US Sees Taiwan as ‘Pressure Point’ Against China, but Citizens Prefer Status Quo

© AP Photo / Chiang Ying-yingSupporters of Taiwan's 2020 presidential election candidate, Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen cheer for Tsai's victory in Taipei, Taiwan, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Supporters of Taiwan's 2020 presidential election candidate, Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen cheer for Tsai's victory in Taipei, Taiwan, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying) - Sputnik International
Tsai Ing Wen won a second term as president of Taiwan over the weekend. Despite her victory, many Taiwanese people are interested in maintaining the autonomous island’s political status quo as neither completely part of nor separate from mainland China, reported Bob Schlehuber, the producer of Radio Sputnik’s By Any Means Necessary..

Schlehuber, who reported from the Taiwanese capital of Taipei, told Radio Sputnik’s Loud & Clear host Brian Becker on Monday that the Saturday elections saw a massive turnout, noting that “74% of people voted for the election. We met people over the last few days that have flown back around the world [to Taiwan] to vote. There’s no absentee voting here in Taiwan. So, we met people from Sweden, Singapore and the US that have returned to their homeland to vote in this historic moment,” Schlehuber said.
Tsai, who is part of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), has supported separating Taiwan from China by reducing the island’s economic dependence on the mainland. Tsai’s main opponent was Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo Yu of the Kuomintang (KMT), also called the Chinese Nationalists, which advocates maintaining strong economic relations with mainland China. 

Before losing the civil war in 1949, the KMT governed the Republic of China from Beijing, but following the communist victory that established the People’s Republic of China, the KMT’s authority survived only in Taiwan, which the Red Army was unable to invade. To the present day, Taiwan’s official name is the Republic of China, and the KMT claims it is the only legitimate political representative of the Chinese people.

“The DPP, they promote this idea of Taiwanese national identity being something different, separate than Chinese national identity. That’s something that the KMT opposes,” Sputnik analyst Walter Smolarek noted.

“The US government definitely sees Taiwan has a key pressure point in the context of its overall push against China, for regime change in China. That’s their ultimate goal. That’s the goal of the great power competition strategy that the Pentagon has officially adopted,” Smolarek said.

The analyst called the Trump administration’s support for Taiwanese independence “ironic,” given that their rivals, the KMT, were a US ally even before the Chinese Communist Party took control of the mainland in 1949. 

“But because of the internal dynamic of Taiwanese politics, the people who were opposed to the nationalist party’s dictatorship, they coalesced around the DPP, and they took a completely different line in regards to the possible reunification with the mainland,” Smolarek said.

Schlehuber noted that if Taiwan were to assume independence from mainland China under Tsai’s administration, the economic effects on both China and Taiwan could be “disastrous.” 

“The economic ties are so large; for Taiwan to abandon the relationship with the mainland would have a disastrous impact. The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, which is a huge landmark trade agreement with the two countries - or the one country, two systems … expires in June 2020 … it’s about 800 products, goods, that travel between the one country, two systems. About 41% of [Taiwanese] exports are to China mainland, as well as Hong Kong,” he said.

“In addition to that, there are about 1 million Taiwanese people that live on the mainland … so, again, if you’re going to start rocking the boat, that’s going to have huge consequences,” Schlehuber explained.

“I think [Taiwanese] people, as much as they were wanting the further move from China, also appreciated KMT being the counterbalance to DPP … no one wants unification right now; no one wants independence right away. I think the vast majority of people do want the status quo as long as their democracy and democratic elections are also preserved at the same time,” Schlehuber added.

Even though it adopted the “One China” policy in 1979, which acknowledges Beijing’s claim that Taiwan is an inseparable part of China, the US maintains close independent trade ties with Taiwan and remains its top supplier of weapons - if mostly outdated ones. In March 2018, US President Donald Trump signed new legislation allowing senior US officials to travel to the island to meet their Taiwanese counterparts and vice versa.

However, the US has “upped the sophistication of the arms that they’re selling to Taiwan. They’re selling advanced missiles and fighter jets. That could be a precursor to a major, political, diplomatic move like the recognition of Taiwan as an independent entity, but that would lead to a grave, grave crisis with China unlike what we’ve even seen with the trade war,” Smolarek noted.

“I think that the Trump administration is going to sign a trade deal, a phase one trade deal with China this week, probably on Wednesday, but it seems that their overall strategy, the overall framework of aggression towards China, that’s certainly not going anywhere, and that’s a perspective shared by the Democratic Party as well,” Smolarek added.

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