It is a measure of the renewed tension over the status of Taiwan that President Tsai Ing-wen, has sought “international support” in response to the blunt message of President Xi Jinping – either to unite with China or “face the force” of Beijing to prevent Taiwan from seeking formal independence.
The beating of the war drum, faint as of now, points to a direly intricate outlook for the island nation and President Tsai’s appeal can be contextualised with the simultaneous directive of the Chinese President to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to be “combat ready”.
The military was urged to make “solid efforts on combat preparedness in order to accomplish the tasks assigned by the CPC and the people”.
Bereft of specifics, the appeal was clothed with the imperative to “respond quickly and effectively to contingencies”.
On closer reflection, it is the expansionist design that is the thread binding the presidents of China and Russia, if Crimea and Ukraine are held up as case
On her part, Tsai has virtually ruled out “acceding” to Xi’s brand of expansionist geopolitics, one that is manifest from Hong Kong to Taiwan.
Implicit in her statement is that the offer of unification is not possible to implement – “it is impossible for me or any responsible politician in Taiwan to accept President Xi’s recent remarks without betraying the trust and will of the people”.
The bottom line is that Taiwan is intrinsically a people’s issue, recalling the robust Umbrella movement in Hong Kong. Indeed, Xi’s signal of expansionist intent has afforded Tsai an opportunity to position herself as democracy’s defender, both to the outside world and to voters who will decide in 2020 whether she remains in office.
She has taken a remarkably firm stand in the aftermath of the battering her Democratic Progressive Party suffered in the local elections last November.
Ironically enough, Xi’s sweet-and-sour address has yielded Tsai a groundswell of support on Taiwan’s social media and in publications that are usually opposed to her. The immediate provocation for Xi to have ramped up the pressure on Tsai was her refusal to accept what they call the “1992 Consensus” – a nebulous concept at best and a move to precipitate the crisis at worst.
Even 26 years after, it remains ever so unpalatable. It envisages that Taiwan and China are part of the same country ~ a contrived perception that is open to subjective reflection.
The “one country, two systems” framework, as it exists in Hong Kong since 1997 when Britain returned the island to China, remains unacceptable to the people as much as the establishment – regardless of the party – in Taiwan.
In Hong Kong, the paradigm has made confusion worse confounded, on occasion led to violence.
Taiwan is best left alone; its people will not support a Hong Kong-style arrangement. Let China’s PLA hold its fire.