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China’s more aggressive posture toward Taiwan may reflect a shift from its previous thought that re-unification could become a “one country, two systems,” status quo, according to the Pentagon’s recently published China report.
As opposed to considering the possibility that Taiwan’s basic societal structure could stay “in-tact” in the event of unification, Chinese leaders are now more likely to favor a much more forceful power position including large-scale domination of Taiwan and its institutions.
“PRC leaders may perceive a closing window of opportunity to subjugate Taiwan under the pretenses of Beijing’s “one country, two systems” framework,” DoD’s 2021 “Report on Military and Security Developments involving the People’s Republic of China” states.
One Country, Two Systems
The Pentagon report says the concept of “one country, two systems” was explained in 2019 by Chinese leaders. The idea was that China-Taiwan unification could entail the “protection” of Taiwan’s social system, way of life, private property, religious beliefs, and “lawful rights and interests,” provided the PRC’s “sovereignty, security, and development interests,” are ensured.
Building upon this idea, Chinese leaders called for “Cross-Strait” talks as recently as last year, the report says. The report says more recent public opinion polls in Taiwan reveal its citizens are moving away from a more supportive stance toward Beijing is part of the reason for the change.
While many are likely familiar with the increase in Chinese military exercises near Taiwan, to include flybys, carrier attack operations and amphibious assault preparation drills, fewer are likely familiar with this previously entertained possibility of a softer, more collaborative unification.
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Something like a “one-country, two-systems” approach preserving much of Taiwan’s structural, political and cultural autonomy does not seem very feasible anyway, given China’s well known ambitions.
The Chinese communist party’s actions in Hong Kong in recent decades seem to provide evidence that Beijing is not likely to permit any kind of “two-systems” kind of Taiwanese autonomy under Chinese leadership.
China has for decades championed and pursued what could be called a hybrid …. a large-scale migration toward limited, semi-private enterprise and business growth within the parameters of government involvement or activity to enable economic growth while preserving repressive social and political controls.
While some have maintained such an apparent contradiction might actually be possible, China’s human rights record and repressive political positions don’t seem to reflect this.
I was in Hong Kong in 1997 just prior to its reunification with China to report on the upcoming shift, and members of the pro-Beijing provisional legislature talked about the importance of “public order” and the need to balance or reconcile individual rights with a need for societal stability.
While some elements of quasi-Hong Kong society autonomy might arguably still exist, China’s repressive political forces have essentially taken over. Should this be any guide, prospects for a more tranquil or harmonious or collaborative “one-country, two-systems” approach in Taiwan might not show any promise.
“The PRC has increasingly resorted to an aggressive pressure campaign against Taiwan and the Tsai administration to curtail Washington-Taipei ties and deter “Taiwan independence.” the Pentagon’s China report says.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.