China Eyes Reunification With Taiwan

On the same day that violent Trump supporters took over the U.S. Capitol, a different kind of crisis was playing out on the other side of the world. Police in Hong Kong arrested more than 50 opposition activists and pro-democracy candidates, part of a pattern of mass arrests under China’s six-month-old national security law. The message couldn’t be any clearer: “One country, two systems” is over. 

This type of insidious power grab has played out before. Haunted by the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian President Vladimir Putin has led his country on a political reconquista over the past two decades, emboldened at least in part by the United States’ unwillingness to show strength to a bully. It started at the turn of the century, when the Chechen Republic was brought under Moscow’s control. Following a period of increased ties between Georgia and the United States in 2008, Russia provoked a conflict in Georgia to justify a subsequent invasion. Perhaps heartened by the lack of international backlash, the Russians subsequently moved on Ukraine, claiming sovereignty over the Crimean Peninsula. This time, there were consequences—international sanctions were quickly slapped on Russia, and it was ejected from the G8. But while the Russian campaign of aggressive land-grabs was temporarily halted, no one believes it’s over. 

We now see the Communist Party of China (CCP) moving in a similar trajectory, but in a far more insidious way—emphasizing political rather than military strength, though not unwilling to resort to state violence. After consolidating its power for nearly two decades, China has taken advantage of the period of relative impunity afforded it by the Trump administration to launch a similar power grab in Hong Kong, to crack down in Tibet and engage in brutal repression in the province of Xinjiang. Today, Hong Kong has become subject to the most aggressive anti-democratic crackdown since the Tiananmen Square massacre. To this, the Trump administration said very little—and only on its way out the door did they take action to lift restrictions on diplomatic relations with Taiwan and to finally declare formally that genocide is occurring in Xinjiang.

What comes next, in the vacuum of U.S. leadership, is painted on the walls: Taiwan. Perhaps buoyed by its ability to act in Hong Kong—or emboldened by the lack of United States’ strength in international discourse following the Capitol insurrection—the CCP recently unveiled its detailed “reunification” strategy for Taiwan and has also been floating a “national reunification law” designed to bring the semi-independent territory to heel. In an effort to fend off Beijing, Taiwan has been working to deepen trade deals and strengthen diplomatic ties with the United States. It’s a move that has infuriated the CCP, which warned—following Pompeo’s lifting of diplomatic restrictions with Taiwan—that “The Chinese people’s resolve to defend our sovereignty and territorial integrity is unshakable and we will not permit any person or force to stop the process of China’s reunification.”

Create a free account
Access additional articles and newsletters for no cost, no credit card information needed. Continue ALREADY HAVE AN ACCOUNT? SIGN IN
Comments (69)
Join The Dispatch to participate in the comments.
  • Pingback: ephedrine for sale
  • The CCP must be stopped. The only way to do that is using the military. Wars make the decisions. Diplomacy merely records them.

  • The world seems to be reverting to a pre-World War I state of competition. The geopolitical problem in Taiwan transcends the issue of Chinese reunification. Territorial grabs in Southeast Asia would make the PRC's neighbor's anxious. Prudence alone would dictate an alignment of regional powers to check against further expansion by the PRC.

    On the left of American politics, progressives continue to buy into "End of History" theories of kumbaya and the inevitable march of every nation toward chai lattes for everyone. They think, either foolishly or through hubris (or both), that conflict among great powers has gone the way of the dodo bird. On the right, we have abandoned multilateralism. Even before Trump, conservative leaders seemed to view multilateral forums more as social clubs than conventions for international governance. Both sides have forgotten that these conventions--from the UN to the G7--are parts of efforts to promote cooperation over competition, because the latter has historically led to conflict. To stop China, we need to recommit to the multilateral institutions that WE built for the post-War era. These are places where talking happens before the shooting starts and, in so doing, there's a better chance conflict can be averted. Maybe Taipei falls to Beijing anyway, but multilateralism is a vehicle that could impose a steep price on the CCP for such a move without the use of force.

    Without international cooperation, we are left with disparate powers that align with one another out of military necessity and harbor distinct interests in a state of competition with no redlines to prevent conflict--only one Franz Ferdinand moment away from tragedy.

  • Let the US take an unambiguous, strong, credible policy for Taiwanese self-rule and support for political sovereignty, and stick to it, with whatever actions are necessary to counter each and every Chinese provocation. China is a huge political adversary, and a challenging economic adversary, but a "cold war" or nuclear threats and stand-offs are in neither country's interests and both know it. Russian on the other hand, needs to have a hand-slapping, soon, and hard, while Putin is weak.

  • This lost me with the word "reunification."


    1. Yes.

  • This impetus for this article is a "One China, two systems" policy mentioned at being advocated last January in on an obscure round of up of news on mail chimp?

    I think we defend Taiwan period, if they don't choose to go under Chinese authoritarianism, which as far as I know is our policy.

    But I don't get why this story was posted here or written period. Write an honest advocacy piece, don't pretend there is news when there isn't.

  • If China wants to take over Taiwan, there is one thing America can do to stop it.

    Exactly what we did with Crimea's take over by Russia.

    Zip. Nothing.

    Except may be a few useless sanctions.

    The chest thumpers can shout all they want. This isn't some third world goon in the middle east to slap around.

    We lost our persuasive authority starting with the Iraq invasion under false guise.

    We lost our persuasive authority by training Americans to believe in big lies.

    1. We can still sink their navy. That’s more than zip.

      1. There won't be any sinking of ships.

        It will be the path of Hitler's Anschluss or Putin's referrundum (but unlike pea-brained Trump's failed call to Raffensperger;).

        At some point, some right-wing guy will come to power in Taiwan (with sympathies for the Motherland). For an ordinary guy in rotation, a $B is a lot of money. There will be commotion, riots, followed by an invitation to the Motherland to quell the violence and restore peace.

        Then it's all over.

    2. The left (both domestically and internationally) trotted out similar arguments following Vietnam. They were wrong then and wrong now. Our country has many problems - but if you don't know who the bad guy is, you haven't been paying attention.

      1. "The Left"? Hmm. Hello. An American speaking here.

    3. Yep, the same could’ve been said about the Nazis and Great Britain. I certainly don’t advocate going to war and I don’t think we have to. Moral authority that is lost can also be gained. We can support Taiwan by lending them our support with signals such as increased arm sales and or patrolling our navy. The goal here is just a detente.

    4. Persuasive Authority? What is this exactly? How did we have it to begin with? What evidence is there that China under Xi Jinping was persuaded by our persuasive authority?

      I do think that the Iraq War was a strategic mistake at the time, yet I know that we could have made tactical changes that would have maintained some strategic advantage out of the war. It starts with Bush's trusting Erdogan to get troops through Turkey, on into Rumsfield's lack of troop numbers, the immediate dismissal of the Iraqi military, the trusting of Iran sympathetic ex-pat Shiites, the ignoring of Iran/Syria to send resources and terrorists into Iraq, and goes on into Obama & Biden's abandoning Iraq with no Status of Forces Agreement after a successful pacification through the surge.

      But you know who was persuaded by the overthrow of Saddam? Qaddafi gave up his weapons upon seeing us demolish the Iraqi army in six weeks. Dictators don't give a crap about our moral authority. They use such concepts as propaganda tools. I think we should fight back with exactly those propaganda means, but we enact real change through force or the threat of force.

      I do agree with a similar idea to your second statement's intent. That Americans too often fall for politician's promises of easy benefits with no trade-offs. But much of this is perpetuated by deluded idealists that believe their own hype. Not technically a lie, just an error. But there certainly are cynical weasels too: see Ted Cruz or Harry Reid as prime examples.

  • "China has taken advantage of the period of relative impunity afforded it by the Trump administration..."

    "Relative" to what? Trump has been harder on China then any administration in decades.

    There is a reason Taiwan wanted Trump to win and China wanted Biden to win. To say Trump is relatively soft of china needs some justification.

  • This is such a huge deal. As described, the CCP has been aggressive in consolidating loose ends given the political and economic chaos and uncertainty of the past few years. The CCP is taking real steps towards “One China” and “reunification strategy”. These are part of historic, tectonic shifts that have been long anticipated but the plates may be moving more forcefully now. The Authors observe that the CCP tack is becoming more political than military. In a comment, Ginni offers an interesting anecdote that the political approach may be gathering some mindshare with Taiwanese. I’m not sure how widespread this way of thinking is relative to the Taiwanese who have become part of the technology sector and the wide global market share and success Taiwan enjoys in fields like semiconductor fabrication but is a very interesting data point. I don’t know that polling exists but wander what approval/disapproval on “One China / Two China” would be across Taiwan, would be interesting?

    Let’s use economic levers, particularly the semiconductor fabrication industry as the core basis to “encourage the international community to engage” the Authors request. Its been a bit ham-handed but the Trump administration has constructively stirred up a hornet’s next by blocking Huawei and other China firms access to TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) fabrication based on not granting access to US IP and technology embedded in TSMC processes. For background, TSMC has over 50% global semiconductor foundry market share and is by far the technology leader in this market. The Chinese have no leading-edge capability to fabricate the chips that drive their manufacturing of electronic products. They have to buy and build elsewhere for vast majority of the semiconductor content in their products. Being shut out at TSMC is a relative death blow for them. There are huge state-driven programs in China to try and catch up here. These programs will take decades and much of the underlying fabrication equipment is controlled by US companies so building big modern plants with masses of newly trained technologists is not enough. One Dutch company has a complete stranglehold on the most key photolithography equipment used in the industry. This is a quixotic journey China can never complete.

    At the same time, the US is increasingly dependent on TSMC for chip fabrication. Other than Intel (which is slowly turning manufacturing towards TSMC) the US has given up on a domestic capability to fabricate chips. We design them here and build them there (Taiwan, Korea). If CCP somehow stormed the beaches of Taipei and appropriated TSMC (somehow not destroying capability and simultaneously somehow keeping the hearts and minds of 50,000 technology workers), it would have huge economic repercussions in the US. Pretty much 100% of Apple’s highest technology chips are fabricated at TSMC. There are military supply concerns in all this as well. The US Commerce department has recently incented TSMC to build TSMC facilities in the US. It’s a good start but a very small step towards isolating our industry from potential CCP political and military.

    In this scenario, Taiwan is very much in the catbird seat to remain independent. China and the US both need healthy economic partnerships with its largest industry. 1.0 version of US/China trade was undermined by what most felt were unfair Chinese IP practices and the development of a huge and successful Chinese manufacturing economy that threw its weight around. 2.0 Version is racked by animosity and trade wars and a march towards ever increasing conflict. 3.0 Version can be crafted around win-win of ensuring both China and US self-sufficiency in this absolute key supply capability for economic success. Probably more info in this post than generally desired, and there are many details in such an approach, but Gina R. and Tony B. should be all over this angle.

    1. Not sure there is a #3, win-win. The value of Hong Kong was in its position in the international finance world, a dominated province loses that value. China doesn’t care, their goal is single minded.
      As for support for unification in Taiwan, which is relatively free at this time, recall that rights are inalienable. Reunification destroys that freedom, Taiwanese have learned this from Hong Kong.
      At some point, China must be confronted. But that is going to take leadership.

      1. There are a few "muscular, military" thoughts coming in to the discussion. I think it's hard not agree that we need to continue to have a firm posture on the Straits, continue proper arms sales to Taiwan, and strike an aggressive posture of support for Taiwan. The article raises the thesis that China is turning up efforts but more on the political rather than military axis.

        Propose US policy needs to keep military part in check but up it's game on the political/economic side.

      2. Hear you. Looking at #3 as a way for Taiwan to remain independent at the same time being the economic lever to confront China... and it will absolutely take leadership as part of a larger diplomatic effort.

    2. Semiconductor photolithography is very high end technology indeed. Literally spy-satellite optics essentially. ASML, who you mention is the Dutch company, with optics made by Zeiss. The other two, with lower share, are Nikon and Canon. Both make their own optics in Japan. The optical design at the latest node is very challenging and takes the best of the best optical designers to optimize solutions. But, the electro-mechanics are equally challenging. It's certainly an area China would desire to build up. Unless Zeiss, Canon or Nikon make a misstep and decide to build in China, the proprietary know-how should continue to protect the technology. Similarly, TSMC, like Intel, IBM, Samsung and other producers are also keen on proprietary keeping.

      1. Interesting article linked below in Taipei Times today on what was on this sub-thread. Taiwan finds itself in a very enviable economic and market position. China, US, and Europe all need to find a way to duplicate or co-opt their chip fab capability. Trade meets geopolitical. Still don't see logical China military path to reunification.

      2. Big Yep. ASML has a complete technology stranglehold here on these systems and the basic optical component technology they build with is held in Germany and Japan. China will never be able to play here, other than as a consumer, without being allowed to outright buy ASML. All this stuff is embedded in a huge manufacturing process, and you would think this would be a natural for China but it most definitely is not. They know it very well and have been watching these efforts fall apart as we speak. I like your "proprietary keeping" phrase.

        1. I managed and managed in 2 companies that had 50 year old proprietary secrets.

    Load More