Bryce Swerhun, a researcher at the City University in Hong Kong provides an informed view as to the motivation behind actions on both sides of Straits of Taiwan.
Bryce sees the present situation as occurring because of a combination of various factors. Perhaps the most important issue is the rewriting of China's constitution, eliminating the term limit for the Chinese President. "Taiwan features prominently in this regard, because Taiwan is a ‘doctrinal issue,' for the communist party of China. Taiwan is also important because of increasing tensions regarding trade with the United States in China…The ‘One China Policy' is perhaps the central pillar to the legitimacy of the one party communist State. Historically it is an attempt to ensure that China is never again divided. There is a belief that western powers have for centuries always attempted to keep Chinese fighting against differently regions of itself, as a way to justify the breakup of China in one way or the other…"
China has never even recognized Taiwan as being an independent country, Bryce points out. "There was never a formal separation of Taiwan from China. Even to this day, Taiwanese ministers who talk about a formal secession from China are picked out by the press in mainland China and calls are made to issue international arrest warrants for encouraging such an attitude."
Bryce explains the connection between the US-China trade wars and the China-Taiwan troubles. "We have to look at the deepening economic integration of Taiwan, particularly at the technology sector with mainland China. Although politically there is a great deal of tension between the Taiwanese government and the governments of mainland China, but there is, nevertheless, deeper economic integration taking place. The best company to look at to show this is Foxconn, which is the world's largest contract based economic producer. This is where we get out iPhones and iPads and many other high tech products from. Foxconn is a Taiwanese company based in Taipei, but most of its production occurs in mainland China….Foxconn has to play a political game with the US. Foxconn announced that it was going to invest a certain amount of money in American production, as a way of placating nationalists' protectionist attitudes in America. What is mainland China's response to this? The mainland wants to assert that it is not just business as usual, treating Taiwan as though it was an independent state, or a separate market altogether. It is not business as usual looking at Taiwan as somewhere that you can separate from China, in terms of putting up tariff walls, in terms of wanting to punish the Chinese government for its economic policies. I think that the tensions raised at this moment are to remind companies,…China won't allow Taiwan to drift further towards American in terms of the economic relationships that they share…"
Bryce feels, however, that it is unlikely that the present China-Taiwan stand-off will come to anything very serious. "China is not looking at pacifying Taiwan or punishing the Taiwanese people, they're looking for reunification. They don't see them as an enemy; they see them as being wayward. This is not the same as the Middle East where on Friday an event happens, on Saturday bombs are being dropped, and on Sunday we have questions. China has a cooler head; they realize that their own prosperity is at stake with any action that they take on Taiwan as well…"
Bryce nevertheless sees the main reason that China-Taiwanese frictions are happening now is because Xi Jinping needs to demonstrate to the Party faithful that he is going to be able to extend a longer period for his administration, and thus he is going to be expected to take responsibility for such ‘doctrinal conflicts.'…He is also looking to get support from the more hard wing elements of the Party, whose concerns about Taiwan have fallen onto the back burner in comparison to the need to create the modern state….In terms of the drills, this is also very important for the People's Liberation Army; to remind them what some of our core missions are. And one of our core missions is to establish control over all areas that we see as China. So it's an attitude that is instilled in the military, and on the Taiwanese side, the drills that they carry out are held with the motif that we have to defend ourselves…"
To the question of whether Taiwan be seen as a negotiating chip between China and the US, Bryce explains that Taiwan is the game, not a chip. "Building on islands in the South China Sea can be seen more as providing negotiating chips, if China were prepared to draw back on anything in exchange for let's say less western involvement in Taiwan, I think Taiwan would then be looking at scaling back on the building up of these islands. These are just strategic outposts; they don't have any place in the core philosophy of the Chinese State. I don't think China will ever negotiate away Taiwan. The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act did not actually commit the US to defend Taiwan; it only commits Congress to be consulted if the President is to take action…. China wants very much for the world to get away from the idea that it can treat China separately, in matters of day to day business…"
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