Taiwan’s Challenges, as It Engages With China

In this my final posting from my Asian journey, I am left with big questions about Taiwan’s future. How can it maintain its political independence as it engages so completely with the mainland in economic terms? And how can it ever sort out very difficult problems between its government and that of the mainland?

As the economic floodgates open up, we can expect that Chinese interests, operating through Hong Kong front companies, will invest more and more in Taiwan’s publicly traded companies. China is sitting on trillions of dollars, so it could afford to invest many billions in Taiwan companies. And as Taiwan’s companies become more successful on the mainland, and larger percentages of their sales are there, some Taiwan business leaders will be tempted to become pro-Beijing. They will advocate courses of action for Taiwan as a whole that will benefit their businesses but are not wise in terms of maintaining Taiwan’s de jure independence. Millions of mainlanders also will be visiting Taiwan each year and some of them almost certainly will take pictures of sensitive military or defensive positions. If the mainlanders do not already possess extensive knowledge about Taiwan’s defenses from their satellites, they are now going to possess much more intimate knowledge.

During my visit, I kept asking Taiwanese government and business people: where is Taiwan’s line of defense against being overwhelmed by mainland China? No one had a clear answer. Their sense is that they are going to manage the problems as they arise. They hope that the checks and balances in Taiwan’s very real democracy will help them identify points of pressure coming from the mainland, and to resist those pressure points.

How can Taiwan’s political leadership ever resolve the state of hostility with the Chinese Communists? This fight has been going on since the 1920s. Would the ruling Koumintang agree to a Hong Kong-style solution in which the government has a measure of independence but the People’s Liberation Army comes marching in? I can’t believe that will ever be acceptable to the Taiwanese.

The expression that the Taiwanese are using to discuss these issues is, “Easy now, hard later.” In other words, they will resolve economic, transportation and tourism issues now and will manage the much harder political and military issues later. Nobody knows how it will play out, but the Taiwanese are confident that they can manage the embrace of the mainland without sacrificing their independence. This drama could take several more decades to fully play out. I’ll be watching.

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