July 21, 2023
NEW DELHI – The resolution of long-pending international disputes involving big powers has become more important than ever before due to the overwhelming need to avoid catastrophic war between big powers and the need for international cooperation to resolve life-threatening environmental problems led by climate change. The need for early resolution of Taiwan-related issues should be seen in this wider context. We must also keep in mind that Taiwan is a very densely populated country vulnerable to heavy loss of human lives in any bombing. Such complex situations are to a large extent the result of historical circumstances combined with the prevailing thinking of dominance among most people and leaders.
Hence apart from suggesting specific solutions a continuous spread of thinking and ideas based on justice-based peace among people is also important and for this a strong peace movement is needed. From this wider perspective of peace, let us examine the various possibilities. One possible solution is that the people of Taiwan through their elected representatives decide by a big majority to join mainland China as a province and China gives a guarantee that it will not victimise anyone who had been known earlier for opposing this integration. In this scenario a happy union takes place, based on complete equality and zero victimization, which is accepted by everyone. The second possible solution is that Taiwan’s elected representatives decide by a big majority to join mainland China, not as an ordinary province but instead as a special region having several autonomy guarantees and some special status.
This is accepted by China and actually honoured in practice. Everyone lives happily thereafter. But the people of Taiwan may not endorse these solutions. They may instead express a clear verdict that they would not like to join mainland China and would instead prefer an independent future. Once it is known that this is the clear and honest expression of the choice of the people of Taiwan, China must accept this verdict and give up its claim to Taiwan, not resorting to aggression to annex it. Instead it should promote higher trade and cooperation with Taiwan. Again everyone can live happily with friendship in this scenario.
However beyond such happy solutions, which can be a reality if all parties accept the overwhelming importance of peace and of avoiding war, there are many grim and tragic realities of the world which have to be considered in any realistic analysis. One reality that cannot be ignored is that of the intense rivalry between the USA and China, and of the USA (with or without several Asian or European or other allies) being either a big force on the side of securing a future for Taiwan independent of China, or of being a force using Taiwan to strengthen its wider hostile position against China. In such a situation, a peaceful union of Taiwan and China would not be acceptable to the USA and the world’s biggest power today may use various methods to prevent this.
The USA is also believed by some to be planning a war against China at some stage and this effort in turn may use Taiwan as a proxy or an instigation point, with the possibility that in the process a lot of destruction would be caused to Taiwan. Secondly, China has also taken an extremely aggressive stand on this issue and even if the genuine verdict of people of Taiwan is to remain independent, Beijing may not accept this and may instead resort to use of force to annex Taiwan whenever a suitable opportunity is available.
This has all the possibilities of a very destructive war including nuclear war opening up, with the USA (and perhaps some reluctant allies) also getting involved. In any case it is wrong on the part of China to have an aggressive, noncompromising view on Taiwan. After all Taiwan has been functioning as an independent entity for several decades now, and the views of the millions of people living there cannot be ignored. Mainland China and its authorities must prepare themselves for a more reasonable, tolerant and peace-based stand on Taiwan in which the views of the people of Taiwan get adequate attention. The USA and China may also seek to influence internal opinion and politics within Taiwan with a view to mobilizing forces in their favour and this can lead to internal conflict as well. So what is the most likely peaceful solution?
This can be in the form of the United Nations first asking China on what terms it wants a union, and whether it will give guarantee of nonvictimization of forces opposed to the union in case it takes place. Once these terms are known, the UN should organize a referendum in Taiwan on whether people want to remain independent of China, or whether they want to join China on the terms mentioned by it. Care should be taken to ensure that no outside force is able to influence this referendum in undue ways, using money or violence. Whatever the majority verdict of people is, this should be accepted by all the people and all the parties involved. This, or something very similar to this, would be needed for peacefully resolving this complex issue without resorting to war, a war which can easily turn catastrophic.
A peaceful solution can be achieved by both the USA and China giving more importance to peace than to their narrowly viewed, self-centered, aggressive objectives and viewpoints. At a wider level, the USA must entirely give up thinking of a war against China and China too must learn to move forward in less aggressive ways. Both big powers need to display a much higher commitment to peace.
(The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children, Earth without Borders and A Day in 2071.)