Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s promise to “resolve the Taiwan question” and complete reunification with the Asian country, defined by him on the occasion of the centenary of the Communist Party as “historic mission and unwavering commitment”, does not collide only in the rapprochement of the island of Taiwan with Western powers, but also in the rise of nationalism among Taiwanese youth.
If, on the one hand, China acts with strategic patience and, so far, has avoided concrete military action, on the other hand, the country knows that independence is growing on the island over time.
At last week’s celebration of the Communist Party’s 100th anniversary, Xi said he would “act with determination to completely defeat any attempt at independence.” “No one should underestimate the determination, will and ability of the Chinese people to defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said the Chinese leader.
In Taiwan, the Mainland China Relations Council, the body responsible for dialogue with Beijing, responded by calling on “the other side to learn the lessons of history”, to make democratic reforms, to put aside expansionist aspirations and to act responsibly to promote regional peace.
The Taiwanese question is at the heart of the rise of the Communist Party, which has ruled the country since 1949, after winning the civil war against the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party, or KMT, for its acronym in Mandarin). the party fled to Taiwan, and the issue has never really been resolved to this day: they still officially refer to themselves as the Republic of China, and the claim to power on the mainland, in the hands of the Communists, has taken place. even expresses in the Taiwanese Constitution.
Across the Strait, China, while considering the island a rebellious province, has no administrative control over the territory, explains Gustavo Feddersen, professor of international relations at La Salle University (RS) and former researcher at National Chengchi University, Taipei, the Taiwanese. Capital city.
Taiwan today has free elections and its own currency, as well as independent economic and social policies from the mainland. “What China has on Taiwan is economic clout, because of the interdependence created by investments from both sides,” Feddersen said. And the Kuomintang, once an enemy of war, is the one that most avoids tensions with the Communists today, because the party represents business and wants to maintain a good business environment. “This creates a curious situation where the Communist Party has good relations with the right and does not like what can be identified as the left.”
The professor refers to the Democratic Progressive Party (PDP) of President Tsai Ing-wen, more identified with the defense of human rights. They are defending not the resumption of power in China, but independence, thus representing the aspirations of a population that was born and had children on the island and lost its connection to the mainland for decades.
The PDP took over command of the island in 2016, driven by demonstrations organized by student movements that had stopped the country two years earlier, in what has become the Sunflower Revolt, in reference to the flower adopted as a symbol. by the group. For nearly a month between March and April 2014, students took to the streets against a then-China-Taiwan trade deal by the KMT, which protesters called too submissive to Beijing.
The protests drew more than 100,000 people and students occupied the Taiwanese parliament for three weeks. As a result, the acts undermined the approval of the KMT and Tsai was elected. Representing this feeling of independence, the current president uses the word Taiwan much more to designate the territory than her predecessors, who preferred to call the island the Republic of China.
According to Taiwan’s latest national security survey in December, 75% of Taiwanese said they already consider the country to be independent. But when asked about a unilateral declaration of independence – even though the move resulted in a Chinese military attack – 51% said they were in favor.
So even though the population sees independence as something inevitable, the outcome of the uprising gives a clue as to how Taiwanese prefer to avoid retaliation from China, which today has one of the world’s greatest powers. military personnel around the world. This position was clearly expressed this week when a former deputy prime minister of the PDP said on a radio broadcast that the country is facing a cruel reality: an independent nation in practice, but which cannot declare its independence at risk. retaliation.
In response, the Kuomintang said that if there was a risk of a Chinese attack, as the PDP itself admits, the legend should stop talking about independence. He also asked President Tsai to make an explicit gesture to show that there is no risk of a unilateral declaration.
Another example of what you might call self-censorship was seen three years ago. Taiwan competes in the Olympics like Chinese Taipei, due to geopolitical pressure from China to prevent other nations from recognizing the island as an independent country. In 2018, however, a referendum asked, among other things, the population whether the name of the Olympic delegation should change to Taiwan. But faced with threats from Beijing that it would not let the island compete in the next competition if the delegation changed its name, 56% of the population preferred to leave the name as it was.
As international pressure against China intensifies, Western powers have approached Taiwan, such as the United States, which has donated Covid-19 vaccines to the island and resumed trade talks, saying they wish work closely not only on ways to deepen trade and investment relations. , but also as democratic partners “.
However, even island allies seek to avoid military conflict. On Monday (5), Japanese Vice Premier Taro Aso said that if China invades the island, “Japan and the United States must defend Taiwan together.”
With Beijing’s backlash, which called the comment “bogus and dangerous,” Chinese politicians were quick to say the statement represented personal opinion, not that of the Japanese state. Soon after, Aso stepped back and told reporters that a conflict should be resolved through diplomacy.
Taiwan’s own partners do not diplomatically recognize it as an independent country – only 15 countries have official relations with the island. So is there a real risk of war between China and Taiwan?
Reunification is seen by the Communist Party as one of the last pendants to achieve the national unification promised in the 1949 revolution, when the party seized control of a fragmented country attacked by foreign powers throughout. of the previous century.
But for Feddersen, in the current scenario, if there isn’t what international analysts call a “black swan,” or some unforeseeable event, such as a unilateral statement by Taiwan or concrete action by the United States or the United States or the United States. Japan, armed conflict is not on the near horizon.
“But China knows very well that it cannot allow this vagueness to continue, because the more time passes, the more Taiwan advances towards independence,” he said. The researcher says China places great importance on commemorative dates, “so maybe it won’t stay for this decade, but analysts say they believe that by the centenary of the People’s Republic of China, in 2049, China will want this resolved. “