China will increase military, diplomatic and other kinds of pressure against proudly self-ruled Taiwan to deliver on President Xi Jinping’s demand in January that the two sides unify, a China policy maker in Taipei told VOA Monday.
“We believe it will step up measures to contact and merge with Taiwan,” said Chiu Chui-cheng, deputy minister with Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council. “So, I think that perhaps military threats, diplomatic pressure and economic absorption, as well as the pressure to penetrate into and divide all of Taiwanese society, will get stronger bit by bit.”
China claims sovereignty over Taiwan, but the island is self-ruled, and 83 percent of Taiwanese like it that way, according to Mainland Affairs Council figures.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, elected in 2016, rejects Beijing’s dialogue condition that both sides see themselves as part of a single China. Beijing has responded by cutting off dialogue, buzzing Taiwan’s airspace with military planes and passing an aircraft carrier fleet through the Taiwan Strait. A year ago, Beijing rolled out 31 incentives to lure Taiwanese people over for work, study and investment.
Xi told a live internet broadcast Jan. 2 that the two sides should pursue a “one country, two systems” model of unification that his government applied to Hong Kong in 1997. China said that year it had given the former British colony local autonomy. Xi also said China had not ruled out the use of force, if needed, to make Taiwan unify.
“In addition to hard power like diplomacy, military and economics, it will do more penetration and cause more division by organize agents,” Chiu said in an exclusive interview. “The agents will be included in the media, political parties, universities and civic groups to find people who support them and then plot to split Taiwanese unity.”
The main opposition Nationalist Party said in a statement Monday it had opened a “cross-Strait cities dialogue service center” for mayors and county magistrates that want relations with China because the “dialogue between government and mainland China is in a state of stagnation.”
China and Taiwan have been ruled separately since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s, when the losing Nationalists fled to Taiwan and rebased their government. Communist China has always insisted the two sides eventually unite politically.
Relations warmed from 2008 to 2016 under ex-President Ma Ying-jeou, but Ma eventually met protests from Taiwanese who felt his government had grown too close with Beijing.
At least 10 military flybys had been logged between 2015 and the end of 2017. China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, has passed through the Taiwan Strait at least four times during Tsai’s term to date in office. Since 2016, China has persuaded five countries to switch diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, the Taiwan foreign ministry said.
Tsai is eligible for reelection in 2020, likely against an opposition candidate who backs stronger China-Taiwan ties.
Help from Washington
Taiwan will look to the United States, for help in standing up against China, Chiu said. The United States has announced two arms sales to Taiwan under U.S. President Donald Trump, and it regularly passes its naval ships in waters claimed by China. The White House last year condemned other countries for switching diplomatic allegiance from Taipei to Beijing.
Washington sees democratic Taiwan as part of a chain of allies in East Asia that form a checkpoint against the maritime expansion of China, a former Cold War foe.
“The resolute support of the U.S. government is a trusted source for us in facing these challenges,” Chiu said. “U.S. support for Taiwan is support for democracy and support for our universal values. So, this is also extremely important for people in positions of leadership in the United States.”
Many people in Taiwan hope it leans more on Washington, though they’re also torn by China’s offer of easy access to its giant market for work and investment, scholars say.
“Taiwan’s society might have two paths,” said Andy Chang, China studies professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan. “One is a path favoring China, and the other favoring the United States. (The government) definitely hopes Taiwan society will pick the U.S. path, toward the international community, and not the China path, the market path.”
Taiwanese voters said before local elections in November they hoped their officials would find a way to talk with China - while maintaining the island’s self-rule.
“A lot of people know that mainland China is of course a threat to Taiwan, but you have to coexist with mainland China, and the best is in a peaceful way,” said Huang Kwei-bo, vice dean of the international affairs college at National Chengchi University in Taipei.
Dialogue is hard as long as China demands unification and keeps weapons pointed at the island, Chiu said.