- Jul 2011
Will China turn Taiwan into the next Crimea?China could do to Taiwan what Russia did to Crimea if Beijing’s relations with Washington, strained by an expanding trade war and military rivalry in the East and South China seas, deteriorate further.
The warning from maritime security experts follows a series of recent Chinese moves to put pressure on Taiwan’s pro-independence government. These include a vow last month by China’s president that Taiwan would face the “punishment of history” if it pursued a separatist course. “Any actions and tricks to split China are doomed to failure and will meet with the people’s condemnation,” Xi Jinping said.
The latest rupture came at the weekend after Taiwan’s premier, William Lai, told parliament in Taipei he was a “Taiwan independence worker” and that Taiwan was a sovereign, independent country. China, which calls Taiwan a renegade province, quickly condemned his comments as “dangerous and presumptuous”. The Chinese Communist party-published Global Times said an international warrant could be issued for Lai’s arrest under the 2005 anti-secession law. “If evidence of his crimes is cast-iron, then a global ‘wanted’ notice can be issued for him,” it said.
China has accelerated efforts to isolate Taiwan diplomatically in recent months, using its economic clout to pressure countries and international institutions into breaking ties with the island. It has curbed bilateral trade, cultural exchanges and tourism. Beijing has also increased naval exercises and fighter-bomber sorties over the strategically important Taiwan Strait. China’s raised military profile includes escorted bomber “encirclement flights” and the recent deployment of an aircraft carrier off Taiwan.
Discussing possible Chinese moves to seize Taiwan by force, a panel of maritime security experts convened by the Atlantic Council thinktank in Washington noted that by controlling Taiwan, China would gain direct access to the western Pacific and extend its influence in disputed areas of the East and South China seas, where it is establishing military bases on reclaimed land.
Sarah Kirchberger of the Institute for Security Policy at the University of Kiel in Germany suggested the US, which is bound, de facto, to uphold Taiwan’s peace and security under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, should compare the present situation to that existing before Russia’s forcible annexation of Crimea in 2014. Kirchberger quoted a senior Chinese naval official as saying: “We should do what Putin did in Crimea to Taiwan”.
The increased pressure on Taipei is in line with the politically dominant Xi’s pursuit of a more hardline, nationalist approach towards international and domestic affairs, exemplified by the harsh treatment of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.
The situation poses a particular challenge for the US, which remains Taiwan’s principal foreign ally and arms supplier. Since taking office, Donald Trump has assiduously courted Xi, inviting him to Florida, visiting Beijing, and frankly admitting he needs China’s help in pressurising North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons programmes. But Trump has also launched a fight with China on tariffs, sparking Chinese retaliation in what could yet become an all-out trade war.
Meanwhile, Trump last month signed into law the Taiwan Travel Act, whose express purpose is to encourage bilateral official exchanges with Taiwan “at all levels”. China said the law was a “mistake” and violated agreed “One China” policy.
During a weekend meeting in Taipei with Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s pro-independence president, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a senior member of the US Congress, declared the US-Taiwan relationship was stronger than ever.
For many in Beijing, this is akin to waving a rag at a bull in a red china shop. The worry now is that China, aware of Trump’s vulnerability over North Korea, angry at his tariff war and sensing his lack of interest in the western Pacific’s military balance may be tempted to test US resolve over Taiwan. Inviting the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to the White House in a phone call last week, Trump appeared to have forgiven and forgotten all about Crimea. So how safe, really, is Taiwan?
Man Booker prize criticised for changing Taiwanese author's nationalityA Man Booker prize nominee has had his nationality changed from Taiwan to “Taiwan, China” after Beijing exerted pressure on the organisers of the literary prize.
Wu Ming-Yi was put on the long list for the Man Booker international prize this month and posted the news on his Facebook page. “Even though this is only the first stage of the long list, I am extremely honoured to be on it and even more so given that my nationality is listed as Taiwan. I hope this novel will allow readers to see Taiwan’s history, view, and spirit.”
A little over two weeks later, his nationality, as described on Man Booker’s website, was changed in line with Beijing’s stance that the self-governed island almost 200 miles (320km) east of mainland China is part of China.
Wu wrote on his Facebook page that his new listed nationality did not reflect his “personal position on this issue” and said he would be making his views known to Man Booker. Man Booker’s Facebook page was soon filled with criticism and one-star reviews.
One reviewer wrote: “Nationality is as much a part of one’s personal identity as it is a political designation. An organisation that is supposed to celebrate and honor creative minds should be able to respect and acknowledge one of their finalist’s self-reported nationality.”
Man Booker said on Tuesday it was “seeking clarification” from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the country’s official position on Taiwan. The awards organiser said it had received earlier advice that “Taiwan, China, was the correct, politically neutral form,” according to the spokesperson Truda Spruyt. Spruyt confirmed that the awards organiser had received complaints from the Chinese embassy.
“We are aware that Wu Ming-Yi defines himself as Taiwanese and have kept him informed throughout the process,” she said. Wu told the Guardian on Monday he was “waiting for clarification” on the issue.
His nominated novel, The Stolen Bicycle, follows a bicycle restorer in search of his father and who, in the course of restoring antique bicycles, retraces the history of modern Taiwan.
For most of the last six decades since China’s nationalist army fled to the island in 1949, Taiwan has ruled itself with its own democratically elected government, currency, military, and diplomatic ties with a handful of countries. It has never declared formal independence.
Over the past year, China has ramped up pressure on foreign companies that describe Taiwan as a country. The German airline Lufthansa and the UK’s British Airways dropped Taiwan from their lists of countries.
Beijing has also barred those on the wrong side of the Taiwan issue from access to its massive domestic entertainment market. Beijing recently banned the Taiwanese film Missing Johnny over claims the lead actor supports calls for Taiwan’s independence.
“China has already been using arts and culture to enforce its One China policy,” said Brian Skerratt, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy, Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital.
“Since China is the biggest audience for Chinese-language culture, that can hurt.”
Wu has declined to speak on the subject, referring journalists to his past work. When visiting a school in Macau two years ago, a student asked him for his thoughts on the relationship between China and Taiwan. According to his account of the exchange, Wu spoke carefully, choosing what he thought were neutral words.
“From my observations, most of the younger generation, or myself, don’t think about this question of returning to China. They live in a new cultural, political, and social environment,” he said.