The commemoration of the Chinese revolution of 1911, which ended with the overthrow of the emperor, the then infant Pu Yi, the last of the imperial monarchy dynasty, is celebrated in both Beijing and Taipei. On both sides of the Formosa Strait, the role of Dr Sun Yat-sen, the short-lived first president of the new republic, is recognised as the common father of the post-imperial Chinese homeland.
For Xi Jinping, the current successor in time to Sun Yat-sen, it is time to accelerate China’s reunification and bring the “rebel island” under Beijing’s sole sovereignty. This is what Xi Jinping said in front of all the other leaders in the People’s Assembly Palace, this time under the aegis of a large portrait of Sun Yat-sen. Xi promised “reunification” as an unavoidable event, whether by hook or by crook. He has obviously urged that the process be peaceful, but has not been shy about leaving the door open to force by force of arms if the island of 23 million people resists.
The great pomp with which Xi Jinping has framed his message has been preceded by a growing intimidation of both the island’s inhabitants and its main protector and guarantor, the United States. With the usual progressiveness with which the Chinese act, Beijing’s aviation carried out 380 air incursions into Taiwanese airspace in 2020. Since 1 January this year there have been more than 600, including the massive simultaneous deployment on 4 October when 36 fighter jets, 12 nuclear-armed bombers and eight other support aircraft brazenly entered Taiwan’s air identification zone. On Thursday, 7 October, it was another 38 aircraft, and on Friday, 39 aircraft, according to figures provided by the Taiwanese Ministry of Defence itself.
Not surprisingly, the Taipei government has protested as strongly as possible. Its spokesman, Chiu Chui-cheng, denounced the air raids as “a serious breach of the status quo” of the cross-strait situation, and then demanded that Beijing “immediately cease its provocative, non-peaceful and irresponsible actions”, ending with a promise to the Taiwanese and a warning to Xi Jinping’s China that “Taiwan will never give in to such threats”.
Burning down the road to an inevitable clash
Beijing has clearly turned up the pressure and its current president is stepping on the gas to resolve what he believes will be the pillar on which his historic legacy rests: the country’s reunification. And, in this case, it seems unlikely that even a process, even a theoretical one, such as that of the decolonisation of Hong Kong, first under Deng Xiao-ping’s slogan of “one country, two systems”, will be attempted, and then those who demanded its fulfilment will be crushed by means of repressive laws that are immediately and forcefully applied. In other words, for Xi, it will be necessary to burn the bridges and proceed as soon as possible, and by whatever means necessary, to bring Taiwan under the absolute sovereignty of Beijing.
It is also obvious that this challenge is, and almost first and foremost, to the United States, still the world’s leading superpower, which China aspires to replace, as it has already done seventeen times over the last three millennia of human history.
For the time being, Beijing is urging Washington not to interfere in a matter that it considers to be an internal affair and therefore to be dealt with exclusively between the Chinese. A warning that the United States is forced to ignore, and to which President Joe Biden’s administration has responded not only with diplomatic protests but also with preventive action.
Regarding the former, Washington expressed ‘its concern over military provocations, destabilising acts to the peace and stability of the region’, and demanded that Beijing ‘cease its “military, diplomatic and economic pressures [in the region] and coercive measures against Taiwan”‘, a statement accompanied by a reaffirmation of its ‘unwavering commitment to stand by the island’.
At the same time, President Biden has made unequivocal gestures to show his readiness to confront a China that he believes is mutating from its supposedly mild demeanour into undisguised aggression. The abandonment of Afghanistan, the establishment of the three-way agreement with Australia and the UK, and the strengthening of alliances across the Indo-Pacific clearly show that he is ready for confrontation. This is something that no leading global power can – and historically has – renounce when an emerging power has challenged it to take its place.
The spark that triggers the clash could occur anywhere on the planet, given that both have fairly clear outlines and contours of their influence. But, should it finally occur, there is a good chance that it will happen in and because of Taiwan.
© This article was originally published in spanish in Atalayar / All rights reserved