China continues to build up pressure on Taiwan in various ways as part of its attempts to bring back into the fold what it considers a renegade province. What China should reckon with is that a majority of Taiwanese don’t want that: In a June poll, 58 percent called for maintaining the status quo, 24 percent for the island’s independence and 12 percent for reunification.
The more pressure China applies, the more antipathy people in Taiwan will have toward the mainland. A unilateral push for reunification will hurt China’s image in the international community. Respecting the will of the Taiwanese, Beijing should be ready to hold dialogue with Taipei unconditionally for establishing peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
After the Democratic Progressive Party’s Tsai Ing-wen became president of Taiwan in May 2016, Beijing suspended an official dialogue mechanism with Taipei, which had been established by the previous Kuomintang-led government. Tsai rejects China’s demand that she accept a “1992 Consensus” between China and Taiwan, which upholds the “One China” principle although it leaves room for different interpretation by both sides.
China meanwhile used its growing economic clout to lure countries that hold diplomatic ties with Taiwan. In the last year it succeeded in having Sao Tome and Principe and Panama switch their diplomatic recognition to China. Today, only 19 countries and the Vatican maintain relations with Taiwan.
When Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela visited Beijing last month, China treated him as a state guest and President Xi Jinping called him a “hero” for switching diplomatic ties to Beijing. They agreed to make Panama — home to the Panama Canal — one of the bases for China’s “One Belt and One Road” initiative, indicating that the planned “Maritime Silk Road” will be extended to Latin America. They signed 19 agreements on starting talks for a bilateral free trade accord and cooperating in such areas as maritime shipping, railways, tourism and finance.
Three days prior to Varela’s visit, Taiwan’s environmental minister was excluded from the COP 23 United Nations climate change conference in Bonn, Germany, at the behest of China. Beijing should not have barred Taiwan from a meeting on coping with a problem of global magnitude.
China is also using soft tactics. In October, the Chinese government announced a new scholarship program for Taiwanese students studying at universities and research institutes on the mainland — expanding the number of students covered from 2,000 to 2,900 and raising the maximum annual stipend from 8,000 yuan to 30,000 yuan (about ¥510,000). But those who seek the scholarship are required to accept the One China principle and support reunification. Scholarship recipients will be disqualified if their speech and behavior run counter to this. It is an attempt by Beijing to win Taiwanese youths over with the lure of money while forcing them to support its policy on Taiwan. One wonders whether Taiwanese will be attracted by such a maneuver.
During the Chinese Communist Party convention in October, Xi said, “Our two sides (of the Taiwan Strait) can conduct dialogue to address through discussions the concerns of the people of both sides.” However, the prerequisite for such a dialogue is that Taiwan accept the 1992 Consensus, which Tsai rejects. After the convention, Tsai called “on leaders of both sides to … seek a breakthrough in cross-strait relations and to benefit the long-term welfare of people on both sides and to forever eliminate hostilities and conflict.” The Taiwanese president maintained her stance on the 1992 Consensus. At the same time, she said “the DPP government respects not only the historical facts but all the agreements that have been signed by the two sides and that have completed the legislative process.” China should respond to the statement of the democratically elected president and start dialogue with Taiwan unconditionally.
Although Japan has no formal relations with Taiwan following its establishment of ties with China in 1972, economic and cultural exchanges are strong, and Japanese and Taiwanese are believed to hold positive sentiments toward each other. This year, both parties changed the names of their respective organizations that handle relations between the two sides — Tokyo’s Exchange Association was renamed the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association while Taipei renamed its counterpart organization from the Association of East Asian Relations to the Taiwan-Japan Relations Association. China protested that Japan is upgrading its relations with Taiwan. Japan should not use its relations with Taiwan as political leverage in dealing with China, but rather promote its ties with the island in ways that best benefit the people in Taiwan and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.