China and the Taiwan Question. 1/1/21
As China increasingly decides to assert its status as a World Power, Australia has been given the message fairly clearly.
Morrison foolishly, and perhaps encouraged by Trump in his pre-election hubris, criticised China’s management of the Coronavirus. If China was looking for a middle-sized power to humiliate using its Trade power, Australia had stepped conveniently stepped into the role. This is still playing out. If China squeezes hard, we are likely to have a recession and Morrison will lose the election. If not, probably not.
China is asserting its dominance over the South China Sea by building bases on the Spratly Islands, and the US and Australia are sailing through them to show that they still can, but this does not prove that the balance of power is not shifting quite dramatically China’s way.
China has asserted that it is not a democracy and that the Communist party will be dominant for the foreseeable future. It did not tolerate independence in Tibet, nor with the Uighurs, and most recently with Hong Kong, moving to crush local democracy, lest anyone else in China get ideas. The democracy activists in Hong Kong who tried to escape to Taiwan by speedboat were caught, tried and imprisoned (ABC News 30/12/20).
Taiwan, which had an indigenous population as Formosa, became Taiwan, when Chiang Kai-shek, the pro-US, Nationalist loser of the Chinese Revolution fled there with 2 million Chinese in 1949. Their safety at that time was guaranteed by the US Navy and their economy benefitted mightily from the Korean War (1950-53), where they industrialised to manufacture goods for the US war effort. The US has effectively guaranteed their separateness from China. China has never accepted that Taiwan is a separate country, regarding it as a renegade province that will eventually return to China by negotiation. Taiwan agreed that there was One China, as it intended to overthrow the Communists and re-establish their Nationalist government. This has become increasingly unlikely and is now at the point of absurdity, but political parties that are pro-reunification with the mainland have been doing quite badly in Taiwanese democratic elections. The Taiwanese population enjoy both democracy and relatively high incomes. They are naturally concerned with events in Hong Kong, as they are the next domino.
If China wanted a military victory and to assert its new Great Power status moving across a short strait into its own backyard would seem the logical step, and it is doubtful that the US would have the capacity to prevent this, even if it had the will.
Frankly, Australia has to accept the reality that China has arrived at great power status. We cannot get involved in a war over Taiwan. We should take a more neutral position between the US and China, and think in terms of more intelligent trade bargaining and not selling out our assets to foreign powers of any colour.