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. In return for its support as the Taiwanese people finally demolished the remnants of the ROC and gained full admission to international bodies such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization, 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 east Pacific, and beyond.

Long forgotten were the few lonely voices in the Chinese government that had once called for a military invasion of Taiwan. The immense destruction and loss of life that an invasion and forced annexation of Taiwan would have entailed, not to mention the risk of sparking a wider conflict with the United States and Japan and the fact that even a successful annexation would have meant dealing with a resistant and unwilling subject population for decades afterwards, meant that it was difficult to understand in retrospect why anyone had seriously entertained such an absurd suggestion. 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.

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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: 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). If you assume 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. 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.

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