US-China-Taiwan Relations
The Interests of China

A peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue requires that the interests of China be protected, else Chinese willingness to settle the Taiwan issue by peaceful means cannot be guaranteed. The fundamental Chinese interests in the Taiwan issue are that Taiwan remain part of China and that no foreign power, especially the United States, try to use Taiwan as a base of operations against China or provide Taiwan with the support necessary to enable it to become an independent country, separate from China.

China does not require an active U.S. role in helping to resolve the Taiwan issue, not even to "nudge" Taiwan in the direction of eventual unification with the mainland. The size and power of the Chinese economy is more than sufficient -- coupled with a common Chinese culture and geographic proximity -- to draw Taiwan ever closer to mainland China. The PRC leadership surely understands this, and most in Beijing appear willing to let nature take its course. This also seems to be an accepted principle in U.S. policy toward China and Taiwan: the forces that will determine the future of the island depend largely on the two Chinese sides themselves. U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and limited American political support for the island in international organizations are not intended to be roadblocks in the way of an eventual cross-Strait resolution. Rather, U.S. support to Taiwan is designed to "level the playing field" somewhat, so that Taiwan's -- and American -- interests can be protected in any arrangement with the mainland.

This willingness on the part of Beijing and Washington -- and Taipei as well -- to allow cross-Strait relations to evolve peacefully over time is perhaps the most positive factor contributing to a peaceful resolution of differences between the mainland and Taiwan. However, there are several "wild cards" in the deck that could upset this peaceful scenario. In terms of the interests of China, these include:

First, domestically on Taiwan, there is no consensus in favor of unification with the mainland. Instead, the consensus is for an indefinite continuation of the status quo, including more openness and interaction with the mainland but also a more active and visible role for Taiwan
in international affairs. Very few on Taiwan want to be under the control of a communist government in Beijing; many more would favor a unified China if it could be governed by a democratic government. If an opportunity arose, most Taiwanese would probably opt for independence.

Second, internationally, there is growing anxiety about China's power and what its leaders are going to do with it. Historically, China has not been too aggressive overseas; but strategically and in terms of actual capabilities, China has every reason to become a global power. Many Americans perceive this potential expansion of Chinese influence as a possible threat to U.S. interests, and the number of those holding this opinion seems to be growing. If putting obstacles in the path of China's expanded influence becomes a goal of U.S. foreign policy, then the usefulness of Taiwan being stronger and more independent cannot be ignored.

Third, within China herself, there appear to be deepening ideological fissures over the optimum breadth and depth of Chinese Communist Party control over the nation, its people, and its institutions and processes. Policy toward Taiwan could become a litmus test for competing CCP factions trying to prove who is the most patriotic and the most likely to achieve national unification.

Thus, even though Chinese interests seem fairly well served by the current situation surrounding Taiwan, there are conditions that could change Chinese perceptions and possibly result in a significant hardening of its position.

February 4, 2012