Why Xi Jinping is held bent on reuniting China with Taiwan
On 17 May 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) held its first virtual World Health Assembly. Its main purpose is to discuss the best way to mitigate the SARS CoV-2 pandemic or COVID-19. However, one country was particularly absent. First, let me give you a clue: it is the most powerful country that is not a member of the United Nations; Out of its population of 23 million people, only 441 people ever caught the virus and 7 people have died since its first confirmed case. That country (or territory/province) is Taiwan or in its official name: The Republic of China, and its archenemy, the People’s Republic of China has blocked Taiwan’s participation in the WHO.
In order to understand the history of China and Taiwan, we must look back to 1912, when the last Chinese dynasty, the Qing Dynasty collapsed. Chiang Kai Shek founded the Republic of China (ROC). At that time, there were 2 big ideological camps in China, a nationalist-democratic camp led by Chiang Kai-Shek and a communist-socialist camp led by Mao Zedong.
The two camps fought each other. However, they were forced to unite during World War II to fight Japan. Mao Zedong was very clever, he deliberately fought only a number of battles against Japan to weaken the nationalist army. After World War II ended, the two camps did indeed work together for a short time.
However, the Soviet Union secretly sent weapons to Mao Zedong’s army. It was because of the weaponry that Mao Zedong defeated Chiang Kai Shek army that had been weakened because of World War II. Chiang Kai Shek’s army suffered defeat and the rest of the ROC government and its loyal populations had to retreat to the islands of Taiwan and Hainan in 1949. Mao Zedong then declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), with Beijing as its capital. A year later, the Chinese army invaded Hainan Island, so that the only remaining ROC territories are Taiwan Island and surrounding small islands.
The question is: if China was able to invade Hainan Island and win, why didn’t they invade and occupy the island of Taiwan and end the rule of Chiang Kai Shek? They were indeed planning to attack Taiwan. However, the US was worried about the spread of communist ideology in Asia and is determined to protect and support Taiwan if the PRC attacks Taiwan. China was forced to yield and finally Taiwan remained controlled by the nationalist-democratic camp until now.
Initially, the ROC Government or the Taiwan government represented China in international organizations and meetings, such as the United Nations. However, more and more countries began to recognize the PRC as the sovereign Chinese government. The United Nations finally chose to recognize the communist government (PRC) as the sovereign Chinese government. Since then, more and more countries in the world have transferred their recognition from the nationalist government to the communist government based in Beijing until only 15 countries today have recognized the current ROC government.
In 1992 an agreement or consensus was reached between the PRC and ROC governments and the international community. The agreement was given the name “One China Policy”. The agreement stipulates that there is only one sovereign government on the Chinese mainland and other countries must choose between the PRC government in Beijing or the ROC government in Taipei as the sovereign government over all of China (including the island of Taiwan) which means that if a country recognizes the communist government in Beijing as a sovereign government over China, the country also recognizes that the communist government in Beijing (PRC) has sovereignty over the island of Taiwan which is currently controlled by the nationalist camp. The reverse also applies. If a country chooses to recognize the nationalist government in Taiwan (ROC) as a sovereign government over all of China’s land, then that country must also recognize that the nationalist government in Taipei (ROC) has sovereignty over Mainland China which is currently controlled by the communist camp.
No country can have official diplomatic relations with the two governments (ROC and RRT) so countries that want to open relations with the Taiwanese government but also want official diplomatic relations with the Chinese government must open unofficial representative offices in Taiwan, such as the Kantor Dagang Indonesia (Indonesian Trade Office) and the British Office Taipei. In contrast, the Taiwan government can not open official diplomatic relations with countries that have official diplomatic relations with Beijing. Therefore they operate the Taipei Economic and Trade Office throughout the world, such as in Jakarta, Washington DC, and London.
The main reason is to maintain and preserve the unity and stability of the PRC. The PRC has thousands of ethnic and cultural groups. The majority ethnic group is Han. While minority groups include Uyghurs, Tibetans, Mongols, Hui, Manchu, etc. There are 4 active separatist movements in China: Uyghurs, Inner Mongolia, Tibet, and Hong Kong. These groups see the democratic and free government in Taiwan as their inspiration and they want to be free as their crops and natural resources have been taken by the Chinese government and used to develop other areas while their areas are still relatively poor. And there are some cases where those 4 minority groups are oppressed. If Xi Jinping can unite China and Taiwan, then the spirit of independence can be extinguished and the separatist group will give up because they have lost their beacon of hope and inspiration.
Another reason is to complete the “goals and dreams of the ancestor”. The Taiwan problem was a priority for Xi Jinping’s predecessor. Therefore, if he is successful in uniting the PRC and Taiwan, he will be known and welcomed as the best PRC president and his popularity will skyrocket.
Another reason is because of the current President and government of Taiwan. The current president of Taiwan is Tsai Ing-wen. She is the first female President of Taiwan who came from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The previous president came from the Kuomintang party and this party is friendly to Beijing. This party tends towards Beijing even though its founder is Chiang Kai Shek. At the time the party was in power, the PRC-Taiwan relations were warmer and the PRC government did not make a vigorous effort to conquer Taiwan because they hoped the Kuomintang party would choose to join Beijing by itself even though it would never happen. However, in 2016 the Kuomintang party lost the election and the DPP party seized power with Tsai Ing-Wen as President of Taiwan. This party is a hostile party to Beijing and wants to do something unthinkable: declare full independence.
This means that Taiwan will become a country that is truly a country as a whole without the shadow of the PRC which means that one china policy will no longer apply and Taiwan will become a country that is as sovereign as any other country in the world. This will make Beijing lose its claim that Taiwan is a Province of China. In other words, China will lose a (claimed)province. This of course will become a national embarrassment. The national pride of China, a country with the second-largest economy in the world with the largest army in the world, will crumble before the world and not to mention separatists who will intensify their activities. This means that the independence of Taiwan can trigger a chain reaction that could lead to the disintegration of the PRC which can be seen already starting before China could unite Taiwan: the Tibetan independence movement, the demonstration in Hong Kong, and the independence movement in Xinjiang.
And, how will China resolve this issue? Well, it is pretty hard to predict. One of the most popular theories before was that China will grant Taiwan autonomy with the “one country, two systems” model as seen in Macau and Hong Kong. However, after the 2019 Hong Kong protests which saw the infiltration of the central Chinese government into Hongkong autonomous government, the hope of seeing a united China and Taiwan with the “one country, two systems” model looks rather bleak. Which left only one other option: full reunification by means of peace or war.