Since 1949, China’s Communist Party has maintained that there is only one China – a dogma it aptly calls the One China policy. It therefore sees Taiwan, or the Republic of China as it calls itself officially, not as a sovereign nation in its own right, but as a renegade state that will one day re-join the mainland. In accordance, Beijing has long decreed that no country can have diplomatic ties with both states, and any attempt to do so will firmly plant it away from allegiance with China of any kind. In fact, the Community Party is so obstinate in its One China policy that it has often threatened forceful action should Taiwan ever formally declare its independence.
As intractable as this conflict has been since the end of the Chinese civil war, diplomatic warfare between the two nations came to an end in 2008. The cause for such an unprecedented move was Ma Ying-jeou, then president of Taiwan and ruler of the right-wing Kuomintang party, who had confirmed – to a degree at least – that the two states would eventually merge to become one.
Then came another event in 2016 that sent shockwaves throughout both nations – for the first time since Taiwan became a democracy in 1986, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won a parliamentary majority – thus, the Kuomintang had to finally hand over the reins of power to another regime.
Since taking to the helm, the country’s new liberal-minded president, Tsai Ing-wen, has refused to affirm the same line of thinking as her predecessor, causing the diplomatic truce between Taiwan and China to come to an abrupt end.
Month by month things quickly began to unravel. Last December, the small African nation of São Tomé & Príncipe broke off its diplomatic ties with Taiwan. In May, Taipei failed to secure an invitation to the WHO’s World Health Assembly for the first time in eight years, thereby serving a big blow in its fight to be officially recognised. Also in May, Chinese delegates disrupted an international forum regarding conflict diamonds, forcing Taiwanese representatives to leave. A Chinese military aircraft carrier meanwhile has been seen sailing around the island in an apparent warning of Beijing’s mounting military prowess.
Taipei was then dealt another blow in mid June when Panama officially broke its diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Today, only 20 countries (including Vatican City) officially recognise the sovereignty of Taiwan, most of which are Caribbean and Latin American. With Panama now defecting to the Chinese camp, Taiwanese authorities fear that its neighbours could soon follow suit. In such a scenario, Taiwan would become increasingly isolated, while its economy, which has been sluggish as of late, could face a catastrophic tumble.
Beijing, in the meantime, has publically called for a global consensus of its One China policy. While Tsai refuses to stand down, her party is even more obstinate in this respect, with many in the DPP arguing that the president is too soft when it comes to China. Indeed, the DPP maintains that it must become even more assertive in affirming the country’s independence – breaking the truce, they argue, serves as proof of China’s true intentions.
The president however continues in her attempt to not wage a losing battle against a colossal rival. Instead, the Tsai-led DPP seeks new ways to build stronger alliances with countries, unofficial as they may have to be.
Establishing such relations is essential for Taiwan; failure in this respect is a death sentence in
today’s global economy. Moreover, relations with China must also be mended, to some degree at least. China’s recent actions are clear – tow the line or suffer the consequences. As such, unless the international community is willing to risk losing such a vital political and economical ally, China will continue to push its weight around and bully its rivals.
Given the nature of globalisation and the size of the Chinese economy, an international boycott against Beijing seems extremely unlikely. While that may be the case, there is a strong argument for nations to forge ties with Taiwan, even if there is no historical reason to do so. Simply, to do so is the right thing to do, because we should not abide in a world system where the economic giants can and do as they please, one in which they are appeased in their refusal to accept a new status quo.
In the case of Taiwan, this ‘new’ status quo has been in place for decades now. Taiwan is a thriving nation, with a valuable high tech manufacturing sector and enviable transportation infrastructure. Its poverty levels are in stark opposition to many Asian states, while it is also the first in the region to legalise gay marriage. China and Taiwan are no longer one nation – they have not been for so long that the two are distinctly separate and different – sovereign nations each in their own right. The One China policy is thus as out-dated as the concept of bullying – as important as China is as an ally, we cannot let the whims of any state cause the demise of another – no maintain how big they happen to be.