While the United States and many European nations have recognized Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia, China has indicated it will avoid any precedent that could be applied to Taiwan.
In fact, in 2005 China’s National People’s Congress passed an “anti secession law” which said: “Both the mainland and Taiwan belong to one China. China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity brook no division.” This anti secession law explicitly gives the Chinese government the authority to “employ non-peaceful means and other necessary measures” should Taiwan unilaterally declare its independence.
With Kosovo’s declaration, Taiwan is once again on the front burner as an international issue. The Taiwanese presidential election in March 2008 and the referendum on United Nations’ admission offer stark evidence that Taiwan’s ambiguous status will be given careful examination.
Much has changed in the China-Taiwan relationship in the last few decades. For one, China-Taiwan trade was at roughly $120 billion in 2007 up from $2 billion at the end of the 1980’s. More than half of Taiwan’s outbound investment goes to China putting Taiwan in the position of either number four or five in direct investor status on the mainland. Moreover, somewhere around 25 million Chinese are employed in Taiwanese businesses on the mainland leading to a level of integration that could not have been imagined a decade ago.
Surely this integration moderates, to some degree, China’s military buildup across the straits. But China’s adamant position vis-à-vis Taiwan overlooks the current reality.
Taiwan is an advanced economy that recently replaced Australia as the 16th most wealthy nation on the globe. It’s population of 23 million people is larger than three-quarters of the nations at the United Nations. It’s role in the design and manufacture of the I-Phone among other advanced consumer products is the envy of most Asian states. And since 1988, when martial law was suspended, it has had a vibrant democracy and vigorous competition between the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
The idea that Taiwan is a “renegade province” – an expression often used by Chinese leaders – overlooks the evolution of this island nation. At the outset, when Chiang Kai Shek took six million adherents to Formosa, there was little doubt these people identified themselves as Chinese who at some point had a vision of returning to the mainland. Over time, however, this identification has changed.
Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of Decade of Denial (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001).
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