China and Taiwan: The Ambition and Risk


In 1949, Mao Zedong, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party, achieved a complete victory over the nationalists led by Zhang Kai-shek. To escape the onslaught of the communists, Zhang Kai-shek and his party fled to Taiwan, and a small part fled to the Burmese border. The United States, an enemy of communism and an ally of Zhang Kai-shek in World War II against Japan, continued to recognize the government-in-exile of Taiwan as a legitimate government and regarded the communists as insurgents. Seeing that Zhang Kai-shek was incompetent and needed anti-Soviet forces, the United States recognized Communist China as a legitimate government and withdrew the UN membership from Zhang Kai-shek and handed it over to mainland China, but retained another step by maintaining relations and defending Taiwan from invasion.

For China, Taiwan is a core issue that has significant impact on China’s security and power, since the United States regularly sends warships and aircraft to Taiwan, the gateway to China’s heart, and continues to sell large quantities of weapons to Taiwan to use against China. In addition, Taiwan is China’s gateway to expand its influence and confront the United States on the First and Second Island Chains, where there are over 300 US military bases in the Indo-Pacific. For the United States, Taiwan is a sphere of influence that the United States can besiege, and thwart Chinese ambitions, which US military experts call an Unsinkable Carrier. This means that Taiwan is very important and a vital interest for China in terms of security, power, influence, and access to its position as a superpower.

Taiwan poses a direct confrontation between the US and China, which could be a zero-sum game with the idea of “Your gain is my loss; my loss is your gain.” In other words, Taiwan is comparable to Liu Bei’s Jingzhou, or Sichuan. China expects that when Taiwan is united and the South China Sea is under its influence, it will be watching or controlling ships leaving or entering China and Asia, much like watching fish swim up or down streams.

The United States and China, which have been vying for supremacy, have been competing in almost every sector, from economics, military, technology, science, geography, politics, and caution, respectively. Taiwan is the most sensitive issue in the direct confrontation between the two powers, with the two countries’ militaries, especially the navy and air force, often coming close to and threatening each other over Taiwan. For more than 40 years, the United States has tried to intimidate and threaten China not to use weapons to unify, while China is unsure whether the United States will help Taiwan if it decided to invade. At the same time, Taiwan is also not clear if the US would provide assistance if there will be an invasion by Chinese troops. Currently, the United States, China and Taiwan are trying to find a way to test each other.

As mentioned above, Zhuge Liang advised Liu Bei to take Jingzhou first, then empower the troops preparing to attack Sichuan, and finally to attack the Central Zone. When Jingzhou opened its doors to all directions, it made it easier for the army to wage war in all directions, and deliver food quickly. After capturing Jingzhou, Liu Bei increased his army in Sichuan and expanded to become a powerful force. Guan Yi, the most powerful general, was appointed to defend Jingzhou. Zhuge Liang clearly saw that after Sichuan was able to maintain stability, he and Guan Yi would order the troops to stir up and fight Cao Cao to unify the whole kingdom. However, due to his arrogance and overestimation, Guan Yi hurriedly ordered the troops to fight Cao Cao alone while the general of Wu was looking for an opportunity to take Zingzhou. The loss of Jingzhou became a major obstacle for Zhuge Liang in raising troops to conquer the Wei kingdom later. Zhuge Liang was constantly sad and remorseful for the loss of Jingzhou. For Zhuge Liang, if he had Jingzhou, he could easily deliver food and weapons to launch the attack to conquer the Wei kingdom.

Like Jingzhou, Taiwan is China’s main sea route that it will use at all cost and price to unify. China’s position on Taiwan is in line with what the Australian Defense Minister said, “China’s intentions and dreams from the beginning were clear to unite Taiwan.” The question is, how can China unify Taiwan? As long as China cannot unite Taiwan, China will never become a real superpower.

Since the end of the civil war, Mao Zedong plotted to unite Taiwan immediately, but the outbreak of war on the Korean Peninsula from 1950 to 1953 and the signing of a mutual defense agreement between the United States and Taiwan, in 1954, thwarted that plan until now. When the United States needed to cooperate with China against the Soviet Union, the Taiwan issue became China’s top priority to force the United States to recognize Taiwan as China’s. “Taiwan has belonged to China for more than 1,000 years.” “Taiwan is a province of China and an integral part of Chinese territory,” said Prime Minister Ju Enlai in front of Henry Kissinger. Deng Xiaoping believed that by strengthening investment between China and Taiwan, Taiwan would be peacefully reunited. But he also warned: “Strong men never give up their last resort.” If we cannot resolve it peacefully, then why not use force? According to Deng Xiaoping, Taiwan must be completely united in all ways. China cannot afford to lose Taiwan like Lie Bei had to control Jingzhou and Sichuan. 

“We will not allow anyone to split Taiwan from China,” stated Jiang Zemin, the next successor from Deng. China has made its position obvious under Xi Jinping and has always adhered to the one-China policy. “Political differences still need to be handled,” he told the Taiwan Special Envoy in 2013. “We cannot delay.” However, since 2016, the tensions between mainland China and Taiwan have been escalated due to the separatist movement and the rejection of the one-China policy by the new leader, Tsai Ing-wen.

In other ways, Taiwan parallels the Jingzhou competition between Liu Bei and Sun Quan. War is conceivable. During the Cold War, the US and China agreed to recognize Taiwan as a   Chinese province, but because of its essential interests, the US continued to play ambiguous politics in front of China and Taiwan. President Nixon recognized that preserving connections with China would upset Taiwan, but he insisted that it was important for national reasons. “We need to bear in mind our next steps,” he told the US ambassador in Taiwan. Taiwan must also ready for every eventuality. It is in the national interest that we do it.” “We don’t like China, but China is useful,” he added. In this sense, the US recognizes Taiwan as Chinese territory, but it has plans and strategies in place to resist and prevent China from unifying Taiwan. Taiwan has also been instructed by the United States to be flexible and to comprehend the situation as well as the world political environment.

Taiwan considers the United States its only hope, and for the United States, helping Taiwan is a way to maintain its influence, security, and power. Taiwan and the United States have joined forces to counter China’s interests. Taiwan believes that in order to protect itself from Chinese encroachment, it needs to be as poisonous as a cobra, and it needs to have a strong economy as its priority. That is why Taiwan continues to buy and buy and strengthen its military, along with sending a message to China, “We will fight to the last breath.” The United States continues to sell arms and tells China that “the United States will not be indifferent to the invasion of Taiwan.” China has warned Taiwan that “independence means war,” and the United States not to “play with fire.”

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