Although many expected the cross-Taiwan-strait relationship to worsen after the recent election in Taiwan, many were still surprised at how quickly it deteriorated due to the recent interactions between Beijing and Taipei.
When the coronavirus outbreak occurred in Wuhan, Taiwan immediately banned the exporting of N95 face masks, including to China. Some, outside of mainland China have argued that Taiwan’s decision was reasonable since it was aimed to prioritize supply within the region.
However, because of the particular timing of the ban and the sensitive China-Taiwan relation, many mainlanders were outraged with Taiwan’s decisions. Moreover, the Taiwanese government recently declared that it will provide over 100,000 face masks to the U.S. every week. As a result, the government’s different attitudes towards mainland China and the U.S. were regarded by many as a contribution to the already heated cross-strait enmity.
As Taipei continuously distanced itself from Beijing, its relationship with Washington DC has become stronger. On February 3rd the Vice-President William Lai Ching-Te attended the annual National Prayer Breakfast and met with several senators and members of the US Congress, including Marco Rubio, who has held a firm pro-Taiwan position within the US government.
His visit was viewed as a symbolic event by many that favour the Taiwanese independence movement. Lai was the highest Taiwanese official who visited Washington DC since the US terminated relations with the Republic of China in 1979.
Unsurprisingly, Beijing was furious at Lai’s visit. The spokesman of the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, Ma Xiaoguang, claimed in “Lai Ching-te’s trip to the United States, meeting with U.S. officials and members of U.S. Congress at his request, and his plot to seek ‘Taiwan independence’ and split the country are despicable dirty tricks.”
On the other hand, Taiwan’s opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), had just held an election within its party on March 7th in order to reshuffle its leadership. After the devastating defeat in the general election, even more voices for reform within the party have emerged. Many blamed the defeat of the KMT on its seemingly friendly attitude towards Beijing. Moreover, the hostile stance of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) toward Beijing became extremely popular with the younger demographic, where the KMT lost the most votes to the DPP.
Ultimately, the KMT elected Johnny Chiang as its new party chairman. Chiang was expected to bring a fresh approach and carry on the party’s reforms, especially compared to Hau Lung-pin, another party representative.
Consequently, it seems that the KMT’s cross-strait policy will change dramatically. It seems that as anti-mainland sentiment grows stronger within the region, the KMT is trying to distance itself from Beijing in order to gain more popularity.
The enmity between the two sides has led to many military clashes across the Taiwan strait. Over the past six weeks, the mainland air force had continuously sent jets to fly near Taiwan, including crossing the unofficial middle line of the Taiwan Strait, and coming close to its air defense identification zone. Many legislators in Taiwan suggest that it was a symbolic gesture as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) decides to take a more aggressive stance on the Taiwan issue. Moreover, the PLA has recently put its second aircraft carrier into service. Many are worried that Beijing will soon take military actions to solve the Taiwan issue as the chance of peaceful settlement grow bleaker.
In the recent months, it seems that much more effort would be taken in order to avoid a possible military clash along the Taiwan strait. For many people, especially of those who are living in Taiwan, it has been disheartening to see how quickly the situation has deteriorated. With Tsai Ing-Wen’s inauguration ceremony taking place in May, any action taken by either side will easily determine relations the next four years.
Edited by Jillian Giberson.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and they do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies or the Political Science Students’ Association.
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