Tensions across the Taiwan Strait are running high these days, with China’s military activities in the strait and the South China Sea getting more and more frequent. According to the Ministry of National Defense, as of October 7 a total of 253 Chinese military planes had disturbed Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone, and 49 had crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait, the highest number since 1990. The frequency and intensity of the aggressive moves of the Chinese planes are also on the rise. Over the past month, Taiwan was invaded by 60 of these planes apparently without inhibition.
China worries about Taiwan-U.S. relations
Th other day, a UNI Air military charter flight travelling to the Pratas Islands was ordered by Hong Kong’s aviation authority to turn back on grounds that there were dangerous activities being conducted in the area. Yet it is understood that there was no military activity in the area covered by the route of the flight and the Chinese authorities concerned had not issued any aviation ban. It is believed that China was behind the order, and that this kind of interference with civil aircraft flight will be normalized, amounting to psychological warfare and propaganda warfare that challenge Taiwan’s national security. The government needs to deal with this issue seriously.
With the U.S. general election approaching, it remains unclear how the international power structure will change. Meanwhile, the global strategic order is undergoing changes. Taiwan-U.S. relations are improving, and so is the quality of U.S. arms sold to Taiwan. At the same time, cross-strait relations are stuck in a stalemate like never before because of Beijing’s high-profile moves. All these deeply worry Beijing about the future of Taiwan-U.S. relations, and this anxiety finds expression in Beijing’s intensifying rhetoric and threat of force directed at Taiwan, as well as talks of unifying Taiwan by force from time to time.
On the diplomatic front, it is not smooth sailing for China because its many actions are incompatible with the global order. And with Taiwan’s visibility becoming more prominent on the international stage, China’s rhetoric and threat of force against Taiwan are getting relentless.
Recently, Wang Zaixi, former deputy director of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council who has a military background, talked about unifying Taiwan using the “Peking Model”. In early 1949, the Chinese Communist Party’s army arrived in Peking, forcing Fu Zuoyi, who was guarding the city at the time, to “peacefully hand over” Peking. This is the Peking Model Wang referred to. Wang is of the view that the chances of cross-strait reunification are slim, and that other than unification by force, the cross-strait issue should be resolved through the Peking Model, so that Beijing can subdue Taiwan without fighting, thus minimizing casualties. Wang is not the first person to make such a suggestion and China had made plans based on the Peking Model previously.
Although history cannot be replicated, one can draw lessons from past events. Apart from threat of force, another essential element of the Peking Model is the strategy of “breaking the fortress from within”. When Fu “handed over Peking peacefully”, many “peace-loving democrats” played an important part, saying they helped the handover for the sake of peace and the ancient city of Peking, and to spare people the suffering brought by warfare. Philosopher Zhang Dongsun, a tragic figure, was among the most important in this group of people. He was later convicted of “treason” under Mao Zedong’s instruction.
The lesson of history forgotten
This part of history is full of twists and turns and is utterly sad, and one of the most important lessons is about the strategy of “breaking the fortress from within”. Zhang and others were motivated by their “sense of mission” to run inside and outside the city. Their idea was to put down the weapons so as to preserve the city’s heritage for the people. Today, scenarios similar to this part of history are being played out. At a time when the threat from the other side of the strait to devour Taiwan is unrelenting, there are psychological offensives and voices echoing the mainland’s actions coming from within Taiwan. There are “anti-war” voices and claims that “the first battle means the end of the battle”. There are also defeatist talks. One thread that runs through these voices is that the party that wants conflicts should act on the terms of the other party.
For example, a former national security official who advocates the idea of Taiwan’s isolation is critical of the government’s cross-strait policy, saying it should be changed as soon as possible and rebuild the foundation of cross-strait trust. The problem is that this person is of the view that it is only the Taiwanese government that has the responsibility to rebuild trust. In response to President Tsai Ing-wen’s remark in her National Day address that “we are willing to work together to facilitate meaningful dialogues”, Beijing said Taiwan had to first accept the “1992 Consensus”. In other words, rebuilding trust is about one side fully accepting the terms laid down by the other side. Such is precisely the gist of the Peking Model.
The mainland’s military intimidation is intensifying and China is promoting the Peking Model, from which it benefited decades ago. Meanwhile, within Taiwan there are people advocating an appeasement approach and some do that in the name of “justice”. We really need to watch out!
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