Ben Sainsbury, China – November 2009

Conversation with director of UVU International Center – Dr. Danny Damron

Dr. Damron to Ben:

Your time in Taiwan sounds like it was very enlightening. Your informal public opinion poll produced some surprising results from my perspective. I don’t follow Taiwanese politics and public opinion really closely but my general sense was that the public face (at least) has been much more conciliatory toward China and that politicians with national aspirations have recently moderated their public statements stressing separation and independence.  I hope that things continue to go well. I look forward to hearing about how this week goes.

Ben to Dr. Damron:

Just to give you a little perspective on Taiwan politics.  There are two main parties the KMT (Chinese Nationalist Party which came from china with Jiang Jie Shi when they lost to the communists, pro china but anti communism) they forced their way into power on Taiwan backed by the US government, and from 1949- 1985 martial law was enacted by the KMT. This period of time was called the white terror period by the Taiwanese.  The DPP(Democratic Progressive Party) is the other party (pro- independence anti china) were in power for 8 years but did not have the backing of the US if they declared de-facto independence, the party recently lost favor because of corruption and recently voted out of office and a new KMT president who is pro- china runs things now.  However public sentiment shows that over sixty percent of the population refers to themselves as Taiwanese where only around fifteen percent say they are Chinese, 25 percent would be willing to go to war for independence where 60 percent would rather maintain the status-quo and 8 percent would rather rejoin with the China.  Young people in particular are very anti-China and pro-Taiwanese and in talking with them the likened Taiwan and China to the US and Canada.  Now that the corruption scandals of the DPP are starting to fade the public is now drifting back to that party with the current KMT government in office sitting at around 35% approval and in recent legislative elections DPP has gained seats so in two years maybe the DPP will be back in the presidential office. Who knows?  But it’s complicated, China will attack Taiwan if they declare independence, America has a treaty with Taiwan saying if China attacks Taiwan the US will back them but we oppose Taiwan independence…. Historically Taiwan declared Independence from any foreign power in 1599 but was short lived…the Dutch ruled Taiwan for a number of years, than the Qing dynasty, than the Japanese, than the KMT, currently Taiwan is a democratic society with little to no international recognition.

Dr. Damron to Ben:

Thanks, Ben. It sounds like you have become fairly passionate about this issue. Where do you stand in terms of the advisability of Taiwan declaring de facto independence? If you were to make a prediction about the next 15 years, would you predict reversion of Taiwan back to China, status quo, or complete independence?

Ben to Dr. Damron:

Ah yes…the ultimate question regarding Taiwan’s future.. In the next fifteen years I predict drastic changes will occur, but depending on the political climate it yet remains to see which way Taiwan will go.  We know they do not want to be a part of China but there are powers greater than Taiwan, mainly the USA and China at play.

In fifteen years from now the PLA will have a much more sophisticated Navy, and Air force, not to mention the thousands of missiles can launch at Taiwan should Taiwan go rogue.  A one on one war in the Taiwan Strait would eventually result in a Chinese victory, Though Beijing has claimed China will go to war over Taiwan declaring Independence they would prefer to force Taiwan back to the mainland by controlling the Taiwanese economy, but the problem is the young generations of Taiwan have no sense of identity or belonging when it comes to China, as do many Taiwanese in general, most of whose ancestors left the mainland for Taiwan 300-500 years ago).  Then you got the aboriginals who have been there for thousands of years and are related to pacific islanders who are the most adamant China haters in Taiwan.  So three key factors will be involved in regards to Taiwan’s future.

1) China: with the rapid improvements in Chinese military capabilities, China might get fed up and one day just decides to launch an invasion. China has 400,000 thousand troops located in the southern provinces just for that very purpose, with accurate missile strikes China could cripple the better Taiwan air force, and without international interference Taiwan will be forced to join China, but first China will try to lure Taiwan as close to China as it can, so the Taiwanese will feel that they need China in order to maintain their level of prosperity.  But China might have its own issues to deal with, such as social unrest. The richer the Chinese are getting the more complications for a communist government there are. India also is China’s biggest rival in Asia and India sitting where China was 15 years ago is developing by leaps and bounds and the two don’t like each other.  Japan will more than likely maintain good relations with both the US and China, but Japan refuses as of now to view Taiwan as a part of China, Japans statement regarding Taiwan is “Undetermined.” Unless Japan gives up its pacifist constitution and goes imperial again Taiwan will not be harassed by Japan.  However if Taiwan were to declare Independence Japan would recognize them.

2) USA: In the TRA (Taiwan Relations Act) of 1979 we agree to sell Taiwan weapons of a defensive nature as well as commit troops in the scenario that China attacks Taiwan.  However with the US enthralled to China because of our debt and economy, we might sell out Taiwan if it means not going to war with China.  As of now our Navy and Air force can defeat the Chinese, but the current weapon systems being built in China are designed to knock out USA Navies and in 15 years a war between two great nations can result in the loss of potentially millions of lives. It would really depend on the current government in the US at the time. (Democrats are usually more anti-china because they take American jobs and human rights whereas Republicans are usually more pro-china and pro free trade but would also more willing to do battle with China if it means defending Taiwan)The economy might have a sway over morals in the case of US interference if China really attacked Taiwan.

3) Taiwan: Taiwan’s culture has developed to the point that I don’t think anytime in the near future would they want to become a part of China, whether it be KMT or DPP, now China has said it might not tolerate another DPP rise in Taiwan politics because they are outright anti china, but another DPP rise is very possible.  The young generations have lived in relative peace and prosperity, with pride in their Taiwan system of government. Taiwan has self ruled for over 60 years and before that it was the Japanese for 50. Over a hundred years has gone by without Taiwan being ruled from the mainland, and they would prefer it to stay that way.  It all boils down to how bad does China want Taiwan as a part of the mainland?  And how bad does Taiwan want independence. my guess is the longer the Taiwanese issue is unresolved and the richer China gets the higher chance that China will strike Taiwan, If China can get the US to see its side of the board by brandishing the vulnerable greenback and US economy, and oppose Taiwan independence like Bush did and as Obama does, and also get the USA to stop selling Taiwan arms than Taiwan is doomed.  But the longer Taiwan is controlled by Taiwanese the more and more entrenched in their independent ways they will be.  They will also become more resistant in China’s attempts to assimilate Taiwan.  Either way I believe Taiwan will not join the China peacefully, Once China believes they can win a war against the US pacific fleet, or the US won’t interfere in the case of a Chinese invasion than Taiwan will be attacked.  As far as China winning the hearts of the Taiwanese time is not on their side, nor ever was.

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