Fear and loathing in Taiwan

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Taiwan’s minister of national defense, Yen De-fa, warned Beijing on Saturday that its aggressive actions toward the island “will only stir up resentment among Taiwanese.” Yen made the statement at a forum on national-security strategy held by Tamkang University to mark the second anniversary of President Tsai Ing-wen’s inauguration.

The comments came a day after China’s inaugural landing of an H-6K long-range bomber on Woody Island in the Paracel archipelago. China’s H-6K bomber has a range of 1,900 nautical miles, which puts all of Southeast Asia within its range from Woody Island, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Woody Island, the largest of China’s claimed islands, is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.

China has also recently deployed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missiles on Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef and Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands – in contradiction to an assurance given by President Xi Jinping in 2015 that China had no intention of militarizing the South China Sea.

The militarization of the islands led Philip Davidson, nominated by US President Donald Trump to lead America’s armed forces in the Pacific, to state that “China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States” in his written testimony to the US Senate Armed Services Committee last month.

At Saturday’s national-security forum, Yen stated that the missile deployment was “posing a threat and challenge to Taiwan’s security.”

But as Beijing shows off its military muscle, it creates fear and loathing on Taiwan. In recent polls, Taiwanese reveal they are resentful toward increased aggression by China – some 80% of Taiwanese think China is unfriendly toward Taiwan.

Beijing’s latest drive to instill fear in the populace of Taiwan may only lead to greater Taiwanese identity

And Beijing’s latest drive to instill fear in the populace of Taiwan may only lead to greater Taiwanese identity. As Richard Bush, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote in his 2005 book Untying the Knot: Making Peace in the Taiwan Strait, Taiwanese identity has long been forged in the aftermath of adversity. Bush points to the February 28 incident (228) in 1947 as pivotal, when some 18,000 to 28,000 citizens were killed during an anti-government uprising sparked by a confrontation between a cigarette vendor and tax officials.

A Taiwanese identity further developed during the “white terror” starting in 1949, when the Kuomintang (KMT), or Nationalist Party of China, relocated to the island along with 2 million soldiers and civilians. Their purge of Communists and independence advocates led a popular expression among Taiwanese toward outsiders: “The dogs [the Japanese] had left, but the pigs [mainland Chinese] had come.” Identity continued to be forged under a 38-year period of martial law lasting until 1987.

In 1995, Chinese leader Jiang Zemin spoke out against the use of forceful coercion against Taiwan, arguing that China “should strive for the peaceful reunification of the motherland, since Chinese should not fight fellow Chinese.”

Xi Jinping, having consolidated and extended his power, has chosen a different path, intended to instill fear and submission among the Taiwanese. But his strategy of bullying, and the example set in Hong Kong, only play into the Taiwanese narrative of mainland China as the oppressive outsider, and help sustain a separate identity – some 75% now consider themselves Taiwanese, rather than Chinese.

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