June 17, 2019


The Hong Kong Protests Could Be a Prelude to a Big Showdown Over Taiwan (JOSHUA KEATING, JUNE 17, 2019, Slate)

Politically, the timing of the crisis works quite well for the nationalist Tsai, who just fended off a primary challenge from the even more nationalist former Prime Minister William Tai and is facing a tough reelection fight this January.

Taiwan has maintained de facto independence since Chinese nationalist forces relocated there in 1949 after their rout by Mao Zedong's communists, but Beijing still considers it part of its own territory and has sought to bring it back into the fold. Lately, China has been pressuring the few countries that still have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan to cut them off and has stepped up military exercises in the region. Hard-liners in China's military are reportedly frustrated with what they see as an overly cautious approach to Taiwan's continued defiance.

Taiwanese leaders have been wary about declaring full independence for fear of provoking Chinese retaliation, but Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party strongly opposes closer unification with China. The party that founded modern Taiwan, the Kuomintang, now ironically promotes closer ties with Beijing. While most Taiwanese oppose reunification, most also now see it as inevitable, given China's military and economic strength.

On Jan. 2, Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a major speech on Taiwan policy, which included both carrots and sticks. Xi called reunification inevitable and did not rule out the use of force to achieve it, but he also suggested Taiwan could maintain its autonomy under a "one country, two systems" arrangement like the one in place in Hong Kong since 1997.

The speech backfired, leading to an immediate surge in support for Tsai after her party had suffered a setback in recent local elections. "That was a message to her and her team that beating up on China can be very helpful in boosting her support," says Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. After the past week, suffice to say, "one country, two systems" looks even less appealing--and resistance to Chinese rule looks just a tiny bit less futile.

Glaser says that from Tsai's point of view, the images coming out of Hong Kong are "even better" than Xi's controversial remarks. "This isn't just a speech. It's reality."

Posted by at June 17, 2019 6:29 PM