Taiwan to Mainland China: Treasure Island or Pressure Island?

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On October 11th, the Chinese central government announced through the CCTV Network News that the Ministry of State Security of the PRC uncovered a series of intelligence hacks committed by Taiwanese spies. The report claimed the arrest shattered a network built by the Taiwanese intelligence agency to target the mainland. All the identities of the Taiwanese spies were later revealed via a CCTV spotlight interview.  The story dominated all the main media platforms in China, and the strong tone adopted by them and the government was unprecedented.  Is the mainland signaling its intent to pursue a new approach toward Taiwan? Is Taiwan, the “Treasure Island” becoming more of a “Pressure Island” by resorting to or conspiring with others to create domestic trouble, thereby potentially opening the door to foreign “invasions” or declaring sovereignty? 

Taiwan and mainland China have always had a complex and intricate relationship; they have been family, friends and enemies all at the same time. Short discursive spats and their accompanying tit-for-tat actions have never raised suspicions that something more may be behind the change; yet, this time, a change in the domestic, regional and global currents have opened the door to speculation.  

With Tsai Ing-wen, the former president of the Democratic Progressive Party, serving consecutive terms as the leader of Taiwan, the voice of “Independent Taiwan” grows louder; and although it has been around since the founding of the PRC, the mainland seems to be even more concerned this time.  Perhaps this is because of the increased communication and level of political activity between Washington and the Tsai government.  The mainland, of course, does not consider the increasingly stronger disputes on and questions of its sovereignty a coincidence. In fact, the Chinese central government senses that Taiwan and the US are “conspiring” with each other to pave the path for its independence from the mainland, pointing to Taiwan’s growing global status and dependency on foreign powers; the U.S. advocacy on behalf of Taiwan; the passage of legislation boosting U.S-Taiwan relations; and the increasing engagement between Taiwanese and U.S. government officials. The latter two actions, in particular, have led the Central government accusing the U.S. of intervening in Mainland-Taiwan relations and disturbing the peace and stability in the South China Sea. 

Recently, the US Department of Defense announced that the US has agreed to sell $1.8 billion worth of weapons to Taiwan. Neither Taiwan nor the US believes the mainland is likely to initiate a military invasion of Taiwan to keep the “One China Principle.” Nevertheless, they made the deal as an act of fortifying Taiwan’s military power. Other than the sale of weapons, the US Air Force (USAF) was spotted above Taiwan, and the US Marines, for the tenth time in history, crossed the Taiwan Strait. However, Taiwan and the US have been inconsistent in their statements on whether the USAF entered the Taiwan area. Taiwan denied it, and the US side first confirmed the act but later clarified it as a misunderstanding. There are speculations that the purpose of the mission was to perform tactical investigations and political probes.

Needless to say, the already-intense China-US relationship has worsened. As previously mentioned, China considers the “One China Principle” as its baseline on Taiwan issues, and the US selling weapons to Taiwan is a threat. Also, China considered this act a violation of the August 17th Communiqué whereby the US and China jointly agreed on Taiwan issues. Weapons sales and other enhancements to U.S.-Taiwan military-to-military relations are interpreted as provocations against the central government’s sovereignty.  The central government is particularly unhappy with U.S. national security adviser O’Brien’s statement that, “Taiwan needs to start looking at some asymmetric and anti-access area denial strategies.” This was obviously strongly condemned by the Chinese Ministry of Defense.  

A very delicate aspect of the series of events is the relationship between the U.S. and Taiwan. Major Chinese think tanks and military experts interpret the US approach to Taiwan as “strategic manipulation,” whereas Taiwan is a “helpless follower” and a “pawn of U.S.” in its suppression acts on China. The continuous military interference is a bomb in the Mainland-Taiwan relationship. It is not helpful for the “One China Principle,” which the China Central Government insists to preserve. Recently, the Taiwanese Nationalist politician Lin Weizhou made a proposition that, if the Chinese central government does not recognize Taiwan as an independent country, then the previously “Liang An” (a phrase that refers to Mainland China and Taiwan, two sides of the Taiwan Strait) will become two enemy states. It is, according to major mainland media outlets, an astonishingly ridiculous fallacy. 

The mainland worries how its international relations will affect its relationship with Taiwan, and those concerns are indeed reasonable. According to the Pew Research Center, Taiwan has very negative views on Mainland China, while those in the US are quite the opposite. The statement itself is unwelcoming for the mainland, and it may interpret any movements with extra vigilance given its stand-off with the US. The Taiwan issue is beyond territorial sovereignty: different political ideologies are deeply rooted among the Taiwanese. The divergence is not expected to be alleviated. Education in Taiwan broadcasts a different ideology from the “One China Principle,” which is taught in Mainland education. 

In the recently closed, Forum for Youth Development in the Mainland and Taiwan, Hong Xiuzhu, the former President of the Nationalist Party, solemnly declared the importance of youth development in the achievement of peace between Liang’an. She also mentioned the importance of mutual trust, which apparently is in a deficit right now. She admitted that peace and stability can’t be achieved easily. So far, Taiwan is the “pressure island.”

It is not a closure, and eyes are on the future.

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