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We need to speak out against the drive to war over Taiwan

After decades of normalisation and closer relations between Taiwan and the rest of China, we on the left must recognise and denounce the West’s brazen sponsorship of a growing military rift, writes MIKE MARTIN

FOR some years the US has been waging a campaign to prise Taiwan away from the mainland by encouraging separatist forces. Today its main instrument is the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which was elected in January 2016 and re-elected in 2020.

The 2021 AUKUS military alliance of the US, Britain and Australia has further militarised the South China Sea at the same time as the US has stepped up the supply of advanced weapons systems to Taiwan’s armed forces.

Previously the Chinese policy of “one country, two systems” on Taiwan, known as the One China principle, had maintained stable relations — affirming that although the mainland and Taiwan have different political systems, they are part of the same country with sovereignty residing in Beijing.

The international community has overwhelmingly adopted the One China principle, with only 13 of 193 UN member states recognising the “Republic of China” in Taiwan as a separate sovereign country.

One baleful effect of the US militarisation of East Asia is to push up military budgets among its allies. At $19.3 billion Taiwan’s 2023 National military budget accounts for 14.6 per cent of the overall government budget and equates to 2.4 per cent of Taiwan’s projected GDP.

This planned spending is now at a record high and marks the island’s sixth consecutive year of growth in military expenditure since 2017. The one-year mandatory conscription policy was also reinstated by the DPP at the end of 2022. These policies come directly at the expense of people’s needs and Taiwan’s significant climate change imperatives.

The country faces a major housing crisis. Over the past decade, loose monetary policy, low interest rates, lack of market regulation and speculation have pushed up housing demand and prices in Taiwan.

Social housing is rare. NGOs have initiated housing reform campaigns and have won significant political commitment to build 200,000 units in the run-up to the presidential elections in 2024 with Taipei City and Taoyuan City committed to building 50,000 and 20,000 units, respectively.

Diverting funds from military expenditure could expand this programme and help make housing accessible to everyone. Military spending is also at the expense of much-needed investment in renewables. Currently, Taiwan is dangerously dependent on fossil fuels for its very high energy consumption driven by semiconductor production — with 81.5 per cent of its energy coming from coal and natural gas.

Renewables (solar, hydro and wind) only make up 8.3 per cent (s despite the country’s excellent wind resources in the Taiwan Strait. The country also lacks a power interconnector with the mainland, only 150km away, to tap mainland China’s rapidly expanding supplies of renewable energy. 

Broadly speaking, domestic public opinion in Taiwan has preferred maintaining the status quo, under the two China’s policy — even though pro-independence sentiment has steadily risen since 1994.

In June 2021, an annual poll run by Chengchi University Election Study Centre found that opinion was still firmly for the status quo: 55.7 per cent of respondents either supported the status quo, that is, two states one China, and postponing any decision, or maintaining the status quo indefinitely. 7.4 per cent supported either immediate unification or a future move towards unification.

5.6 per cent supported independence as soon as possible and 25.8 per cent the status quo with a move towards independence.
Though these findings have been criticised in the pro-independence section of the Taiwanese press, they give the lie to the Western media’s prevailing narrative on Taiwan.

Arguably, they reinforce the 73-year approach of China, that is to deepen economic relations, allow family ties to strengthen, facilitate residency, offer job and study opportunities and promote cultural and sporting exchanges with a view to eventual peaceful reunification.

Up to 1.2 million Taiwanese live on the mainland many of whom work for Taiwanese companies such as Foxconn. There is also a significant exchange of students with over 10,000 short-term and degree students going to China from Taiwan and vice versa albeit this number has decreased due the deterioration of cross-straits relations in the wake of the re-election in Taiwan in 2016 of the pro-independence DPP.  

The Western media, as exemplified by the BBC, energetically play up the cultural differences between the PRC and Taiwan with recent programmes such as Art and Resistance in Taiwan and Taiwan: Hyper-democracy.

While Taiwan does have a distinctive history, it was historically always part of China. It was seized as a Japanese colony from 1895 until 1945, a 60-year period that saw its partial industrialisation and the wartime recruitment of over 200,000 Taiwanese into the Japanese military as nurses and soldiers.

After the Japanese surrender, the Republic of China established the Taiwan Provincial Government. Following the 1949 defeat of the pro-US Kuomintang (KMT) military dictatorship in mainland China its forces found refuge in Taiwan.

Under the KMT, Taiwan experienced comprehensive repression including a massacre on February 28 1947 of up to 28,000 protesters. In 1949 the KMT declared martial law and did not lift it until 1987. It was a period of “white terror” in which thousands were executed, accused of being sympathetic to the government of China.

Bolstered by US aid, state-led industrialisation has built up the economy to the point where in 2022 GDP per person was $32,811 compared to $12,556 in China. Beijing’s “one country, two systems” policy is put forward to address the different political and economic conditions between Taiwan and mainland China.

In the face of the current war drive and the militarisation of the Pacific, in which the British government has played a significant part, the left needs to challenge the prevailing media narrative on the Taiwan question. The peaceful future of humanity depends in large part on halting the US war drive against China and promoting greater regional collaboration among nations.

Mike Martin is a member of Scottish CND’s trade union network.

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