By The China Post
This week local media widely reported on the words of Jin Canrong, Associate Dean of the School of International Relations at Renmin University. Jin made a prediction at a July 23 symposium that Xi Jinping will attempt to “solve” the issue through force by the year 2021 at the earliest, after “resolving” the South China Sea disputes through force in 2020. This is a scholar who said in the same speech, “stay more than a month in Taiwan and you will become stupid” in disdain for the supposed low quality of local media, but also as means of trashing “Taiwanese independence schemers”, whom he debated.
Jin’s insults don’t have to be taken seriously. His contempt for Taiwan-ese should also remind us of the sway of populism, though. Any fixed date for a settlement on the issue of Taiwan’s status should be treated as a dangerous bottom-line against which Taiwan must utilise strategy and effort to prevent being locked into the mainland’s official policy.
“Since China has more at stake, it has an incentive to keep raising the costs of confrontation until the US is no longer willing to absorb them. This argues for dropping Washing-ton’s pledge to come to Taiwan’s aid,” Eric Gomez of the Cato Institute wrote last December.
Importantly, top Chinese leaders have been careful to not lay down a concrete date for the “resolution” of the “Taiwan issue”, although they often repeat Deng Xiaoping’s line that the unification of the “motherland” cannot be postponed forever. Much of the pressure that Taiwan faces in cross-strait relations arises from the backdrop of the threat to not maintain the status quo forever.
China expert Shen Dawei’s analysis designating “five concentric circles” of mainland decision-making has indicated that the central decision-making “circle” is reserved for high-ranking members in the party apparatus and the State Council. Even the Foreign Ministry is a second-tier decision-maker in China and the foreign affairs bureau state councillor is his superior.
Academia is tasked with research and gathering information to formulate advice for inner circles of power, but consultation is the maximum extent of their influence and they fall under the third “circle” of policy formulation, according to Shen’s thesis as explained by Jiang Gushi in “Wu Jianmin battles The Global Times”. Chinese academia is often constrained by demands of populism, which are part of the loop of forming strategy for national goals.
For Taiwan, it is clear the path to the future will need to be forged with an eye to planning against coercion. However, it is also a tactical manoeuvre in a treacherous international and cross-strait environment, with the goal of preserving the safety of the country’s freedom of action.
How to do that is no easy task. First priority should be continued outreach to the mainland with an insistence on “preserving the status quo”, as President Tsai Ing-wen already insists upon. For now, the mainland is not buying it, and demands a complete acceptance of the “1992 Consensus”.
The media have reported on the government’s move to organise trade missions to explore and invite commerce and tourism to Taiwan. That is a proactive move that deserves encouragement in the face of widely reported setbacks in cross-strait commerce with the cooling of ties. More cultural and commercial exchanges are necessary and should be the focus of the government as the backdrop of any hostile conditions is the mainland’s estimate they have an excuse to resort to coercion.