Will Taiwanese Sacrifice Themselves for Their Country?
Photo Credit: Reuters
By Peter Kien-hong Yu

Will Taiwanese Sacrifice Themselves for Their Country?

May. 05, 2017  |     |  0 comments

Cao Changqing is a commentator who often appears on talk shows in Taiwan and who often sides with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party in criticizing, for example, the Chinese mainland.1 In April 2016, he glibly said: Look at the 700,000 East Timor people who fought for the creation of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, and, among them, close to 30 percent died for the sacred cause.2 In other words, he urged the people of Taiwan, Jinmen and Mazu to follow the footsteps of the Timorese and break away from the Chinese nation.


Cai Zhengyuan, a political figure of the opposition who is a native of Taiwan,3 and who has a “greater China” mentality, reminded the people of Taiwan that, during the American civil war, the victorious Union (i.e., the United States of America) defeated the Confederate States of America, resulting in 260,000 army deaths4 for the latter.


Politically, both sides of the Taiwan Strait have up to now been practicing shadowboxing. Therefore, to this day, Republic of China (ROC) President Tsai Ing-wen can still refuse to accept the November 1992 consensus or a version of it. Beijing would perhaps be more militarily assertive unless it has by now fully understood the root causes of why some people in Taiwan are hesitant about Chinese reunification.


Arguably, none of the civilians in Taiwan want to see their real estate properties destroyed by the technically-not-yet-finished civil war and their savings gone to the hyperinflation following such a war. Worse still, a recent IPP Review article written by Elizabeth Freund Larus alerted us to the following scenario: If the Tsai administration does not handle its military pension reform well, many of the ROC’s professional soldiers will feel betrayed and will simply switch loyalty to the other side of the Taiwan Strait. In this context, Washington would have no reason to help Taipei to defend itself.


In my recent stay in Shanghai, a keen political observer, Zhang Kewen, said this to me twice: Beijing just has to encircle its naval ships in ROC waters, and whoever wants to leave the island province must use the People’s Republic of China (PRC) passport or hoist the PRC flag on, for example, a ROC-registered ship.


There are many Chinese reunification models created in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and we can describe a few here. First, we see the Beiping negotiation model, which started in December 1948 and was basically peaceful. Second, we witnessed the Shanghai model. On May 12, 1949, the Third Field Army of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) assembled 420,000 troops5 and attacked only the Baoshan District while keeping the other districts intact, because they did not want to destroy the entire city due to its importance.6 After 16 days of fighting, the Communist Party of China liberated Shanghai. Third, we should bear in mind the full-scale attack or the Hainan Island model. From March 5 to May 1, 1950, the Fourth Field Army of the PLA crossed the Qiongzhou Strait and successfully captured the second largest island of China.7


It seems only wise for the Tsai administration to enter into political negotiations with Beijing as early as possible, so as to eventually sign a bilateral peace agreement and thereby end the Chinese civil war once and for all. However, it should be done in the following context.


When it comes to negotiation, it may well mean compromise by the parties concerned. I. William Zartman and Maureen R. Berman’s edited book, The 50% Solution (1987), is still seminal. More than 15 years ago, in an article published in the Virginia-based Defense News (US), I proposed to let the ROC navy patrol the entire Taiwan Strait in exchange for, as one example, signing a peace agreement (as opposed to treaty or a document of an international nature) with the Chinese Communists. Let me elaborate a bit more.

One way for Beijing to garner civilian support is to bring about Chinese reunification at an earlier date.

On the negotiation table, Beijing should agree that the ROC navy under the 1992 consensus or a version of it can patrol up to the territorial sea, if not the baseline, of mainland China. Will the ROC navy fire the first shot or bombard the coastal area of the Chinese mainland? The probability is almost nil. As for the air force, the middle line (as opposed to the median line) in the Taiwan Strait still applies. For the record, then-PRC Foreign Minister Qian Qichen, before and after Lee Teng-hui became ROC president, said the armed forces on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are friendly forces.


It is an open secret that decades ago, submarines and other naval vessels of the PLA plied the eastern part of Taiwan’s waters and collected necessary information and data. So, there is nothing to lose on Taipei’s part. In December 2016, the Liaoning aircraft carrier and its flotilla of escorting frigates and destroyers conducted military drills and for the first time headed into the open Pacific beyond Taiwan and Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture. In April 2017, the PLA launched its first indigenously designed and developed aircraft carrier. It will definitely be prowling again in the foreseeable future, so as to signal to Taipei its resolve in safeguarding the Chinese nation’s sovereignty and independence.


Is the Taiwan Strait an international waterway? During peacetime, any foreign vessel, be it military and non-military, can travel on it by complying with the December 1982 law of the sea. In wartime, there is no point in arguing whether American, Russian, or other foreign ships can sail through the strait under the freedom of navigation principle. It is a question of whether the ROC and/or the PRC’s armed forces can dictate what they can or cannot do. Power is both might and right.


If one watches news reports on mainland Chinese television channels, one can tell that Beijing faces many social problems. For example, the gap between the rich and the poor has been widening over the last ten years, ever since the passage of the Property Law in March 2007. Those who own property in Shanghai are happy, because the price has increased by ten times over the last ten years. But what about those non-Shanghainese who have no property and yet work in the city? They have no choice but to return to their hometowns due to high living and rental costs.


One way for Beijing to garner civilian support is to bring about Chinese reunification at an earlier date. The leaders know well that only the terrorists in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region are giving them a headache. Those separatists in Tibet Autonomous Region, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and even Taiwan province are only good at bragging about their ideals.


Cao Changqing said he can also be considered a national of the ROC, because his parents were born in the era of the ROC. Would he be willing to be the first martyr to die for the sake of creating the Republic of Taiwan? It is very, very doubtful.


In sum, we must not forget that, as a result of the American civil war, America’s North and West grew richer, while the once-rich South became poorer for a century. Taiwan happens to be in the southern part of China. In Chinese history, only twice were the people in the south able to defeat the people in the north. A minority view among historians of the American civil war is that the Confederacy lost because, as E. Merton Coulter put it, “people [in the south] did not will hard enough and long enough to win.” Would that crucial problem of lack of will also apply to those separatists in Taiwan? The answer is a resounding yes.




1. He was born in the Chinese mainland in the early 1950s and became an American citizen in the mid-1990s.


2. Independence declared from Portugal in 1975 and then Indonesia in 2002.


3. His ancestor went to Taiwan as early as 1621.


4. This figure is incomplete.


5. The ruling party at that time had 220,000 troops in the city.


6. The entire city did not stop providing electricity and water.


7. In late 1949, the PLA attempted to land on Jinmen (Quemoy County) but lost the battle.

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