In an apparent paradox, the political temperature in the Asian Pacific is rising while tensions between China and Taiwan fade. The mother of all disputes is shrinking and fading in the face of China’s claims in open contrast to other coastal nations. Reports of missiles in Fujian aimed at Taipei are disappearing from the news, as well as Taiwan’s warship calculations and the increasingly controversial terms of the defense pact with the United States. The most important military conflict—along with the situation in Korea—is giving way to Vietnam’s fishing vessels, Philippine bases, and Japan’s contested islands. It seems that the skirmishes have become more important than the dangers of war. The two banks of the Taiwan Straight continue to face off armed to the teeth, but the rhetoric is watered-down by pragmatism. Beijing and Taipei are showing signs of realism and responsibility. No one is committing self-immolation anymore, and agreements proliferate. The agreement on the exchange of services caused protests on the island; parliament was even occupied by dissenters, but it was released without incident. At this point, political democracy is consolidated in Taiwan, but it’s coupled with the foresight of an agreement that favors economic growth.
Both cause and effect of the new climate, China and Taiwan’s positions coincide in the territorial disputes that cross the South China Sea. With small and especially formal distinctions, Taiwan supports China’s claims. It’s a useful ally, but not for this unexpected. When it demonstrates its ideological affiliation, the call of Great Mother China returns strongly. If reciprocal economic interests prevent military escapades, nationalism emerges with force. He who was originally public enemy number one has now become a de factor and de jure supporter. Divided by the Cold War, with the exacerbated memories of the civil war, the Kuomintang (back in power in Taiwan) and CPC are rediscovering anti-Japanese resistance, cultural roots, and familiar constraints. Student exchanges are becoming more popular; more people are visiting their kin and traveling for business. The integration between the first and twentieth economies in the world (GDP at purchasing power parity) continues stealthily. In any case, the economy will not be able to resolve substantial differences. Taiwan has evolved its political system, its citizens enjoy democratic rights, and standards of living are much higher compared to China. Taiwan’s reunification with its Beijing roots to close a 65-year plus parenthesis is unimaginable.
Furthermore, an eventual reunification would be negotiated over a very long period of time with international guarantees and the current Pax Americana’s tutelage in the Pacific. Ironically, the road is now more difficult because it passed from propaganda to management, from skirmish to analysis. Flexing muscles is no longer sufficient, they will need to exhibit negotiation abilities in facing a complex situation. The novelty lays in the meetings’ ever more nationalistic character. The two sides speak without intermediaries, with Washington’s vigilant but distant shadow. They converse in Chinese because they are by now aware that their destiny is increasingly tied to the Middle Kingdom’s prosperity. For this reason, their stance over the islands in the Pacific is shared. Whatever Beijing’s political evolution may be, for Taipei it’s always better to be a part of a more powerful and expansive China in the warm southern seas.