Current National Security Challenges Facing Taiwan
By Jiang Yi-huah
At different stages since 1949, Taiwan has faced a variety of national security issues. At present, Taiwan faces two major national security threats: The first is the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government taking the lead in dismantling the Republic of China (ROC), and the other is Communist China’s use of military force against Taiwan.
The first issue centers on developments within Taiwan since the re-election of President Tsai Ing-wen this year. We know that the party charter of the DPP seeks to establish an independent “Republic of Taiwan” by referendum and a new constitution. In the past, the DPP had not governed with a legislative majority, so “de jure Taiwan independence” remained a slogan and did not have an opportunity to be implemented. But since the DPP claimed the presidency and the legislative majority in 2020, the DPP has taken official control of the presidency as well as all the other constitutional organs, in addition to the control of media and an enormous Internet army. The DPP now has a monopoly over power in Taiwan to do almost whatever it wants.
In terms of political status, while the administration of President Tsai has yet to publicly declare Taiwan independence, it has attempted step by step to marginalize the Republic of China to let it finally disappear from our view. For instance, President Tsai often uses the jargon of “this country” to refer to the ROC and avoids referring herself as president of the ROC on foreign visits. Currently, the Ministry of the Interior is preparing to issue new national identification cards but has endeavored to shrink the ROC and the national flag to a nearly undistinguishable level, almost one-eighth the size in the previous version. It was not an easy feat for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to find Somaliland to establish representative offices, but the Foreign Ministry opted not to use the ROC in naming Taiwan’s representative office because so-called “extraneous words” were not needed. If the referendum advocating a new constitution for Taiwan were to pass, then President Tsai can claim to abide by public opinion and establish a new Taiwan constitution to realize the DPP’s stated platform of Taiwan independence.
What is the danger of self-dismantling the Republic of China? We must understand that in a highly divided Taiwanese society along lines of national identity, the ROC remains the greatest common denominator, and the ROC Constitution is the fundamental basis of Taiwan’s constitutional law and order. If the government were to dismantle the ROC, then it would only serve to reject the government’s own political legitimacy and create a completely divided society. Taiwan would fall into internal strife even before any external invasion. Taiwan would lack any security whatsoever.
If such a referendum advocating a new Taiwan constitution were to be adopted, and the Constitution of the ROC were to go into history, then the procedure will not be a constitutional amendment but rather the creation of a constitution. The advocates of Taiwan independence would finally realize their objective, but the national identity and the constitutional order would also be completely changed. Yet, will Taiwan have a better chance of joining the United Nations? Will Taiwan be able to gain more diplomatic allies because of this? Will China co-exist harmoniously with Taiwan consequently? We have no reason at all to be optimistic.
As for the second question, will China really use force to attack Taiwan? Many experts at home and abroad who study cross-strait relations and international politics agree that this possibility should not be underestimated. However, a recent poll on this issue is interesting because a whopping 80 percent of the Taiwanese public think that mainland China will not use force against Taiwan, while only 12 percent think that it is possible. The reason that people are so optimistic is that 59 percent believe that the United States will send troops to the rescue, but only 29 percent think that America will not send troops. It is worth noting that if China invaded Taiwan, only 48 percent would be willing to resist, compared to 42 percent unwilling to resist.
In my view, this is a wake-up call because when the Taiwanese people believe that China dare not invade Taiwan, the more that they do not care about the taunts and provocations made by the government and the Internet army against the mainland, and the more that these factors will stimulate Beijing to resort to military force. While it is difficult to say whether mainland China really has the strength to conquer Taiwan, the likelihood of “teaching Taiwan a lesson” or demonstrating its will and determination has increased.
If Communist China invades Taiwan, would the United States then send troops and come to the rescue? Frankly speaking, the U.S. government is far more interested in making money by selling weapons to Taiwan than sending troops to Taiwan. If something were to happen in the Taiwan Strait, the United States is likely to send a fleet and aircrafts to deter China, but it is almost certain that no American ground troops will be sent. If Taiwan were to face an armed invasion by China, then it is best for Taiwan’s armed forces to make the psychological preparation to fight until the very end. In other words, if war does break out, then Taiwan will become the primary battleground, and both sides of the strait are destined to lose.
The people of Taiwan may believe that China will not be so foolish to use military force and risk losing so much. But that is a far cry from the thinking of the Chinese Communist Party. Beijing has always insisted on peaceful unification but military unification if peaceful unification cannot be achieved. It has also insisted on eventual unification, in five years or 10 years, if not today. The idea that apprehensions about war’s economic impact will dissuade China from ever invading Taiwan by military force probably fails to define the essence of the Communist Party.
If Taiwan is to reduce the national security risks of “self-dismantling” and “eruption of war,” then the best course is to defend national identity in the Republic of China and avoid the illusion of de jure Taiwan independence and statehood as well as remind ourselves to strike a balance in surviving global power politics and not become a battleground in the evolving confrontation between the United States and China.
It is the foremost responsibility of the president of the Republic of China to ensure Taiwan’s security and promote the well-being of the people. Avoidance of war does not mean fear, cowardice, or surrender. If war were to break out in the Taiwan Strait, then the Taiwanese people are bound to suffer immense harm to their lives and property, and warfare will also leave irreparable damage to the camaraderie among compatriots from both sides. The cost of war is beyond imagination. We hope that our leader would exercise care in handling cross-strait affairs, instead of constantly provoke, challenge, and test the other side’s bottom line, or create hatred and hostile social sentiments.
There are many factors involved in maintaining national security, but in the next few years, we must pay special attention to the “constitutional referendum” and “military invasion by China.” We hope that neither of these things will happen, and the people may live in peace and security.
The author, chairman of the Fair Winds Foundation, formerly served as premier of the Republic of China (Taiwan) from 2013 to 2014.