Xi’s Comment On Taiwan Sends Ripples

China has sent a forceful message to the West, in fact the United States. It has been lost in all the other rhetoric that Chinese leader Xi Jinping thundered in the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China. President Jinping said that the party will ‘complete reunification of Taiwan with the mainland’ and hinted it could be by force. If China ends up doing this, it will be symbolic end of ‘American century’.

China has made similar reference to Taiwan every time a new leader takes over and repeated it almost every year. However, this year there is a seriousness that seems to have replaced caution that marked previous policy. Under President Xi there has been escalation of incursions into Taiwan air and sea territory, gradually encircling Taiwan or testing its defences.

Taiwan is a small State of some 35 million people, one of the densest populated in the world. China on the other hand has 1.4 Billion people and the world’s largest army. In a straight war, Taiwan would not last a day. But Taiwan has a sort of guarantor, that is the United States. This is perhaps the only reason Chinese troops haven’t walked into Taiwan.

The United States has a complex relationship with Taiwan. It has an ambiguous treaty with Taiwan called the Taiwan Relations Act that ensure that Taiwan can defend itself against any aggression by China. The treaty does not commit USA to defend Taiwan. The Act states “the United States will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capabilities”.

But there is an implicit threat further in the Act, It states that the United States will “consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States”.

And further, ‘to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.’ 

So the Act draws in the United States dependent on what the United States regional policy and interest are at the time rather than a defence treaty. Taiwan has relied heavily on this Act as a sort of guarantor against a forced takeover by China.

ALSO READ: Taiwan Becomes Meat In US-China Sandwich

China has to calculate what strategic importance the United States gives to the region and how important is Taiwan to USA in that regional interest at any time. China has a reputation for long thinking. Its policy is to make Taiwan of lesser value for USA so USA will avoid a full frontal war.

That policy has already been successfully applied by China in the case of Hong Kong. It refused to accept British sovereignty in Hong Kong, claiming the Island belonged to it. It was transferred in 1997 with Britain ensuring China committed to democracy, freedoms and capitalist system in Hong Kong. China then waited till Britain’s power in the world had waned significantly to break with the one nation two systems agreement. In 2021 the commitment has all but disappeared.

In his speech, President Xi also stressed that China does not interfere in other countries nor attack them. However, China considers Taiwan to be part of China with some legitimacy.

Taiwan was part of the Qing dynasty until 1895 when Japan invaded and took over the islands. Meanwhile in mainland China, the Qing dynasty was ended by revolutions in 1912. The Republic of China was established in 1916. Following further unrest, the country was united by General Chiang Kai-Sheik under the Kuomintang in 1920s. China was called the Republic of China, ROC. But the Kuomintang faced challenge by the Communist Party of China led by Mao Zedong. During second World War, there was truce between the two. With the defeat of Japan, Taiwan was returned to China.

However, the civil war between Kuomintang and CCP continued with the later winning in 1949 and establishing its control over all of mainland China. This was now called the People’s Republic of China, PROC. Chaing Ke-Sheik and a lot of his elite escaped to Taiwan where they established their Government. They claimed that mainland China belongs to them. On the other hand mainland China claims Taiwan belongs to it.

The Taiwan Government was considered to be the legitimate Chinese Government by the West and held the seat at the UN as a veto holding power. This was mainly American policy rather than British.

The situation was absurd to say the least and a reflection of American belligerence and opposition to communism. Finally as China became more powerful and USA needed to restore relations with China, the USA recognised People’s Republic of China as the real China. Mainland China took its place and veto power at UN in 1972. Consequently, Taiwan is not recognised as a sovereign country by UN except by some 14 countries. It engages with the world through Trade Mission Offices.

Chinese policy for reunification has been multipronged. It has blocked any formal defence pact between US and Taiwan and formal recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign country. Trade with China is important for USA. Regionally China has engaged in free flow of trade and travel between mainland China and Taiwan.

ALSO READ: Xi Jinping’s Chinese Exceptionalism

In some ways, Taiwan’s position is somewhat similar to that of Goa. Goa was a Portuguese territory. After independence, Indian request for Portugal to cede the territory to it was refused. India invaded it and annexed Goa in 1961. Portugal didn’t show up.  

Will Xi invade Taiwan as India did with Goa? Xi is more likely to send the Chinese Army into Taiwan to annexe it than any other Chinese leader in recent history. His incursions in Indian territory are a testament to that.

Currently the Chinese Government is still attempting to influence the democratic vote in Taiwan in its favour and peaceful annexation. There is also brain drain from Taiwan to mainland China as there are more opportunities in China for skilled and professional Taiwanese. Lifestyle is better and China is a highly developed country now.

However Xi’s patience will run out at some stage and the prospect of invasion will become imminent.

There is considerable debate within United States to shore up its presence in Taiwan. United States think tanks are divided between letting Taiwan go or US defending it. Those promoting defence of Taiwan think that a showdown in Taiwan will contain Chinese power. The pragmatists say that USA has to come to terms with Chinese power.

If there is a showdown between China and US, it will not affect China but Taiwan might not recover, even possibly be decimated. If US lets Taiwan be taken over, it will affect American prestige, for what is left after defeats in Afghanistan and Iraq. The best possible way forward is to avoid a war, have a hands off approach and let a peaceful process determine gradual entry of Taiwan into China.

As Tiananmen Psychosis Reaches Hong Kong…

Like everything this year, nothing was the same in Hong Kong on June 4, 2021. And, ironically, it was not because of the deadly second surge of the pandemic!

Certainly, in mainland China, or in the public spaces of Beijing, it is well-nigh impossible to remember even symbolically the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, 1989. No one can even utter the word in public. It’s abject silence – as if nothing happened!

Nothing happened?

Days before the anniversary falls, in China, the internet, which is anyway totally controlled by the government, is under strict surveillance, and so are university campuses, social media spaces and dissenters’ blogs, local or generated from abroad, while streets are sanitized and the official media becomes clinically more patriotic. Those remotely possible of creating dissent are allegedly picked up and packed off to unknown imprisonments, huge security is mobilized, the sprawling Tiananmen Square is virtually under siege, and the whole of China knows that ‘Big Brother is Watching You’.

However, the darkest irony is that for the first time in its history, Hong Kong witnessed a similar scenario as in mainland China this year, with exactly the same template of repression being replicated on its main streets and by-lanes, across residential areas and public spaces, outside famous landmarks and metro stations, and most especially in and around the Victoria Park, where tens of thousands would gather every year, since 1989, under the post-colonial British rule or under the ‘take-over’ Chinese regime later, to mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

They would all gather, like a sea of humanity, with candles and flashlights, messages and graffiti, placards and posters, street plays and performances, music and songs, speeches and silences, holding hands, shouting slogans, crying in sorrow, and in homage and tribute to the memory of the dead, tortured and jailed, angry and in angst. This collective symphony each year remembered the peaceful protesting young who were slaughtered by the Chinese tanks and guns on June 4, 1989 at Beijing only because they wanted more democracy and freedom of expression, speech and ideas in their country.

More democracy and freedom of expression! Was it such a ghastly crime, then? And why does it continue to remain such a ghastly crime three decades and plus later, for a regime which calls itself ‘communist’ with its entrenched totalitarian and dictatorial systems of governance, even while becoming one of the most dynamic and undisputed leaders of advanced capitalism in post-modern globalization?

ALSO READ: ‘Hong Kong Turning Into China-Run Communist City’

In Hong Kong last year, most key pro-democracy leaders, young and old, were picked up. Some were picked up after the June 4 events last year when they gathered in solidarity. Many of them are still in jail, according to reports.

Many of those who led the protracted movement against the move to make Hong Kong ‘embedded’ with mainland China, have also been reportedly packed off to prison, even journalists, and one particular dissenting and brave media owner. Independent media outfits have been shut down, and dissent has been crushed.

The pandemic was used to block all acts, even symbolic acts, of solidarity with the Tiananmen Square massacre this year. The pandemic was nothing but a ploy, locals said, because other gatherings have been allowed in the recent past. A solitary old woman, the famous ‘grandma’ of the earlier Hong Kong protests, who came with a placard in the main square in early June this year, was picked up soon after. A woman barrister linked with the protests was arrested. Thousands of cops were on the streets and road blocks were everywhere. There were open warnings of individual and mass arrests. Hong Kong had not seen any such thing in its entire history under the British or later under the Chinese. This was unprecedented.

Talking to the Guardian, political journalist Ching Cheong, who was jailed in China for three years, said Hong Kong had made it “the conscience of China”. “It’s very sad to see that, starting last year, authorities have tried to stamp out memorial activity purely for the selfish sake of the CCP to cling to power,” Ching said. “I don’t think marking the anniversary of the crackdown itself will lead to the collapse of the communist regime, but it is evident proof (that) the regime is extremely afraid of people knowing the atrocities that it has committed.”

And, yet, like magic realism, the protests happened. Yes, it did happen, and the global media and social media reported it visually, and in text.

Number 4 and 6, to mark the day and month (June 4), were written on switch boards. Flashlights and mobiles were used to light up neighbourhoods and deserted streets. Some individuals gathered outside the Victoria Park and flashed their mobiles despite the fear of mass arrests and imprisonment. Candles were lit up on balconies and streets. Solitary artists performed in public spaces, often in stark silence. Flowers were offered and candles were lit outside landmarks in university campuses. Zoom meetings were organized online outside China and solidarity protests were held all over — online. And, most crucially, the US consulate and the European Union lighted symbolic candles in their premises on June 4, in the heart of Hong Kong, much to the anger and outrage of the Chinese government.

So what does it finally prove? What are the lessons for dictators and tyrants who compulsively choose to swim against the current of modernity, democracy and freedom, many of them using the pandemic as a ploy?

One, it proves that even one of the most powerful, secretive and repressive regime, which has usurped the entire media into a loyalist mouthpiece and shut down vast networks of independent media,  just cannot stop the vast humanity’s voice for truth, compassion and justice.

ALSO READ: Journalist Recounts China Escape: ‘All Under Watch’

Two, the resurrection of memories is relentless and endless. Memories don’t die, recorded and unrecorded memories, integral to the oral tradition of mainland China, Hong Kong and of those dissenters in exile in other countries. Memories still float — as testimony.

Three, tens of thousands of the young in the summer of June at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, next to the forbidden kingdom on one side and Mao’s mausoleum on the other, sat on a Gandhian fast, a satyagraha, asking for nothing but more democracy and freedom. They were doing no violence. They were not anti-nationals. They were idealists. They proved that truth was on their side. That is why they can never be forgotten, whatever be the nature of the clampdown.

Fourth, the sound of the tanks moving in, and automatic guns, and bullets pumped all over, the dead piled up, and blood scattered all over — while the Deng Xio Peng regime unleashed its brutish death machine. This was a massacre and no organized censorship can deny this.

Fifth, the total clampdown on ‘news’. Nothing happened on June 4, 1989, at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. There were no dead bodies. Nobody was killed. Nobody was arrested and tortured. Nobody disappeared never to be found again!

This censorship or ‘fake news’ just did not succeed. The massacre became banner headlines across the world next day and much after, sparking global outrage and protests, including in India.

Indeed, even as the clampdown blocked all symbolic or collective protests in Hong Kong this June 4, one man apparently walked by on the street with one loud message written on the back of his shirt: “There is nothing to say.”

Another wore a T-shirt with only one word: ‘Conscience’.