China has condemned the latest round of US weapons sales to the island of Taiwan. For Donald Trump, the sale represents another opportunity to make money whilst Trump’s more neocon minded advisers see the sales of weapons as a chance to embolden political separatists in Taipei. In reality, the cause of separatism has long been dead due both to China’s modern military might and more importantly its vital economic importance to the world as a whole. Few Chinese in Taiwan seek to provoke a world war or possibly even a nuclear war over the issue of secessionism and younger generations in particular seek economic cooperation among all Chinese as both a realistic and a noble goal.
Of course, the present state of affairs in Hong Kong will doubtlessly be exploited by separatist agitators in Taipei who will falsely claim that the one country – two systems model is somehow flawed. That being said, the overall trajectory of Cross-Strait relations can only lead to two realistic conclusions due to overriding factors within China and in the wider world. Option one is a move towards greater Cross-Strait cooperation and the other is one of an uncomfortable and economically counterproductive stalemate. Whilst Washington’s sale of weapons to Taipei is a naked attempt to tip the balance in favour of stalemate, cooperation is becoming an ever more inevitable trend in the long term.
Earlier this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a speech addressing issues relating to the long running Taiwan question. Central to his speech was an emphasis on the reality that outside interference in an internal Chinese matter will not be tolerated as such meddling would only inflame an issue whose ultimate conclusion can only be brought about through open dialogue. As Xi stated,
“The Chinese people’s affairs should be decided by the Chinese people”.
And yet this fundamental concept remains foreign to some in the wider world who seek conflict where there is none and likewise seek to turn non-violent disagreements into military confrontations.
While the Taiwan question arose in the aftermath of the Kuomintang-Communist Civil War in China, the issue today remains one that has less to do with confrontation than one which exists due to the fact that the political issues which politically separated Taiwan from the rest of China after 1949 were not allowed to be settled on the basis of a political accord, due to outside interference in Chinese affairs. In 2018 there is absolutely no appetite among any Chinese to make war against one another on a regional basis. Such things are totally out of step with the mentality of nation. This is as true of the mainland as it is of Taiwan. The fact that in local elections in Taiwan late in 2018, the separatist Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lost substantially to the comparatively moderate Kuomintang, is a clear indication of a long standing reality in respect of cross straits relations: the people living in Taiwan have no desire to encourage a leadership that pushes for confrontation.
The plain fact of the matter is that while the US government does not care about the welfare of Chinese people, whether on the mainland or Taiwan, successive hypocritical US governments have feigned sympathy to a cause which should have been put to rest in 1949 in order to attempt and gain leverage against China and stifle her development in the process. For some period of time, the Taiwan issue helped the US to remove China’s representatives from the United Nations as it was only in 1971 when China took its rightful seat in the international body. The Taiwan issue also helped to unite the far-right in the United States as calls against “red China” helped extremists in the US to distract themselves from the racial tensions and controversial foreign policies of America during the 1950s and 1960s. Today, the world has largely moved on from the ideological antagonisms of the mid-20th century, but when it comes to US policy on Taiwan, many remain stuck in a bygone era.
In any case, it is not up to any foreign power to determine the fate of any people’s political future. Even in Taiwan, the only people calling for further US meddling are those who have built political careers largely on a steady flow of financial backing from elements of the US state. Yet for the ordinary people, peace through prosperity remains the favoured method to attain long term peace in a singular fraternal Chinese nation.
Beyond this, even if some in the US might act like the dynamics of global affairs have not changed since the 1950s, the rest of the world is rapidly adopting a pragmatic One China policy. With the vast majority of the world recognising Beijing as the capital of a single Chinese state, last year both El Salvador and Dominican Republic decided to establish full diplomatic relations with Beijing after being holdouts in respect of maintaining diplomatic relations with Taipei.
Whilst the US under Donald Trump is willing to sell weapons to just about anyone so long as the price is right, like Taiwan, the US is entering a post-ideological age in foreign relations due to Donald Trump’s lust for wealth rather than a lust for geopolitical domination in the traditional/Cold War sense. As such, once present storm clouds clear, it will be important for Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to think rationally and prioritise economic prosperity over mistrust, caution and the shrikes of yesteryear’s provocateurs. There is much reason for cautious optimism in this respect.