China and Taiwan - a potential gambit

The sabre-rattling by China against Taiwan has been going on a long time - in fact, it has its basis in the communist revolution under Mao.

I have a a great sympathy for China and its people. It's hard for many of us westerners to understand, but it was our nations that exploited and humiliated China in the 19th century. Britain set up a quasi-legal opium trade and, along with America, essentially took over parts of the country when they won the "Opium wars".

The distrust that China and its people have for the West is justified in many ways - and it is hard for us, as Westerners who may be ignorant of history, to assume that we might actually be part of the problem.

China, however, is different from the Maoist dictatorship that typified much of its history post 1948. LIke many Communist nations suffering under its own dictatorship, China lost millions of its own citizens during political purges and the awful "Cultural Revolution". Since then, China has reformed itself - so much so that future historians will look to this period of history and wonder why we in the West were so ignorant of this. Since about 1980, China has abandoned Communism as an economic and political philosophy and has embraced market capitalism. As a result, China has lifted billions of its own people out of poverty by raising living standards and the average wage. This is an incredible achievement. Moreover, because China is so dependent upon trade and globalisation for its continual prosperity and internal order, they have no real choice but to continue along this route. Besides, the government heads themselves are probably benefitting from the growth of the Chinese economy directly.

So what's this all to do with Taiwan? For those of you who don't know, Taiwan was part of China. During the communist revolution, Mao's forces successfully defeated the old regime on the mainland. The only place left to take over was the island of Taiwan. It seemed a formality that China would invade, and even America at the time was resigned to the fact. But then the Korean War alerted America to the importance of resisting Chinese Communism, and thereafter America acted as guarantor of Taiwan's existence - if China invaded, America would respond.

This is the reason why China still speaks so defiantly about Taiwan - they see the island as a "rebel province" that must eventually come under central control.

But the fact is that whatever China might think they can achieve by continuing to threaten invasion and continuing to claim ownership over the island, they can gain far more over the long term by formally recognising Taiwan as a separate nation.

For the rest of the world, including us here in the West, Taiwan is seen as an example of China's ability to threaten the rest of the world. Whether China likes it or not, most of the world's nations recognise Taiwan as a separate political entity - in function if not in fact.

China is both admired and feared by outsiders. But if China gives up its claim over Taiwan, they will foster an enormous amount of goodwill from the entire world - especially its Asian neighbours who will see it as an important act of peace. America, which is feeling more threatened by China's power and influence in the world, will have little else to base their fears upon.

Of course, formally recognising Taiwan will lead to China experiencing its own internal problems - there are many patriotic Chinese who want nothing less than Taiwan under Chinese rule, and any politician in the nation who supports such an idea might be in for a hard time. However, once the Chinese political machine has decided something, it won't suffer as badly as Western democracies in the eyes of its own people.

So long as Taiwan remains an explicit, long-term goal for China to take over, they will arouse suspicion and fear around the world. If they give up on their claim, swallow their pride and formally recognise Taiwan, the world will breathe a sigh of relief. Moreover, with China making such a peaceful step, the world will find it easier to accept and approve of China's burgeoning influence in the 21st century.

And what would this also lead to? Perhaps even the embracing of a fairer and more democratic rule in a prosperous and powerful China. Everyone wins if Taiwan is free, but no more so than China itself.

From the Department of "Wha Happnin?"

© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
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