06.06.2024 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Taiwan Problem: First “Post-Inaugural” Developments

new president on 20 May in Taiwan

The inauguration of the new president on 20 May in Taiwan was accompanied by increased political turbulence on the island itself, had a notable international resonance and caused an expectedly negative reaction in the PRC.

On 20 May, Taiwan’s capital Taipei hosted the inauguration of President William Lai, who had won a simple majority of votes in the 13 January general election. Like his predecessor Tsai Ing-wen, he had represented the Democratic Progressive Party in the election. The procedure was very resonant in terms of the political situation on the island and in the surrounding area.

Internal situation

The incident in the Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan (unicameral parliament), discussed earlier by us, which took place on the eve of W. Lai’s inauguration, was followed up by a mass demonstration the day after the ceremony. It was initiated by small parties that were not members of the parliament but actually took the side of one of the parties to the conflict, namely the DPP.

The latter opposed the intention of the opposition parties Kuomintang and Taiwan People’s Party, which together won the majority of parliamentary seats, to radically change the upper level of the island’s governance system. The intention is to increase the role of the parliament and complicate the procedure for electing the president. If these intentions are realised, even the current president will have a sharply reduced freedom of manoeuvre in the international arena. The continuation of Tsai Ing-wen’s foreign policy was the main content of W. Lai’s inaugural address.

The reaction of the former (2008-2016) Taiwanese president from the Kuomintang Party Ma Ying-jeou, who stated that the thesis of “two independent states” voiced in the above-mentioned speech was dangerous for maintaining peace in the Taiwan Strait. In other words, there is still no prospect of a decrease in the internal political tension on the island, which only intensified with the end of the elections on 13 January.

External aspects

Meanwhile, this seemingly purely domestic political circumstance is fraught with serious complications for the continuation of the course in the Taiwan issue of one of the two main stakeholders in it, which is Washington. Apparently, that is why Washington took a cautious and wait-and-see stance regarding the inauguration procedure of W. Lai.

There were no officials in the American delegation, which would have been a direct challenge not only to the People’s Republic of China, i.e. the second main participant in the Taiwan problem, but also to the strengthening Taiwanese opposition. However, among the American guests was present, albeit in the status of a private person, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who spoke not during the inauguration procedure itself, but at a meeting of a certain “conservative” Taiwanese club. The main content of this speech was a radical thesis that it is time to “consider Taiwan as a sovereign and free country”.

At the same time, in the statements of the official representative of the US Department of State and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken himself, along with congratulating W. Lai on his assumption of the post of President of Taiwan, the ‘unchanged’ position of Washington on the Taiwan issue as a whole was emphasised. In particular, the need to maintain the status quo between the shores of the Taiwan Strait was mentioned once again. However, nothing was said about the status of the island in the international legal field.

Japan, another increasingly prominent participant in the games around the same issue, generally adheres to a similar position. Therefore, the inauguration of W. Lai was not attended by official representatives of the executive branch of the Japanese government, but a congratulatory message was sent to him from the chief of staff of the current government (and until recently the Minister of Foreign Affairs) Y. Hayashi. It included a statement of the fundamental importance to Tokyo of relations with Taiwan, and a willingness to work with its new leadership “on a non-governmental basis”.

Also noteworthy was the presence at the inauguration of an unusually large group of parliamentarians from various parties (more than 30), but mainly from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Undoubtedly, the same procedure was timed to coincide with an exercise to deal with the “consequences of an extreme situation” on the nearest island to Taiwan in Japan’s Ryukyu archipelago. By a strange coincidence, at the same time the US ambassador to Japan visited the said island (for the first time in many decades).

Mainstreaming the issue of Taiwan’s international status

Meanwhile, outside the island, the problem of Taiwan’s international status has already made itself felt. And also just at the time of the inauguration of the new president of the island. At first glance, we are talking about two absolutely trifling incidents. The first one boils down to another failure to change the name of the Taiwanese team on the eve of the upcoming Summer Olympics. As in all previous ones, it will be branded “Chinese Taipei” in Paris, in which the character of a political marker is played by the first word. This brand (for example, in the form of ‘Taiwan’) cannot look any other way, taking into account the current weight of China on the world stage, in general, and in the international Olympic movement, in particular.

Beijing’s unwillingness to approve the repeated requests of the current ‘separatist’ leadership of Taiwan to participate in the work of the World Health Assembly (even in the format of an observer) left Taipei outside the doors of the 77th Session of this organisation, which started on May 27 in Geneva. Not only that, but Taiwanese journalists who wanted to attend some preparatory event before the session were denied access to the conference hall on the grounds that they presented passports of the non-existent state of “Taiwan” at the entrance.

In other words, despite the loud statements made by the new president during the inauguration to demonstrate Taiwan’s international legal autonomy, as well as the external pomp of the whole event, the actual space for such claims is shrinking.

PRC reaction to the inauguration of W. Lai

The reaction in the PRC to the inauguration of a representative of the same (as before) separatist DPP to the presidency of Taiwan, as well as to everything that accompanied it, was quite expected. First of all, of course, in foreign policy aspects. In particular, there were demarches on the part of the PRC embassies in a number of countries (primarily Japan and South Korea), which in one form or another did participate in the event under discussion in Taipei.

The very next day after the event, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin reminded at a regular press conference that the “one-China principle” has long been ‘a universally recognised norm of international relations’. Meanwhile, we would add from ourselves, the said norm was attacked by the participants of the discussed action in Taipei.

On the same day, its wide international recognition was already stated by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who was in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, at that time in connection with the regular ministerial meeting in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization format. Before that, he toured a number of Central Asian countries. During all bilateral meetings held during this trip, Wang Yi received assurances from his interlocutors of his unwavering commitment to the “one-China principle”.

This, in fact, explains the above-mentioned narrowing of the space for Taipei’s claims to state identity.

On some speculation on the PRC’s response

Meanwhile, China’s geopolitical opponents focus primarily on possible “forceful pressure” on the new Taiwanese authorities. The extreme form of which could be a People’s Liberation Army landing operation to take military control of the situation on the island.

In this regard, various scenarios are being built regarding the fate (without any exaggeration) of one of the main assets of the modern world order, which is the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC). It should be noted, by the way, that contrary to the widespread opinion “that the production of modern microchips has actually taken place outside Taiwan”, this process is at the very initial stage of realisation. Whether it is the American State of Arizona or the Kumamoto Prefecture in Japan. But even after the TSMC branches being built there (in fact), the development and production of the most advanced chips will remain on the territory of Taiwan.

This, by the way, is the reason for the thesis about Taiwan’s “silicon shield”, which should be given much more importance in forecast assessments of scenarios of further transformation of the Taiwan problem than the factor of pumping the island with American weapons. For even today the same TSMC, which will inevitably suffer (perhaps fatally) in the event of large-scale hostilities on the territory of Taiwan, plays an extremely important role in the economy of the People’s Republic of China itself.

In addition, the above-mentioned new aspects of the development of the domestic political situation in Taiwan, which emerged after the general elections held on 13 January this year, are quite favourable for Beijing to avoid resorting to the “last argument of kings” in the process of solving the problem that is extremely important for it.


Vladimir TEREKHOV, an expert on the problems of the Asia-Pacific region, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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