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Growing U.S. support for secessionism in Taiwan has brought relations with China to the precipice of a new crisis. The U.S. moves in the island, which is rightfully claimed by the government in Beijing as part of China’s national territory, raises the risk of a catastrophic conflict breaking out. Major military exercises have taken place on both sides of the Taiwan strait in recent weeks, with mainland forces carrying out drills on Monday simulating a naval landing in nearby Fujian province.
By stepping up military and diplomatic support for the island’s government, the United States is egging on the Taiwan secessionist forces in the ruling Democratic Progressive Party towards a formal declaration that Taiwan is its own independent entity — as opposed to its current self-conception as the Republic of China.
Throughout the summer, the United States and the UK have been sending aircraft carrier strike forces throughout the South China Sea and Strait of Taiwan. This is not new but the increasing frequency of these exercises are considered extremely provocative to China. The recent sale of nuclear submarines to Australia as part of the formation of the AUKUS bloc was another aggressive move. AUKUS is an alliance between Australia, the UK, and the United States that is clearly aimed at confrontation with China. The construction of opposing sets of alliances has historically been a precursor to war.
Earlier this month China showed its anger at U.S. military moves near Taiwan by breaking their own record for military flights in the strait three times in a row. The U.S. government responded with an extremely provocative statement saying that it was ready to stand with its allies to “defend” Taiwan. Later in the week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Pentagon has troops on Taiwan training the Taiwanese military.
Celebrations of the 110 year anniversary of the 1911 revolution in China that overthrew the monarchy were the occasion for both Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan to weigh in on the crisis.
President Xi came out strongly against secessionist moves undertaken by the Taiwanese authorities. An important article in the Communist Party-aligned newspaper Global Times outlines the Chinese perspective. “Compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Straits should stand on the right side of history and join hands to achieve China’s complete reunification and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” Xi is quoted as saying in the article, going on to warn, “anyone who intends to betray and separate the country will be disdained by the people and judged by history”.
The article quotes extensively from an anonymous expert on Taiwan affairs. The article reads, “The anonymous expert in Beijing said this is a strong signal and warning to agitators on the island and leaders of the DPP and other secessionists – whether the Taiwan question to be resolved by peaceful mean or non-peaceful mean, secessionists will be judged and punished eventually. [The anonymous expert said,]‘Maybe there is no need to wait that long, some of them might get punished during the process of national reunification. We, the mainland, have enough strength and determination to make them pay for their crime of secessionism.” These words in such a highly influential publication can be taken as an indication of the general mood in Beijing.
Concurrently, President Tsai announced that the DPP intends to change the constitution of Taiwan. The details of her move are murky but will likely in some way inscribe secessionism in the Taiwanese constitution. If it goes as far as a declaration of independence, war is a very real possibility.
The One China Principle
The One China Principle is a foundational bedrock of the China-U.S. relationship. In 1972, the Shanghai Communique issued jointly by the two countries recognized the One China Principle by stating that China, including Taiwan, is one, indivisible territorial entity. Since then the One China Principle has been a strict precondition for other countries to establish diplomatic relations with China.
Taiwan is an existential issue for China, just like Hong Kong. The political identity of the Communist Party of China is based around the struggle for national reunification. Known as the “Century of Humiliation”, from the mid-1800s until 1949 China was dominated and dismembered into many pieces by imperialist powers. The reunification of China has always been seen as an essential part of building socialism, overcoming underdevelopment, and defending the rule of the working class in China. The Chinese constitution states, “Taiwan is part of the sacred territory of the People’s Republic of China. It is the lofty duty of the entire Chinese people, including our compatriots in Taiwan, to accomplish the great task of reunifying the motherland.”
China has peacefully accomplished the reunification of Hong Kong and Macau using an approach called “One Country, Two Systems”. Under this approach, Hong Kong and Macau are allowed a degree of self-government after being reunified with the rest of the country. This is seen as a possible arrangement with Taiwan, leading to a gradual reintegration. The Communist Party of China has always stressed its desire to achieve the peaceful reunification of Taiwan but it has never renounced its sovereign right to use force to defend the integrity of its territory.
There’s still time for peace
There is a serious risk of a miscommunication or accident in the South China Sea or Strait of Taiwan escalating to an all-out war. The constant presence of U.S. and allied naval forces in the area increases those risks. China cannot rule out that the United States would initiate a direct military conflict based on the illusion that it could be contained and easily won.
In this tense moment, the Biden administration is sending contradictory signals. An emergency meeting in Zurich between Yang Jiechi, a top leader of the Communist Party of China, and Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan was a step towards deescalation but yielded little concrete results. September’s phone call between the two presidents also yielded little results.
China has made it clear that the United States has no right to threaten the Chinese people. War only benefits Wall Street and the weapons manufacturers who cash in on death and destruction. The working class should resist the drive to war and the propaganda offensive launched by the corporate media.