Over the past few weeks, both sides of the Taiwan Strait have been thrown into a tizzy because of a statement issued by the mainland’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) on ensuring the stable supply and price of vegetables and daily necessities in winter and spring. The part encouraging “families to store a certain amount of daily necessities in accordance with their needs to meet daily and emergency needs” drew particular attention. One theory is that war in the Taiwan Strait is imminent.
Not only that, a few days before the statement was released, the deputy head of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council said at the fourth National Reunification and National Rejuvenation seminar on 29 October that after reunification, peace and tranquility in Taiwan will be fully guaranteed, Taiwan’s economic development will be enhanced, and its fiscal revenue can be fully utilised to improve the well-being of the people. This seemed to indicate that the situation in the Taiwan Strait was getting more dangerous and risky.
Thus, on the mainland, supermarket supplies flew off the shelves as soon as they were replenished, especially in Fujian and Zhejiang, provinces near the Taiwan Strait. While the panic buying situation subsided after MOFCOM clarified its statement, the situation may recur. Similar panic buying was seen in Taiwan as well, and it was even reported that people were scrambling to buy bulletproof vests.
The strategy of the ruling DPP is very simple: create tension in the Taiwan Strait and tie its security to the US, while at the same time purchasing a large number of American weapons to enhance its security and defence capabilities.
Insecurity instead of security
The anxiety and fear that residents on both sides of the Taiwan Strait have stems from a sense of insecurity. But ironically, this sense of insecurity actually comes from the pursuit of a so-called “sense of security”. In other words, the quest for security has bred insecurity in this case.
Taiwan’s sense of security is increasingly dependent on the US, at least during the period of the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) rule. The strategy of the ruling DPP is very simple: create tension in the Taiwan Strait and tie its security to the US, while at the same time purchasing a large number of American weapons to enhance its security and defence capabilities. In particular, since Tsai Ing-wen won the Taiwan presidency in 2016, Taiwan has not considered other options.
At the same time, the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) has shrinking space to play an intermediary role to help strike a balance between China and the US. This is reflected in the candidates’ campaign rhetoric during the recently concluded KMT chairmanship election. As a result, the Taiwanese have the idea that war is inevitable and imminent, which in turn makes Taiwan, which is bound to the US, even more insecure. Hence, it is unsurprising that the Taiwanese scrambled to buy bulletproof vests, as mentioned above.
Mainland China also has a low sense of security. Because of the need to assert its territorial integrity and sovereignty, the mainland will never allow Taiwan to be independent. In fact, the mainland will not take the initiative to reunify with Taiwan by force unless absolutely necessary. As long as Taiwan does not become independent in name, some concessions may be made in the future to give Taiwan adequate international space.
However, following growing tensions between China and the US, and the strengthening of the resolve and forces behind Taiwan independence, there have been instances of provocative behaviour from Taiwan as part of its strategic cooperation with the US. Thus, the mainland thinks that Taiwan not going independent in name is an increasingly uncertain assumption; or in other words, it is becoming more difficult for Taiwan not to go independent in name. Hence, the mainland also feels anxious and fearful.
While many [mainland Chinese] netizens expressed bravado on the internet, they ran to the supermarkets the next second, worried that they would not be able to buy anything if they arrived a minute later.
Fear and anxiety manifests itself as ultra-nationalism
But such anxiety and fear is not directly expressed. Instead, it manifests itself in a patriotic and nationalistic manner that shows a unanimous hatred against the enemy, coupled with the confidence that the mainland will be victorious. And such sentiments are spread through high-profile reports across numerous media outlets.
Yet, the mainlanders have directly expressed their fear and anxiety about war in the Taiwan Strait through their behaviour. While many netizens expressed bravado on the internet, they ran to the supermarkets the next second, worried that they would not be able to buy anything if they arrived a minute later. This then resulted in a wave of panic buying, as discussed above.
The mainlanders are fearful and anxious about an outbreak of war in the Taiwan Strait because they fear the uncertainties that may result in terms of safety, their lives and their property. That is, war threatens their lives. On the other hand, while the Taiwanese felt the same way, they are also as worried about Taiwan’s uncertain future if it is reunified with the mainland as a result of war.
...even for the firmest advocates of Taiwan independence, while independence is worth pursuing, keeping their lives is more important.
Perhaps it can be put this way: even for the firmest advocates of Taiwan independence, while independence is worth pursuing, keeping their lives is more important. Thus if independence and life is an either-or option, it is only natural that impending war in the Taiwan Strait causes anxiety and fear.
On the other hand, for the mainlanders, Taiwan independence cannot be tolerated (for the mainland Chinese government, this is a given). However, if war were to befall oneself, the mentality would change, and one would inevitably feel anxious and fearful. In fact, netizens who exhibit bravado on the internet may not be the same warriors who serve on the front line.
In addition, the mainland would certainly lose its moral high ground if it goes to war with Taiwan. Following the mainland’s entry into the United Nations in 1971 and the subsequent rapprochement between China and the US, the “one China” principle has been recognised and respected internationally. The KMT also respected this principle when it ruled Taiwan. Amid China-US rivalry, the US-led international society is more of the view that mainland China is bullying Taiwan. As such, if the mainland undertakes armed reunification with Taiwan, it would lose moral credibility. Coupled with the uncertainty of winning such a war, Beijing has added cause for anxiety and fear.
The US benefits from anxiety and fear on both sides of the Taiwan Strait
Taiwan’s ruling DPP is using the Taiwanese people’s so-called anxiety and fear to manipulate the situation of a possible Taiwan Strait war and divert attention away from its inadequacies in handling its internal affairs. On its part, because of anxiety and fear over the prospect of war in the Taiwan Strait, the mainland has to constantly concentrate its strategic resources there, which in turn restricts its global strategic plans. As such, the US is able to utilise the anxiety and fear of both sides of the Taiwan Strait to gain and maintain its leadership and an upper hand in the Taiwan Strait or even the global strategy.
...the playing up of a looming Taiwan war on television, in the newspapers, political speeches and the internet is beneficial to the DPP and the US but disadvantageous to the mainland.
A war with Taiwan will not break out anytime soon. While a US admiral predicted that the mainland could invade Taiwan by 2027, I believe that this is just a casual remark. In fact, the mainland, Taiwan and the US actually do not wish to see a war break out in the Taiwan Strait for a simple reason: the future will be uncertain after the war. But the playing up of a looming Taiwan war on television, in the newspapers, political speeches and the internet is beneficial to the DPP and the US but disadvantageous to the mainland.
Seen from this perspective, the mainland’s high-profile discussions of a possible war in the Taiwan Strait by various media — including state media and government spokesmen — which encourage netizens to engage in a populist discussion of war, are actually doing a disservice to the mainland and are helping the DPP and the US. As we’ve seen, a simple notice from the mainland’s MOFCOM asking people to stock up on daily necessities was all it took to wreak havoc in the mainland Chinese market.
Relevant political forces in Taiwan and the US could be said to be exploiting public anxiety and fear on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. But all said, a war will only harm the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. On the issue of war in the Taiwan Strait, one must return to what is taught in the Ziyi (缁衣) chapter of the Book of Rites (《礼记》): “The superior man leads men on (to good) by his words, and keeps them (from evil) by (the example of) his conduct. Hence, in speaking, he must reflect on what may be the end of his words, and examine whether there may not be some error in his conduct; and then the people will be attentive to their words, and circumspect in their conduct.”*
Actually, former Taiwan president Lee Teng-hui once adopted a “no haste, be patient” (戒急用忍, a phrase by Emperor Kangxi of the Qing dynasty) policy in 1997. While his purpose was the exact opposite of the mainland’s, Lee utilised traditional Chinese political wisdom. Thus, in terms of political wisdom at least, both sides of the Taiwan Strait are one.
*Translation by James Legge at Chinese Text Project.
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