by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Central Tibetan Administration
HAVE THERE been any clear takeaways from Taiwan so far from the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party? Likely not so far, given that China has not announced any new policies directed at Taiwan. This has not prevented a great flurry of analyses focusing in on the issue nonetheless.
While China has expressed boilerplate commentary emphasizing the need to combat Taiwanese independence, this is nothing particularly new, but would likely have been stated by China regardless of anything. On the other hand, this is particularly hard to perceive in Taiwan, given that pan-Blue media plays down the threat to Taiwan from China because of its pro-unification aims and the pan-Green media exaggerates the seriousness of comments by Xi at the 19th National Congress in order to provoke awareness of the Chinese threat in Taiwan.
Nevertheless, it still remains possible that some further change in China’s Taiwan policy will come down the line, only that this did not occur at the 19th National Congress. It should be well known by now that China’s policies aimed at luring Taiwan back into the Chinese fold have not succeeded, as seen in popular reactions against Chinese encroachment on Taiwanese sovereignty such as the 2014 Sunflower Movement and the overwhelming victory of the pan-Green camp afterwards, in 2016 presidential and legislative elections.
However, what many question is whether China will continue to stick to the old, failed approach of attempting to lure Taiwan in with economic incentives, or by influencing Taiwan politically through buying up key Taiwanese industries such as the media, or will change tack. Realizing that China has not successfully appealed to Taiwan’s young people, China has, for one, in recent times adopted greater focus on trying to lure Taiwanese young people, particularly entrepreneurs, over to China.
Nevertheless, some question whether the kidnapping of Lee Ming-Che is more than just an accident, instead reflecting that China intends to adopt a harsher line towards Taiwan and that China intends to cow Taiwan into submission through threats. Some draw parallel with the harsh line that China has taken in Hong Kong, with the arrest and imprisonment of Umbrella Movement youth activists and other civil society actors, and the kidnapping of Hong Kong booksellers who published tabloid-style books critical of the Chinese government.
Either way, an overt shift in China’s Taiwan policy was not likely to occur at the 19th National Congress. Namely, despite the vast amount of speculation which precedes every National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, the National Congress is in many ways a rubber stamping exercise. And it was expected that Xi would not make any drastic moves before the National Congress, instead aiming to shore up and consolidate his own power. Any changes in Taiwan policy, then, would have to come later.
Indeed, Xi has certainly managed to do that, with the official elevation of Xi Jinping Thought to the same level as Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Thought within the CCP’s party ideology. Seeing as Xi does not have any accomplishments to his name on the level of Mao Zedong’s establishment of the PRC or Deng Xiaoping’s wide-ranging economic reforms, one should be wary of Xi pursuing the conquest of Taiwan as part of his historical legacy, seeing as this is seen as a longstanding ideological aim of the CCP.
It seems more than likely that China is more preoccupied with Hong Kong than Taiwan at the moment. Likewise, it should also be remembered that China currently lacks the military capacity to attack Taiwan and will not have this in the near future. And Chinese domestic issues probably are of greater importance than the outside issue of Taiwan, although there is the possibility that fanning up the flames of nationalism through a popular war on Taiwan may be used as a way to distract from domestic issues. But even if Taiwan is probably not the most important issue for China at present, this is not mutually exclusively from increasing pressure on Taiwan.
As such, it proves difficult to foresee what future actions the CCP will take on Taiwan in the near future. At best, perhaps we can continue to watch and wait, then, as to whether the CCP intends to rock the boat of the status quo anytime in the future.