Freedom is the Road to Resolving Taiwan, Tibet, Sinkiang
First published in The Statesman, December 17 2007, Editorial Page special article
War between China and Taiwan would lead to nothing but disaster all around. Everyone recognises this yet China’s military and political establishment threaten it sporadically when provoked by Taiwan’s leaders, and both sides continue to arm heavily and plan for such a contingency. China’s military is mostly congregated in its North West, North, East and South East with between one third and one half of its total forces facing Taiwan alone in an aggressive posture for an amphibious invasion. Taiwan faces 900 Chinese missiles targeted at it. China’s South West has been left relatively unguarded as no threat has been perceived from India or the Tibetans in fifty years.
The 23 million people of Taiwan have made themselves relatively secure across the 100 miles of sea that separate them from the Mainland. A sea-borne Communist invasion following a heavy missile barrage and blockade would undoubtedly leave the Taiwanese badly bruised and bleeding. But there is enough experience from World War II to suggest that trying to invade and occupy islands turns out as badly for the invader as it does for the defender. The Taiwanese military are confident they may be able to defeat an attempted invasion after two or three weeks of fierce fighting even if their promised American ally fails to materialize by their side.
In any case, for China to succeed in forcibly establishing its rule someday over Taiwan would be a pyrrhic victory, since it would lead to tremendous political and economic costs upon all Chinese people. Gaining control after a terrible war would rule out the Hong Kong “One Country Two Systems” model, with nominal Chinese sovereignty being established over an otherwise unchanged Taiwan. Instead the Chinese would have to institute a highly repressive political system, which will incorrigibly damage Taiwan’s flourishing technologically advanced economy, as well as lead to drastic irreparable political and economic retrogression on the Mainland.
Political repression will lead backwards again to the long-gone era of Mao-Zhou communism, displacing the glacial positive trends seen since Deng Xiaoping. Foreign confidence and investment would vanish, boycotts may cause China to lose lucrative and hard-earned new markets in the USA, Europe and Asia, as the world recoiled from the bloodshed to wait to see what the new repression led up to. The Chinese Communist Party (CPC), tiny as it is in size compared to China’s vast population, would become much weakened and lose whatever little confidence it has among an increasingly modern- minded and aware Chinese public. Occupying Taiwan in the 21st Century will not be a tea-party.
The alternative to war is “peaceful reunification” which is the official policy of the CPC, and which also has been a major plank of United States foreign policy since the time of George C Marshall. Unlike Britain, Japan, Russia, France, Germany, even Sweden and Belgium, the Americans were not among the 19th Century powers that exploited China, and that is something that has left some residual goodwill, implicit as it may be, since all Chinese despise the fact their country was humiliated by greedy foreign powers in the past. The USA has subscribed to “One China” and peaceful unification even after its cynical near-betrayal of Taiwan since 1972, having normal diplomatic and trade relations with Communist China while agreeing to help Taiwan if the Communists attempted a military invasion.
Communist China’s strategy towards peaceful reunification with Taiwan has been unlimited allurement: offer Taiwanese businessmen a free hand in investing in China, offer Taiwan students places in Mainland universities, offer Taiwanese airlines flying rights etc. The Taiwanese see their giant ominous neighbour offering such allurements on one hand and threatening a missile attack and invasion and occupation on the other, as if they are animals who will respond to the carrots and sticks of behaviourism.
Taiwan in recent decades has seen its own history and future much more clearly than it sees the Communists being able to see theirs. A marriage can hardly occur or be stable when the self-knowledge of one party greatly exceeds the self-knowledge of the other. It is thus no wonder that the Taiwan-China talks get stalled or retrogress, as the root problem has failed to be addressed which has to do with the political legitimacy of a combined regime.
Political China consisted historically of the agricultural plains and river-valleys of “China Proper” and the arid sparsely populated mountainous periphery of Inner Mongolia, Tibet and Sinkiang. The native people of Formosa (Taiwan) had their own unique character distinct from the Mainland until 1949 when Chiang Kaishek’s Kuomintang moved there after being defeated by Mao Zedong’s Communists.
Today the Hong Kong Model of “One Country Two Systems” can be generalized to “One Commonwealth/ Confederation of China, Six Systems”, whose constituents would be Mainland China, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Chinese Hong Kong, Tibet, Sinkiang and Inner Mongolia. A difference between a commonwealth and a confederation is that a commonwealth permits different heads of state whereas a confederation would have one head of state, who, in view of Mainland China’s predominance, could be agreed upon to be from there permanently.
Taiwan is the key to the peaceful creation of such a Chinese commonwealth or confederation, and Taiwan may certainly agree to “reunification” on such a pattern on one key condition ~ the abolition of totalitarian Communist one-party rule on the Mainland.
The CPC’s parent party was the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party which became the Bolshevik Party which became the All-Union Communist Party in 1925. This still exists today but to its great credit it agreed sixteen years ago, more or less voluntarily, to abandon totalitarian power and bring in constitutional democracy in the former USSR. East European Communist Parties did the same, mostly transforming themselves back to becoming Social Democrat or Labour Parties ~ so much so that Germany’s present elected head of government is a former East German.
Hearts and minds
Mainland China must follow a similar path if it wishes to win the hearts and minds and political loyalties of all Chinese people and form a genuine confederation ~ which means the CPC must lead the way towards its own peaceful dissolution and transformation.
Historically, China’s people followed an admixture of three non-theistic religious cultures, namely, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, individually choosing whichever aspects of each that they wished to see in their daily lives. Lamaist Buddhism governed Tibet and Mongolia and deeply affected parts of Mainland China too. China’s theists include the Uighurs of Sinkiang who were and remain devout Muslims, as well as the many Catholics and other Christians since the first Jesuits arrived five hundred years ago. Sun Yatsen himself was a Christian. Marx, Engels, Stalin, Mao and even Deng have never really been able to substitute as a satisfactory new Chinese pantheon.
A free multi-party democracy in Mainland China, flying the Republican or some combined flag and tracing its origin to the 1911 Revolution, even one in which Communists won legitimate political power through free elections (as has been seen in India’s States), would earn the genuine respect of the world, and be able to confidently lead a new Chinese Confederation. The Chinese people who have been often forced against their will to resettle in Tibet and Sinkiang under the present totalitarian regime would be free to move or stay just as there are many Russians in Ukraine or Kazakhstan today. And of course the Dalai Lama would be able to return home in peace after half a century in exile. Freedom is the road to the peaceful resolution of China’s problems. Let freedom ring.
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