Chinese culture.
People living on both sides of the Taiwan Strait share the same roots and speak the same language. Deeply influenced by the Chinese civilization, the people of Taiwan, like the people on the mainland, have inherited the DNA of Chinese culture that longs for national reunification. It is precisely because of the awareness of a deep-rooted idea of “great reunification” in Chinese civilization that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) began to launch “desinicization” after coming into power, promoting Taiwan’s “localized” education. However, Taiwan’s indigenous culture is essentially a part of Chinese civilization. Truly faithful “localized” education must originate from Chinese culture. In recent years, in an attempt to obstruct China’s peaceful development, the United States has capitalized on American-style values of democracy and freedom to hold its allies ransom in its joint efforts to contain China and challenge the political order of a sovereign state by bypassing the United Nations system. Cognizant of the opportunity, Taiwanese authorities have seized the opportunity to egg the United States on to promote Taiwan’s decoupling from mainland China and leverage the new Cold War pattern to accelerate desinicization. Taiwanese authorities’ attempt to use so-called “democratic values” to evade China’s traditional “great reunification” value system, bypass the UN Resolution 2758 adopted in 1971, and seek “Taiwan independence” has fallen into the paradox of undermining the country’s territorial sovereignty and integrity.
Unlike Chinese civilization, Western societies have historically lacked a concept of “great reunification.” Whether it be Greece, the Roman Empire, Europe in the Middle Ages, the Age of Great Navigations, or the Industrial Revolution, large-scale reunification took place not long ago in Western societies. Alexander the Great completed the annexation of territory but did not implement reunification in a substantive way. The Roman Empire was a momentary period of reunification in Western civilization but soon broke up into Eastern and Western Roman Empires. Later, the Western Roman Empire was invaded by barbarians. In the millennial Western history thereafter, only Charlemagne reunited a large part of Europe in the ninth century.
Because wars often erupted between small countries as a result of conflicts of interest, an international political order, known as the Westphalian system, based on the equality of sovereign states was born. The Westphalian system of 1648 is regarded as the starting point of modern international relations dominated by Western society. The United Nations system, which is the cornerstone of modern international governance, is built on the Westphalian system in which sovereign states are the basic unit.
Today’s world is an international system in which sovereign states are the fundamental unit, and national territorial sovereignty and integrity must be maintained under the rules of the international system. This value system accords with China’s traditional value of “great reunification.” China upholds that all countries mutually recognize and respect the territorial sovereignty and integrity of other countries. Since the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been recognized by UN Resolution 2758 as the sole legitimate government representing China, the government of the PRC has exercised sovereignty over China, including the Taiwan region. The Chinese government has always maintained a strong deterrent against the secessionist forces in the Taiwan region by means of coercive state force. Taiwanese authorities’ denial of the fact that Taiwan is a part of China and claim that the PRC does not exercise sovereignty and governance over Taiwan does not hold water. The policy of the central government does not recognize the so-called governance right of the Taiwan authorities.
Cross-Strait Reunification And Chinese Governance
Taiwan has been part of China since ancient times, and its history is intimately related to that of the Chinese nation. As China achieves national rejuvenation, the Taiwan question will be naturally resolved in the peaceful growth of relations across the Taiwan Strait. For the Chinese government, the key to the Taiwan question is: how, when, and who will reunify, and what is the target of reunification?
How to reunify? Although some believe that the hope for peaceful reunification is fading, the Chinese Government has still not abandoned its efforts to seek peaceful reunification. China is well aware that national reunification must be ultimately built on strong governance, and that demands for peace and military deterrence must be balanced. The Chinese Government’s deterrence against Taiwanese separatism is not tantamount to an intimidation of the Taiwanese people. With the Anti-Secession Law, at present, the Chinese Government’s approach to managing Taiwan is to safeguard its territorial integrity and sovereignty while allowing a high degree of autonomy for the Taiwan region. Cross-strait reunification will be gradually achieved in an environment of peaceful development. With a Chinese civilization that has lasted for 5,000 years, China has sufficient patience on the Taiwan question. Even the Pope said that China should deserve a prize for strategic patience.
When to reunify? Is it 2024 (Taiwan and U.S. election year), 2027 (100 years anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army) or 2035 (centenary of the Chinese dream)? Opinions are divided on the realization of complete reunification. We believe that this is a dynamic issue and depends on other factors, including whether mainland China can succeed in its internal objectives. We are confident in China’s national rejuvenation, and the Taiwan question will be naturally settled in this process. However, if some forces at home and abroad want to interrupt this process, the process of complete cross-strait reunification will be shortened.
Who will lead reunification? This can be answered by determining who can better meet the yearning of the people on both sides of the strait for a better life. Over the past few decades, the Communist Party of China (CPC) has won the support of the whole country with its governance capabilities, including regarding the settlement of the Taiwan question. Of course, we also welcome Taiwan’s pro-reunification forces in the discussions with the CPC over reunification. If the Kuomintang exhibits its due capability, the third Kuomintang-Communist cooperation is also a possible option.
What is the target of reunification? The reunification of two sides of the straits must be viewed dialectically. We strive for peaceful reunification with the greatest efforts and sincerity, but the use of force is not ruled out. It is essentially a matter of governance and capability. For the Chinese government, reunification in the sense of territory and sovereignty is the current status, and reunification in the political sense remains to be achieved. It is a question of how to end the state of hostility and enable the Chinese people on both sides of the strait to live a better life. Therefore, the target of reunification can be broken down into economic, social, cultural, personnel flow management, and other areas. It more likely refers to reunification in terms of standards, norms, and rules.
China’s Reunification Benefits Peace and Development in the Asia-Pacific
Taiwan is located within the “first island chain” set up by the United States and is only 150 kilometers away from Yonaguni Island, Japan’s outlying island. Reunification of the two sides of the straits indeed has a certain impact on peace and development in Northeast Asia and even the Asia-Pacific region as a whole. The United States is worried that if China achieves complete reunification, the so-called “first island chain” will be breached, and the second island chain will perform practically no function. The U.S. line of defense will be pushed back to Hawaii. Japan is worried that its security will be in the hands of a reunified China. Due to such thinking, Taiwan’s geopolitical status means that reunification is the focus of the great power game between China and the United States as well as China-Japan competition. As a result, the United States and Japan are most active in hyping the Taiwan question.