There is a lot of room to avoid destructive escalation over Taiwan

The writer says only a compromise can guarantee the status quo with both parties across the strait to stick to a pathway that would involve dialogue, negotiations and a restart of people-to-people relations.

Simone Galimberti

Simone Galimberti

The Jakarta Post


Showing off: People walk in front of a large screen broadcasting news on China's military exercise, which came after the visit of United States Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, in Beijing on Aug. 4, 2022. (AFP/Noel Celis)

January 16, 2023

JAKARTA – A nation needs a commitment to do whatever it takes to maintain the status quo while keeping a strong form of government that is deeply intrinsic and interwoven to the society that legitimizes its political system.

That should be the case for China and its cross-strait neighbor Taiwan.

On one hand, China has to pledge to never accomplish its reunification with Taiwan by force, even if this implies a silent and unofficial break with the Anti-Secession Law that Beijing approved in 2005 under president Hu Juntao. It is a cardinal law that defines the standing of China toward its relationship with Taiwan.

On the other hand, Taiwan should stay the course in promoting its democracy and liberal and progressive order while trying to reduce the temperature in dealing with Beijing even if this means sacrificing some aspects of its international standing in the world. For example, Taipei could temporarily limit but not completely stop its “parliamentary” diplomacy with the West or at least conduct such engagements in a less provocative fashion.

As a high-ranking delegation from the German parliament arrived in Taiwan on Monday, once again China showed its irritation by deploying its military prowess over the strait. It seems that one action from one side triggers a response that itself brings more tensions and upset.

Back in 2000, literally in another era, president Chen Shui-bian, the first politician heading the territory of Taiwan from the Democratic Progressive Party, came up with the so called Four Noes and One Without that were practical ways to engage with China without compromising the core interests of Taiwan.

Among the four noes, there was a commitment from Taiwan not to declare independence nor to change its constitution in order to highlight the state-to-state relationships between the two entities.

It is only up to the people of the island to decide which status of relationship with China to maintain, but it is obvious that the vast majority do not consider it as their motherland or a political entity to which Taiwan should inspire to be subjugated to.

This is a hard reality that President Xi Jinping will probably never accept, but until recently he never considered a change for the zero-COVID policy until he did.

This is the reason why, from an understanding of international relations based on realism, the parties should do the utmost to maintain the status quo.

The onus, though, should be on the big brother and it should be up to Beijing first to show more restraint and play the long game. In short, it is up to China’s leadership to find more attractive ways to pursue its goal of reunification because clearly the current approach based on the projection of military power is not having the desired effect on the people across the strait. Rather, it is quite the contrary.

So, we need both parties to scale down their level of tactics in the short-term, because otherwise we are really at risk of a collision within a decade from now or even less.

A recently released report published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies predicts huge losses for all the parties involved in a possible war over Taiwan. A conflict to counter a hypothetical invasion of Taiwan would cost immensely for the United States military with an extremely high body count.

It would be extremely devastating for Beijing not to be able to conquer the island, and its military would also be considerably downgraded.

The study strongly argues for deterrence measures, something that the Biden administration is already doing especially in terms of decoupling, which, we should not forget, was initially started by Beijing a long time ago.

Perhaps President Xi and President Biden could find a common understanding on how to avoid a huge blood spill over Taiwan.

Imagine a dialogue between the two as follow:

President Biden: Mr. President, if you say that despite your legal commitment to take over the Taiwan military in case peaceful reunification won’t be possible, I do not see how this can happen at any time. But if you pledge not to do it, then our attitude will change.

President Xi: Chinese Taipei has always been part of our motherland and we are ready to pay a very high price to achieve our project of national rejuvenation.

President Biden: I know that former speaker Pelosi made you really angry. I want to be clear that I am not negotiating on behalf of the people of Taiwan, because I believe in people’s right to express their agency and opinion. Yet no one wants a war; a war that no matter what my aides will do to assure the international community and contradict me, there will be blood on both sides and we are ready to take a heavy hit in order to protect Taiwan. Never doubt that.

President Xi: Indeed, it will be very ugly and very costly, no doubt.

President Biden: Finally, we are agreeing on something. What I am here to propose is not a change in your long-term aspirations toward Taiwan. We are still committed to the One-China Policy, but we want less tension and less aggressive attitudes toward the island. If you de-escalate and if Taiwan will also follow through, there is no reason why we should keep making you angry. I’m going to do my job unless your government changes the policy and renounces the use of military force to take Taiwan.  

President Xi: Our final goal will never change and we are steadfastly committed to it.

President Biden: If you accept the inevitable that reunification cannot happen through military means, we are ready to create a conducive and enabling environment for the two parties to at least start talking with each other again.

President Xi: Ours is a “New Long March” and perhaps it will take time to create a new common destiny for the people across the strait.

Back to reality; only a compromise can guarantee the status quo with both parties across the strait to stick to a pathway that would involve dialogue, negotiations and a restart of people-to-people relations.

We need less dogmatism on both sides of the strait and also on the part of the West. Taiwan should be defended in case of an invasion, but there is still a lot of room to avoid a destructive and unnecessary escalation.

For example, a ten-year framework with less confrontations and a drastic reduction of military exercises, drills and maneuverings over the strait could give at least some confidence that a war is not inevitable.

It is a scenario where other regional powers, including ASEAN, contribute to shaping the outcome, showing how worthy it is to pursue one that will not stain the waters of the South China Sea with a dreadful red color.


The writer comments on social inclusion, youth development, regional integration, SDGs and human rights in the context of the Asia Pacific.

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