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US War Drive Against China Undeterred By Taiwanese Election Setback

Above photo: People gather as president-elect Lai Ching-te gives victory speech. Cypp0847/Wikimedia Commons.

In terms of the current US-led anti-China war drive, the results of the 2024 Taiwanese elections were mixed.

On January 13 the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the Taiwanese presidential election. The result is important because of Taiwan’s frontline status in the US war drive against China.

The New York Times describes newly elected president, Lai Ching-te, as “a staunch separatist”.

The DPP, which is generally considered to be more aligned with US interests and plays with the idea of Taiwanese independence from China, was opposed by two other parties, the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP).

For the current US anti-China war drive, the results were mixed, and bring to the surface many of the contradictions of relations between the “two Chinas” and US imperialism. The US is positioning itself as the defender of Taiwanese democracy, but the majority of Taiwanese have just demonstrated their rejection of its attitude towards China.

The more China-friendly KMT and TPP received a combined total of 59.95% of the votes.

However, by splitting their vote, the DPP won the presidency with only 40.05% of ballots due to Taiwan’s first-past-the-post electoral system.

Indian diplomatic observer, M.K. Bhadrakumar says, the “Beijing-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) opposes Taiwan independence and advocates ‘pragmatic dialogue’ while the other rival, the Taiwan People’s Party, proposes engaging with Beijing and maintaining peace.”

The US officially describes Taiwan as “a model for democracy not only in the region but also globally,” while arming it against what it describes as Chinese coercion. It is ramping up anti-China rhetoric and alliances, such as AUKUS.

Now, the US is confronted with the reality that its most likely war drive puppets only have minority support in Taiwan.

In 2000 the DPP won the presidency and held it for eight years. In the 2016 and 2020 elections, the DPP won handsomely, with well over 50% of the vote. Now, not only has the DPP presidential vote plummeted, but it has also lost control of the Yuan, the legislative assembly, which it has controlled since 2016.

Local issues that featured in the campaign included sustainable energy versus nuclear energy, the rising cost of living, and social issues such as LGBTQ rights and capital punishment. However, as always in Taiwanese politics, relations with the People’s Republic of China loomed large.

Bhadrakumar summarizes that: “…the majority of Taiwanese public opinion falls short of endorsing independence for the country and also prefers the path of dialogue and engagement with Beijing rather than confrontation.”

The US is simultaneously speaking diplomatically about peaceful reunification, while preparing for a repeat of its policies that led to war in Ukraine. In violation of signed agreements with China, it is deliberately internationalizing the issue of Chinese reunification, which is properly an internal matter for the Chinese nation.

The United States arms Taiwan, declares that it will defend “freedom of shipping” in the Taiwan Strait, and loudly warns against an armed reunification of the rebel island with China. Ironically, however, the one thing that the US, Australia, Taiwan and China all agree on—at least according to their adopted diplomatic positions—is that Taiwan is properly part of China.

From the time of the 1972 Shanghai Communique, signed by Richard Nixon and Zhou Enlai, the US has officially acknowledged “all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China.” The Communique goes on to say that the “United States Government does not challenge that position,” and that it “reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves.”

Australia has fallen in behind US leadership on the issue, adopting close ties with China when that suited the US and Australian ruling classes and, more recently, supporting the current US-led war drive, reflecting the changing interests of US capital.

Taiwan (officially the Republic of China, ROC) has always been a part of China. It has been administratively separated from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) since 1949.

The reactionary KMT leader, Chiang Kai-shek, fled to Taiwan ahead of the Communist revolutionary victory on the mainland. With him went a few hundred thousand troops and two million refugees, predominantly government bureaucrats and capitalists.

The KMT was supported militarily, diplomatically shielded and protected by the US Navy presence in the Taiwan Strait in the 1950s. That prevented Communist victory over the whole of Chinese territory (including Taiwan) and national reunification under the immensely popular Chinese Communist Party.

The fiction that the ROC was the true government of all of China even extended into the United Nations, where Taiwan occupied China’s seat on the Security Council.

To consolidate its dictatorial rule on the island, the KMT instituted a martial law “White Terror” against the native Formosan people. Over decades of repression, thousands of people were executed by the KMT government with an unknown number killed by illegal death squads.

The assassination of a dissident was even carried out by the ROC in California. Taiwan, operating as a rogue state, pirated ships on the high seas, including a Soviet tanker, the crew of which languished in prison from 1954 until 1988.

About 140,000 Taiwanese were imprisoned during the marital law regime, which lasted until 1987 the same year as the regime’s final mass killing of 130 people, known as the Lieyu Massacre.

Since the end of martial law there has been a slow democratic opening of Taiwanese life which ultimately led to DPP victories. Relations with China have gone through a variety of gyrations.

Officially, neither the PRC nor the ROC recognize each other. However, economic ties have blossomed. In 2023, trade between the two Chinas was worth USD 224 billion.

The People’s Republic is both Taiwan’s top trading partner—with Taiwan running a large trade surplus—and its biggest investment destination, worth over USD 100 billion.

Since Richard Nixon’s 1972 trip to China, the US (and Australia) have navigated a diplomatic tightrope of recognizing the People’s Republic, while maintaining relations with Taiwan. Now, US rhetoric about Taiwan bears some resemblance to that about Ukraine, an imperiled “democratic” nation struggling for independence, to whose rescue the US and its allies must ride.

The current US official position was conveyed in January 11 in a National Security Council “backgrounder” in which a “senior Administration Official” said: “We do not support Taiwan independence. We support cross-Strait dialogue, and we expect cross-Strait differences to be resolved by peaceful means, free from coercion, in a manner that is acceptable to the people on both sides of the Strait.”

Two days later New York Times commentator Damien Cave, writing from Taipei, went well beyond those niceties, bluntly stating that the DPP “promotes the island’s separate identity” and that the election result is “an act of self-governed defiance.”

He prepared readers for the “dynamic of brinkmanship and stress” over Taiwan to “continue and most likely intensify,” while projecting the cause of that onto China.

Undermining the Shanghai Communique language of recognizing the desire “all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait” for reunification, Cave wrote that for the PRC the Taiwan question “is a remnant of its civil war that the United States has no business meddling with.” That is, only the PRC has an interest in reunification and its interest is outdated.

Cave stated that Washington’s competing vision is that Taiwan “is the first line of defence for global stability… and the microprocessor factory for the world.”

That reflects something else the anonymous NSC spokesperson said, “Of course, peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait is critical to countries and economies around the globe. Taiwan is a key part of global supply chains, and by some estimates, about half of all global trade flows through the Taiwan Strait.”

This protection-of-global-shipping rhetoric is similar to that which the US is using to justify bombing Yemen at the moment—even if bombing has reduced shipping in the area. “Defending global stability” is reminiscent of the US stance on Ukraine.

The difficulty for the US claims about shipping in the Strait of Taiwan is that it only makes legal sense if Taiwan is legally independent of China.

Article 38 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea says about transit through straits: “…all ships and aircraft enjoy the right of transit passage, which shall not be impeded; except that, if the strait is formed by an island of a State bordering the strait and its mainland, transit passage shall not apply if there exists seaward of the island a route through the high seas…”[emphasis added].

Taiwan is precisely such an island. The complication is the existence of two differing governments, one of which the US arms and is positioning as a glove puppet for provoking a conflict.

In July 2022, Nancy Pelosi, then the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, staged a provocative visit to Taiwan. Her official position placed her as second-in-line to the US presidency after the vice-president, making her the highest-ranking US official to visit Taiwan since the right-wing Republican, Newt Gingrich, in 1997.

Pelosi rhetorically framed her visit in the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. She wrote: “We take this trip at a time when the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy. As Russia wages its premeditated, illegal war against Ukraine, killing thousands of innocents—even children—it is essential that America and our allies make clear that we never give in to autocrats.”

Thus, at the same time as the US was waging a proxy war against Russia, Pelosi tested the waters in Taiwan. Officially, Washington uttered objections to her journey, while utilizing her as a canary in the coal mine, waiting to see how easily China could be cowed.

China delayed until Pelosi left the island and then commenced massive military manoeuvres around it, from which the US stayed well away. However, the US has not stopped its war preparations.

As Damien Cave stated in his Times analysis, it is “an open secret that American military advisers, mostly retired officers, have a growing presence in Taiwan.”

Before the Taiwanese elections, the US announced USD 345 million in military aid for Taiwan. The US Congress is currently discussing increasing economic ties and relaxing tax policies with Taiwan and preparing for intensified economic sanctions against China in the event of a military conflict.

This article was originally published on Red Ant.

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