Published: 11:47, May 22, 2024
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Lai to become a historical shame
By Tang Yonghong

The "swearing-in" of Lai Ching-te as leader of the Democratic Progressive Party authorities at a time when Washington's strategy toward Beijing is shifting and Taiwan's internal dynamics are changing amid the deepening nexus between the island's pro-independence cohorts and external forces led by the US has raised significant concerns over the direction of Washington-Taipei ties and the situation across the Taiwan Strait.

However, his efforts to pursue independence will inevitably deliver a devastating blow to cross-Strait relations, poison the island's economy, and jeopardize the livelihoods of Taiwan residents. His provocative actions aligning with foreign interests seeking separatist goals will only render him a laughingstock on the international stage and a shameful clown in history.

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Taiwan's pro-independence forces and the DPP are well aware that pursuing independence would inevitably lead to conflict across the Strait while the majority of Taiwan residents desire peace. More important, Taiwan doesn't have any legal right to reject or resist national reunification.

And yet the DPP is shamelessly seeking "Taiwan independence" with the support of external forces led by the US. Worse, as Chen Binhua, a spokesperson for the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, said, Lai's inaugural speech on Monday followed the "Taiwan independence" stance, wantonly advocating separatism, inciting cross-Strait confrontation and seeking "independence" by relying on foreign support.

Chen stressed that mainstream public opinion on the island is for peace and development, not conflict and stagnation. By ignoring this fact, Lai has exposed himself as a "worker for Taiwan independence", he said.

Lai and the DPP authorities should realize that these external forces, driven as they are by their own narrow interests, are unlikely to intervene militarily if the Chinese mainland was compelled to forcibly reunify the island with the motherland.

For a long time, the DPP and pro-independence forces on the island have been hoping that anti-Beijing forces led by the US would help them resist reunification and seek "Taiwan independence". But their hopes are unrealistic.

The US needs to play the "Taiwan card" to contain the rise of the mainland, and as part of its geopolitical game, the US has been covertly supporting the pro-independence forces on the island. And in exchange for the US' support, which may never materialize, the DPP and the island's pro-independence forces are willing to be pawns in the US' board game under the illusion they are the ones orchestrating the game.

By calling to form alliances, the island's separatist forces are trying to drive a wedge between Beijing and Washington and push the US into a position where it is compelled to intervene in a cross-Strait conflict. However, the US acts based only on its own calculations and only protects its own interests. The US will weigh the pros and cons before deciding when and how to play the "Taiwan card". If the disadvantages of playing the "Taiwan card" outweigh the advantages, it will either reconsider playing it or change its strategy.

Washington's approach is to balance its strategic competition and diplomatic relations with Beijing to check the mainland's rise and continue to avail of the benefits of maintaining Sino-US ties. It's difficult to believe that Washington would go to war for Taipei.

Additionally, the US is busy fueling the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Palestine conflicts by supplying weapons and extending financial help to Ukraine and Israel in a bid to fulfill its own narrow gains.

Faced with the mainland's firm opposition to "Taiwan independence", its resolve to thwart any interference in the country's internal affairs and its increasing national strength, the US is forced to play the "Taiwan card" with caution. That's why US administrations, from the Donald Trump to the Joe Biden administrations, have to consistently uphold the one-China principle that there is only one China and never support "Taiwan independence".

Therefore, the US is unlikely to deploy troops to defend Taiwan. As multiple war-gaming simulations by organizations such as RAND Corporation have shown, while the mainland may not yet match the US in overall military strength, the latter no longer holds an advantage in the waters around Taiwan.

In fact, if the mainland were forced to resolve the Taiwan question using force, even US military intervention would likely be futile. This is a major reason behind the US' "strategic ambiguity" when it comes to defending Taiwan.

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The US has opted for "strategic ambiguity" in order to deter unilateral changes to the status quo across the Strait — interpreted by the US as either the mainland resolving the Taiwan question by force or Taiwan seeking de jure independence. This approach also helps the US avoid being dragged into a disadvantageous position by Taiwan authorities' actions.

It is expected therefore that Washington will continue playing the "Taiwan card" without severing diplomatic ties with Beijing in the next four years, while treating the "pro-independence" forces on the island as pawns without deploying troops to defend it in case the mainland were to use force to reunify the island with the motherland.

Regardless of the actions taken by the US, the Taiwan question will ultimately be resolved, leading to the inevitable national reunification.

The author is a professor at the Taiwan Research Center, Xiamen University.

The views don’t necessarily reflect those of China Daily.