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Taiwan eyes opportunity to assert itself

Taipei has been proactive in exploiting the current geopolitical situation to gain recognition of its position on independence from China
Last Updated : 02 July 2020, 12:25 IST
Last Updated : 02 July 2020, 12:25 IST

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The precarious peace and balance across the Taiwan straits have been challenged further since the January re-election of Tsai-Ing wen as the country’s President.

Even during Tsai’s first term, China had made it obvious that it was unhappy that her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) (which is generally perceived to be pro-independence) had won the elections. Beijing’s approach was to reduce Taiwan’s diplomatic space. Thus, it was no surprise that by the end of Tsai’s first term, Taipei was left with only 15 diplomatic allies. Beijing used its deep financial clout to woo smaller countries away from Taiwan.

China considers Taiwan to be its own part and has always kept the option of military unification open. There was constant reiteration by the Chinese leadership that Beijing will achieve reunification as it is a part of the ‘Chinese Dream’. The Chinese Dream is about achieving 'national rejuvenation' which cannot be complete without reunification as the issue of Taiwan is a left over from the time when China was weak.

However, the results of the 2020 elections proved to be a pushback against China’s heavy-handed approach. Since her re-election Tsai has been increasingly vocal in her support for maintaining the status quo and has argued that Taiwan is a democratic entity and pushed for an independent Taiwanese identity.

The relationship has become further strained with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Effective handling of the Covid-19 pandemic by Taiwan has lent support to the argument that open, democratic systems can handle such situations as well or better than China. Moreover, Taiwan has blamed China for keeping it out of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and gravely affecting the lives of its 24 million inhabitants. Taiwan has also criticised China for delayed information to the WHO and done its part in proactively donating masks globally.

To add to the already fragile situation, the year 2020 also marks the 15th anniversary of the Anti-Secession Law. The National People’s Congress (NPC) of China passed the Anti-Secession Law in 2005, which approved the use of force, if needed for reunification. One of the major issues of contention between China and Taiwan is also that Tsai has refused to recognise the ‘1992 consensus’, which says that both sides agree that there is only one China and also that Taiwan is a part of China. That is, the Chinese and Taiwanese interpretation of what constitutes this ‘one China’ differs. While speaking on the 15th anniversary at the Great Hall of the People recently, Chief of the Joint Staff Departments, Li Zuocheng, had said: “China will attack Taiwan if there is no other way to stop it from becoming independent”.

In short, both Taiwan and China have been undertaking a major show of strength since the last six months. It was expected that Beijing would intensify its approach towards Taiwan. But the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic appears to have diverted Beijing’s focus for a while. Now it seems that Beijing is starting to focus on issues that help the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Xi Jinping appear stronger and in control. Thus, we witnessed the passing of the National Security Law for Hong Kong, increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea and also military violence along the India-China Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Taiwan’s moves to gain international recognition

While the primary argument followed by China is that Taiwan is a part of China and that there is no space of any other view, Taipei has been undertaking steps to highlight its independence and uniqueness. For one thing Taiwan has been quite vocal in its support towards the protests in Hong Kong. The passing of the National Security Law has made the situation in Hong Kong quite volatile and it is an opportunity which Taiwan is not ready to miss. Taipei has been constantly arguing against Beijing’s ‘one country, two systems’ formula by citing the situation in Hong Kong.

To add to this Taiwan has also undertaken steps to attract people from Hong Kong. After the law was passed Taiwan opened an office especially to help people fleeing from Hong Kong. What is interesting is that this office begins work on July 1, which happens to be the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China. This action has not gone down well with Beijing. China has been pretty vocal about the fact that this will only harm Taiwan. In an important statement China said: “Providing shelter for and taking onto the island the rioters and elements who bring chaos to Hong Kong will only continue to bring harm to Taiwan’s people”.

There are also reports that Taiwan is following the United States and is planning to tighten the checks on investment coming from China. The prime reason behind this being safeguarding technologies and important data. As a result of all these moves, the last few weeks have witnessed a new show of strength by the Chinese air-force flying near Taiwan.

The year 2020 has changed a lot of existing parameters and norms of the international order. However, the success of Taiwan in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and the growing mistrust towards China has challenged the cross-strait relations. Taipei appears to be very keen and proactive in exploiting this situation in gaining prominent international recognition.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that China today is friendless in the global political space and Taiwan is too keen to exploit this new development. No surprise that when the Galwan Valley violence occurred between China and India, the Taiwanese media carried an image which showed Lord Rama fighting the Chinese dragon. This can also be a step to show that Taiwan is ‘not’ China. The Chinese dragon does not represent Taiwan. This imagery can also be read as Taiwanese push for an independent identity.

(Dr Gunjan Singh is an assistant professor at the Jindal Global Law School. She has 10 years of experience in research pertaining to China Studies)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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Published 02 July 2020, 12:25 IST

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