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Taiwan’s future

There is still no clarity, or perhaps it is more appropriate to say there is deliberate ambiguity, on whether Washington is treaty-bound to come to Taipei’s aid if it is attacked by Beijing.

Statesman News Service |

The only so-called unfinished agenda of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) goal of “reunifying” all of China has, in recent years ~especially after the subjugation of Hong Kong ~ been centred around the fate of Taiwan. Unlike in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and before that in Tibet, however, Beijing must factor in a functional, democratic, and prosperous nation-state that is backed by the world’s only superpower. Which is also why the communist state’s established template of using coercion and/or force to get its way is not an immediate option. But the sustained pressure on the Taiwanese people by the mainland’s narrative that the island has no future as an independent country seems to be having an effect. China’s uncompromising and aggressive posture vis-à-vis Taiwan is succeeding in undermining the confidence of the Taiwanese people and deepening their tendency to be fatalistic about their future as resistance to the hegemon on their borders would be futile.

This emerging reality is now being reflected in the policy debates in the United States on the Taiwan issue. According to strategic expert Ryan Hass of Brookings, there is acceptance that tensions in the Taiwan Strait are spiralling, communication channels for managing tensions have collapsed, and each of the main players ~ China, Taiwan, and the USA ~ believe it is acting prudently to protect its interests in the face of escalatory actions from the other side of the Strait. Senior officials are attempting to forecast when, rather than if, a conflict would occur. The margin of error for all sides is infinitesimal; even a small misstep by any of them could lead to an immediate escalation into armed conflict. Against this backdrop, and despite Washington’s strategic pivot from West Asia to the Asia-Pacific, there are signs that the US establishment is slowly but surely shifting the onus of resisting China to Taiwan.

There is still no clarity, or perhaps it is more appropriate to say there is deliberate ambiguity, on whether Washington is treaty-bound to come to Taipei’s aid if it is attacked by Beijing. Talk has, instead, turned to “confidence” being the “essential ingredient” to gird the Taiwan people… “to protect their autonomy and democratic way of life until such time as peaceful, uncoerced solutions emerge to resolve cross-Strait differences”, says Hass. America is not, of course, saying it will not continue to support Taiwan militarily in a credible manner. But the emphasis is now clearly on shoring up the mood in that country to ensure Chinese propaganda does not win the battle even before the war commences. To that end, the USA can start with demonstrating that it supports Taiwan for its own sake and not as a means to contain China. For, it is now increasingly clear that ultimately it will be up to Taipei and Beijing to resolve cross-Strait differences.