As historic talks are held today in Nanjing between Chinese and Taiwanese government officials, one could be forgiven for thinking that this could, quite possibly, be the beginning of an amicable agreement between the two territories, which could result in further reconciliation in the future.
The 4 days of talks between the two territories have begun today, with them seeing the highest level of government officials attending, and engaging in direct dialogue, since the end of the Chinese Civil war in 1949. Whilst no official agenda has been set, it has been reported that Chinese and Taiwanese commentators are positive and “upbeat” about the talks (BBC 2014), seeing them as the long overdue stepping stones to agreement.
There are many positives that may rise from increased trust and co-operation between China and Taiwan as a result of the talks; no less than reducing aggression between China and the USA. There is a long history of disagreement between the two global superpowers over Taiwan’s control. Although China and the USA both recognise and support the “one China” policy (the idea that Taiwan is part of China), contradictory acts such as the Taiwan Relations Act, where the USA established its promise of providing Taiwan with defensive arms to defend itself against attack from the Peoples Republic of China (PRC), have inevitably caused conflict. Whether these tensions could be alleviated by a closer working relationship between Taiwan and China is yet to be seen, however, the talks certainly seem to be a step in the right direction (albeit at a snail’s pace).
Regardless, it would arguably be unwise for the rest of the globe, especially the USA, to relax its watch over China’s actions and intentions. Whilst the talks in Nanjing appear positive from the outset, we must not forget that China has had a long held, “almost sacred” objective of reuniting Taiwan with its “motherland” (Vogel 1997). Indeed, it has been noted that despite the talks, “China refuses to retract its long-standing threat that it could eventually take back Taiwan, by force if necessary” (BBC 2014).
This leads us to question whether the talks are the beginnings of China showing increased compromise over its rule and relationship with Taiwan, or whether they are simply using the talks as another avenue of “attack”. In any case, the safest policy would be to hope for the first, but prepare for the repercussions of the latter. It may be viewed as unfair to label the talks as another method of attack, but these comments are made given the background of China’s historically superior attitude of itself to the rest of the world; would such a proud and strong country ever truly consider democratic talks and compromise with a territory it regarded as its own anyway?
From a pessimistic viewpoint, this can potentially be seen as an example of China thinking smart and using democracy, rather than fighting hard using military might, and circumventing needless conflict with the USA whilst still achieving its goal of reclaiming Taiwan. It would certainly be wise for the Chinese to avoid physical conflict with the USA, given the size and strength of the USA military, and the costly war that might ensue. Trying to debate with the USA over physically taking Taiwan looks set to end in stale mate also; the tension between Beijing and Washington is ever present, and is consistently evoked through disputes over topics such as human rights issues in Tibet, alongside the Taiwan issue. In conclusion, coming to an agreement over Taiwan’s ownership with the USA looks to be a reward-less task, and in this respect the Chinese government has been right in approaching the Taiwanese directly.
Whether the Chinese government does have ulterior motives, or is simply trying to create peace so that both sides can profit through extended co-operation in the future is anybody’s guess; for now, the rest of the globe must watch and hope for a positive result from the talks.