The penultimate chronicle of events accompanying the development of the Taiwan problem, discussed more or less regularly in the NEO, described the state of the initial reaction of politicians, both in Taiwan itself and among leading players in the world, to the rather unexpected results of local authorities elections on the island in late November.
This appears to be an insignificant event in the context of the current phase of the “Great Game,” but it may well serve as a sign of which scenario the latter will follow in the near future. The one that will inevitably lead to an unprecedented catastrophe (if not of global, then of regional proportions), or the option of a peaceful solution to this problem. The latter, by the way, remains the preferred one for the Chinese leadership. This is evident from the Chinese leader’s speech at the 20th Congress of the CCP, held a month before the above-mentioned elections. Meanwhile, large-scale military demonstrations continue in the vicinity of the island.
The main component of the answer to the above question is undoubtedly due to the nature of the change in relations between the two leading world powers, the United States and China. However, the domestic political situation in Taiwan should not be ignored either. Its development is significantly influenced by the struggle between the two party groups. One of them has been led by the Democratic Progressive Party ruling since 2016, while the other is led by the Kuomintang Party, the oldest party in modern China.
The DPP is clearly focused on making Taiwan a de facto independent state. This is supported (also increasingly clearly) by various factions of the US establishment. It should be noted that Washington’s continuing official declaration of respect for the principle of “one China” is coming under heavy fire in the United States itself, and the likelihood of such declarations being abandoned in the near future does not appear to be zero. And then the “apocalyptic” scenario of “solving” the Taiwan problem will also be quite likely.
That is why the outcome of Taiwan’s general election next January is so important. If the DPP retains the levers of political leadership on the island, especially the presidency, the likelihood of the negative scenario mentioned above will increase dramatically. The Kuomintang, on the other hand, remains committed to Sun Yat-sen’s “Three Ones Principles,” which would directly contradict the emergence of a “second China.” This is the basis for the Kuomintang to maintain contact with the CCP. Even during the 20th Congress of the latter.
Again, this does not imply that the Kuomintang would immediately begin incorporating the island into the PRC if elected in a year. But the leadership of the latter has little choice among political partners with whom to begin (at least) discussions about this process.
Meanwhile, in the December-January local “by-elections,” the Kuomintang confirmed that the prospects for this party in the upcoming general elections a year from now are at least as good, relatively speaking, as those of the DPP.
The situation with the latter is exacerbated by the fact that Taiwan’s current president, Tsai Ing-wen, who presided over the party until recently, cannot run again, having already held that office for two terms. Meanwhile, the fact that Ms. Tsai (one of Taiwan’s most colorful politicians in recent decades) had agreed to lead the DPP again just a year (in January 2020) after a similar defeat in the November 2018 local elections has ensured the party’s victory in the next general election.
Her current departure from the chairmanship of the DPP is final. Not only because she has taken responsibility for the failure of her fellow party members in November 2022 (including those for whom she had personally campaigned), but also, we repeat, because of the impossibility of running for a third time in the next presidential elections.
So, against the backdrop of the syndrome of the recent election defeat, the question of the new DPP chairman became particularly acute for the party, and on January 15, the party official, 63-year-old William Lai, was named chairman. A poll conducted two days later showed that the new chairman of the (so far) ruling party and a possible Kuomintang candidate for Taiwan’s presidency would receive almost the same number of votes if the election were held today. Far behind is a possible third candidate representing the Taiwan People’s Party. In other words, nothing has been decided yet about the outcome of the next general election in a year’s time.
One of the most important issues in the upcoming pre-election struggle will undoubtedly be a series of questions related to the development of defense potential and the strategy for its deployment in the event of an armed attack on the island from the mainland. Basically, of course, the current Taiwanese leadership is relying on the US to participate. And for some time now, on Japan as well. We reiterate that Washington is not bound by any formal commitments to Taipei in this regard and that “at hour X” everything will depend on the current political situation in the US.
But the Taiwanese leadership itself is making serious efforts in this area (we emphasize, regardless of party affiliation). Among these recent events, we point to the news that appeared on the eve of the turn of 2023 about the purchase (for a total amount of $180 million) of Volcano minelayers in the above mentioned US. These minelayers can be deployed (“on the eve of the expected invasion”) from both trucks and helicopters.
During a videoconference held by Taipei two weeks later, M. Pottinger, who served in the Trump administration as Deputy National Security Advisor to the President of the United States, answered “uncomfortable questions” related to this deal (e.g., about a possible violation of the 1997 Ottawa Treaty) and touched on the specific issue of the so-called “silicon shield” in the problem of ensuring Taiwan’s security.
The factor at issue is Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), a Taiwanese company which now has near-monopoly position in the global market for the manufacture of silicon wafer-based integrated electronic circuits (“chips”). TSMC chips are used in today’s most advanced (mostly civilian) industries. In this context, it is sometimes assumed that Beijing is as concerned about the security of this company, including its 50,000 employees, as others are (and perhaps even more, since it is one of the main buyers of TSMC products). As a result, it will avoid a “non-peaceful” solution to a problem that may be critical for it today.
However, the aforementioned M. Pottinger takes the opposite view and believes that the prospect of gaining full control of TSMC can only be a major incentive for the landing operation. Therefore, according to this former US official, the “traditional” methods of improving the island’s defense capability, which are jointly conducted by the US and Taiwan, should be continued.
Incidentally, the above factor is also being diluted since TSMC has been building chip fabs in other countries, including the US and Japan. The possibility of constructing more fabs there is being discussed. In this context, the prospect of this extremely important (including its political aspects) area of the modern global economy losing its Taiwan-based nature raises concerns.
Finally, increased efforts of certain groups of Europeans in the field of political “legalization” of Taiwan on the world stage attracted attention. The rabid “young Europeans” from the east of the continent, such as Lithuania, are particularly eager in this regard. As for “old Europe,” it behaves more decently (so far) on generalized Taiwanese issue. The island continues to be visited by groups of parliamentarians, mostly (but not always, as recently in Germany, discussed below) in opposition to the current executive.
Representatives of the latter usually keep a low profile in order to preserve an opportunity to develop relations with the PRC. Such a task is particularly important today, given the (comprehensive) pressure from Washington on “old Europe,” with the US using those “young Europeans” as improvised tools in the Ukraine conflict.
In this context, the visit to Taiwan of a group of German parliamentarians from the Free Democratic Party, which, by the way, is now part of the governing coalition in Germany, has been noteworthy. During their visit from January 9 to 11, the members of the delegation made various statements that were not flattering for Beijing and they were received by President Tsai Ing-wen.
Note that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz shows only a desire to maintain mutually beneficial relations with China. Which is not consistent with the trip to the “rebellious island” by parliamentarians from one of the parties in the coalition he leads. However, it is not said that they had been sent to Taiwan by the leadership of the FDP. They have the right, as they say, to do so on their own behalf.
All in all, the sum of recent events accompanying the development of the Taiwan problem fits into the general background of a rather alarming picture of the current phase of the “Great World Game.”
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”