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KMT Reversal Adds Fresh Chinese War Threat Against Taiwan

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, center left, poses for photos with airmen near a Taiwan Indigenous Defense Fighter jet displayed during a visit to the Penghu Magong military air base in outlying Penghu Island, Taiwan, Sept. 22, 2020.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, center left, poses for photos with airmen near a Taiwan Indigenous Defense Fighter jet displayed during a visit to the Penghu Magong military air base in outlying Penghu Island, Taiwan, Sept. 22, 2020.

A stunning reversal by members of Taiwan’s leading opposition party — long seen as supporting friendly relations with Beijing — has given fresh impetus to Chinese calls for the use of military action to bring the self-governing territory to heel.

“We must no longer hold any more illusions,” wrote Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of Global Times, part of China’s state media conglomerate. “The only way forward is for the mainland to fully prepare itself for war and to give Taiwan secessionist forces a decisive punishment at any time.”

Hu’s Oct. 6 editorial was prompted by two bills proposed by the Kuomintang (KMT) in Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan, urging the government to actively pursue restoration of formal diplomatic ties between Washington and Taipei and request U.S. official assistance to defend the island against any future Chinese aggression.

“Our government ought to try and persuade the United States to lend us help diplomatically, economically, and/or through direct military intervention” if and when the Chinese communist authorities take such actions as to constitute a direct threat to Taiwan’s democratic existence, the proposed legislation said. The bills were passed without objection Tuesday.

“We wish for the world to see and understand that we in Taiwan, across Party lines, are determined not to seek war, but also equally determined not to fear war,” the KMT caucus stated.

Members of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) described the language in the bills as “unprecedented” from a KMT party that has long been seen by Beijing as a dialogue partner, with a shared vision of “one China” and unification as the eventual goal.

It also came as a shock to influential voices on the mainland. While a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson sought to de-emphasize the matter by continuing to fault the DPP, others saw the latest development as a much more serious challenge.

The Global Times’ Hu described the KMT legislators as “losers” who could no longer be counted on. “On the upside, those politicians’ treachery have helped the Chinese mainland see clearly what is happening on the island,” he wrote.

The newspaper’s bellicose language, while unusual, was not unprecedented. Another influential Chinese commentator said at a policy forum late last year that “there is no need to view the threshold of reunification through force as that high.”

Dai Xu, a former Chinese National Defense University professor, told the audience that “military approach and economic engagement serve equally as the ways and means to promote reunification with Taiwan.”

A Chinese anti-submarine aircraft entered Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone on Tuesday, continuing a pattern of aggressive actions which Beijing says is aimed at deterring moves toward a declaration of independence for Taiwan. But the threatening actions have prompted rising resentment among Taiwanese and sympathy for the island in other nations.

In a telephone interview from Taipei, analyst J. Michael Cole said growing skepticism of the mainland governance model and concerns about its increasingly aggressive moves have prompted more and more countries to be willing to “take a second look at Taiwan.”

“For many years, countries have allowed Beijing to define for them what their ‘one-China’ policy is,” said Cole, a Taipei-based senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and author of several books on China and Taiwan. Now, he said, there are signs that more and more countries are beginning to define the policy for themselves.

Taiwan’s DPP-led government also seems to be testing the limits of Chinese forbearance.

Taiwan’s top diplomat in Washington, Hsiao Bi-Khim, recently began describing herself as “Taiwan Ambassador to U.S.” on her personal Twitter account, a title never previously used by Taipei’s envoy in the U.S. capital.

“You can certainly put it in the context of warmer ties between the U.S. and Taiwan,” Cole said. “If we were in a period in which the U.S. is unhappy with Taiwan, State Department would have given [Hsiao] a call and say, please remove that."

Like other analysts, Cole does not expect Washington to abandon its longstanding "one China" policy any time soon, but he does see the United States and other nations becoming more willing to engage openly with Taipei.

Taiwan is seeing many more visits by academics and officials from different countries, he said. "This is the re-adjustment that we’re seeing.”

“China is big, Taiwan is small; without international support, China will continue to push Taiwan into a corner,” said Gerrit van der Wees, a former Dutch diplomat who currently teaches the history of Taiwan at George Mason University.