By Brig Veteran Anil Gupta
(The author is a Jammu based veteran, political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst. The views expressed are entirely personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
In an unprecedented move Chinese embassy in New Delhi has issued a series of directives to Indian media and media houses regarding coverage of impending National Day of Taiwan on 10th October. Press release issued by the Press Section of the embassy which appears to be more of a diktat to Indian media about reporting of the National Day of Taiwan says, “We will like to remind our media friends that there is only one China in the world, and the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legitimate government representing the whole of China. Taiwan is inalienable part of China’s territory.” It further threatens the media, “Taiwan shall not be referred to as a ‘country’ (‘nation’) or “Republic of China” or the leader of the China’s Taiwan region as “President”, so as not to send wrong signals to the general public.”
No such advisory was issued by the Embassy in 2019. However, after the event it issued a statement on “Misreporting by Indian Media on Taiwan” seriously objecting to and expressing strong dissatisfaction at some of the Indian media referring to Taiwan as a “country”. “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory. It is an objective fact and a universally recognized norm governing international relations,” emphasised the Chinese envoy.
What is so different this year that the embassy has pre-empted and issued a virtual threat to the Indian media? China is preparing for celebration of the hundredth year of formation of Communist Party of China (CCP) under the watchful eye of all powerful Xi Jinping. The current behaviour of the Chinese diplomatic staff is the manifestation of its “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy. Xi wants China not only to be powerful but assertive as well. It is also application of China’s “3 W Strategy” which includes media warfare. Xi desires that CCP should not only control selected foreign media but also be able to manipulate it to further its ideology and portray its Comprehensive National Power (CNP).
But why China is so sensitive about Taiwan? It is said that Taiwan would be the main trigger of Sino-American conflict if it ever manifests. Ironically, USA does not officially recognise Republic of China or Taiwan. Even India doesn’t. Only 17 countries in the world recognise Taiwan. Even the UNO does not recognise Republic of China which was a signatory to its formation. Yet USA is the biggest arm supplier to Taiwan, its 11th largest trading partner and avowed guarantor of its sovereignty. The self-ruled island’s uncertain future, amid tensions between Washington and a newly powerful Beijing, is the greatest unresolved legacy of the Chinese civil war. While China claims Taiwan to be one of its regions and refers to it as Taiwan region, the latter is in no mood to alter the status quo and lose its status as independent democratic nation. Xi has offered to resolve the matter on the pattern of Hong Kong by advocating “One Nation, Two Systems” model which has been rejected by the island nation.
Dwelling into history the dispute is a legacy of the Mao led Chinese civil war. The island formally became a Chinese province only in 1887. But China’s faltering Qing imperial government was forced to cede it to Japan in 1895 after a brief war. Japan ran Taiwan as a colony until 1945, when it was effectively handed over to Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist (KMT) government in China.
In 1949 Mao Zedong’s forces won the Chinese civil war and the KMT fled to the island, ruling it under martial law until democratizing in the 1980s, while the Communists controlled China. It continues to remain a dispute till date since no peace treaty has ever been signed. However, China’s official position on Taiwan is unambiguous. It claims that Taiwan is, was and always has been an inseparable part of China, and that international law supports China’s claim. This is grilled into every main land Chinese child’s mind as part of the CCP’s ideology campaign with no second thought on the issue and no public discussion of alternate views is permitted.
CCP wants outright reunification, the sooner the better, seeing the recovery of the island as the final chapter in the civil war and end of past humiliations when China was forced to cede territory to foreigners. Xi has succeeded in reasserting party control over the society, which had loosened during the era of his immediate predecessors who believed in “collective leadership.” His clarion call to the nation after assuming its control was “Don’t forget the original intention. Stick to the mission”. With multifarious threats challenging him the slogan has become more relevant in the present days and is emerging as a battle cry for unity and perseverance. With increasing US interference in Taiwan and non-reconciliatory approach of its newly elected hardliner President Iron lady Tsai Ing-wen, China is becoming increasingly sensitive and restive about Taiwan. On the other hand Taiwan is becoming more assertive and confident. During the ongoing pandemic the Taiwanese were denied entry in various countries believing them to be Chinese since their passport is of Republic of China. Taiwanese government has therefore decided to change the cover of their passports to read “Taiwan Passport” while retaining the Republic of China in Mandarin. It has its own currency New Taiwan dollar controlled by the central bank of Republic of China. It is increasingly stamping Taiwanese made goods as ‘Made in Taiwan’, all this is not going well with the CCP which is increasingly threatening to punish errant island nation. China is also worried and annoyed with the fact that more and more nations are speaking up for Taiwan and are reluctant to back down under Chinese pressure.
Xi is being labelled as a revisionist and expansionist and the world is getting united to counter China’s expansionist designs under the banner of democratic forces and supporting the Taiwanese cause. There are growing voices in India for recognition of Taiwan though that may not be easy due to prevailing agreements and treaties with PRC. However, a change in intent and desire to strengthen relations between the two countries has been signalled by the present regime by deputing two of its senior party leaders to attend the swearing in ceremony of the new President.
The CCP is unwilling to settle for anything less than reunification. For Xi Jinping it has an additional emotional angle as well related to the family history. China regards Taiwan as unfinished part of the civil war and Xi is a firm believer of this historic mission.
Apart from being an unfinished mission of the civil war, it is the geo strategic location and buzzing high-tech micro- chip industry of Taiwan that is the compelling reason for China to claim ownership of the island territory. Taiwan is also world’s 22nd largest economy and an important supply chain link of Silicon Valley. Many high-tech companies from the main land have changed base to the island territory with Taiwan emerging as a potential high-tech super power. It is home to the world’s biggest contract chipmaker, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd.
Taiwan’s location and economy are critical to China in its pursuance of becoming the ‘numero uno’ world power. If Taiwan becomes integral to China as desired by the later it would become a Pacific Power, strengthen its position in South China Sea and be in a position to threaten vital US interests in the Pacific, have leverage to cut off oil supplies to Japan and South Korea, important US allies in the region. Economically, it would have control over world’s major cutting-edge technologies. All this explains China’s sensitivities viz a viz Taiwan and its allergy to other nations calling it a “country” rather than Taiwan region of People’s Republic of China. USA on the other hand does not want to take any chance in the security of the island-nation that may help China to fulfil its mission. Stepped-up US support for Taiwan has angered China which has often cautioned USA that the same amounts to US support for Taiwan Independence which is an anathema to China and China may forcibly occupy the island by launching military operations across the strait.
With India and China on the verge of war in Eastern Ladakh and heightened anti-China sentiments across the country, the Chinese are apprehensive of the Indian media giving prominence to Taiwan on its National Day. It is to pre-empt the same and gauge India’s concerns to its sensitivities that the advisory has been issued by the Chinese Embassy.