Saturday, June 2, 2018

In an alternate universe

Beijing’s decision to support the Taiwanese independence movement made perfect sense. In terms of short-term benefits, the abolition of the old Republic of China that had been limping along in Taipei since 1949 allowed the Communists, at long last, to claim final victory in the Chinese Civil War. They made a big fuss about this on Chinese state media, with plenty of propaganda praising their Taiwanese allies for being on the right side of history.

In the medium to long term, China benefited in more substantial ways. The Chinese government supported Taiwan as it finally demolished the remnants of the ROC and gained full admission to international bodies such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization, and in return for this support, the government of the Republic of Taiwan signed military treaties with China that gave Beijing a significantly strengthened strategic position in East Asia. The opening of Chinese military bases in Taiwan soon after the abolition of the ROC was seen in Beijing as an important step in establishing Chinese dominance in the South China Sea, the Pacific, and beyond.

Long forgotten were the few lonely voices in the Chinese government that had once called for a military invasion of Taiwan. It was difficult to understand, in retrospect, why anyone had seriously entertained such an absurd suggestion. An invasion and forced annexation of Taiwan would have entailed immense destruction and loss of life. It would also have run the risk of sparking a wider conflict with the United States and Japan. And even a successful annexation would have meant dealing with a resistant and unwilling subject population for decades afterwards. Why would anyone publicly admit to having supported such an insane scheme? After all, Beijing had managed to achieve everything it had wanted, at far less cost and far lower risk, without trying to incorporate Taiwan into its territory.


To be clear, this is not the world I want to see. But I have a hard time understanding why it’s not a very good deal for Beijing.

If you strip away the “inseparable part of China” bullshit that’s just there for the credulous foreigners, it seems pretty clear that China’s desire to control Taiwan is based on pure geopolitics.

Look at a map of East Asia. North to south, you’ve got Japan (US ally with US military presence), South Korea (US ally with US military presence), and the Philippines (US ally with US military presence). Add Taiwan, and you've got yourself a wall hemming China in on the east. If you assume, as the Chinese government probably assumes, that a Taiwan that’s not controlled by Beijing will likely be in the US orbit, then it’s easy to see why China covets it. All else is propaganda bullshit.

It seems to me that the scenario I described above is a much easier and less risky way for China to get what it wants. There's no reason why an independent Taiwan couldn't be China-aligned.

The only thing wrong with it is that, as it directly contradicts China’s propaganda over the last few decades, maybe they just can’t get there from here any more.

No comments: