What a relief to hear an Australian leader talking sense at last about China

(Image: Unsplash)

The complex state of Beijing-Taipei relations that the anti-China hawks do not understand or probably worse don’t want to understand.

It’s a sad day when Paul Keating is virtually the only eloquent voice from Australia to mock Canberra’s dangerously amateurish anti-China rhetoric.

And those remarks are especially welcome coming from a Keating who years back epitomized Canberra’s Asian allergy with his quip about Asia being the place you flew over on the way to Europe.

But even Keating did not get it quite right when he said China “wants its front doorstep and front porch — including Taiwan” but that he did not believe China would launch military action unless leaders in Taipei formally declared independence.

For right on China’s doorstep, on offshore islands within swimming distance from major coastal towns, Beijing tolerates Taiwanese military bases and flags seemingly defying the very basis of Beijing’s claim to rule all China.

And part of the reason for the tolerance is that those flags do not represent a country called Taiwan. They represent a country that calls itself “Chung-hua Min-kuo” or “Republic of China”.

Beijing’s attitude to Taiwan, and vice-versa, is much more complicated than our hawks realise.

For starters, and according to official figures: “Between 1991 and the end of March 2020, approved (Taiwan) investment in China comprised 44,056 cases totaling $US188.5 billion.”

In 2019, the value of cross-strait trade was $US149.2 billion.

Is that the kind of dangerous situation calling for AUKUS nuclear-powered intervention?

More trade and investment goes on unofficially, relying on personal and financial contacts via Hong Kong.

In the same year 2.7 million mainland Chinese visited Taiwan, mainly as tourists but some as students.

Does that sort of thing go on between enemies?

A few more points our anti-China hawks can consider:

The population of Taiwan is almost 100 per cent Chinese. The lingua franca throughout the island is Mandarin Chinese. It is the sole and the universal language of education.

This education uniformity was created by Chiang Kai-shek, former ruler of China and then of Taiwan after 1949. He wanted everyone to speak Mandarin because he intended to use Taiwan as his base to take over China.

That did not happen. But one good result is you will hear better Chinese spoken in the streets of Taipei than in Beijing.

There is also a Taiwanese language — a dialect of Chinese spoken widely before Chiang arrived in Taiwan, and still spoken. It was imported, together with the usage of Chinese ideographs, from China’s south-eastern coastal provinces, Fukien especially.

Most of Taiwan’s native population can trace their Chinese origins back some centuries ago, mainly to Fukien. All of them can understand written Chinese.

Imposed on them were some 1 million refugees from mainland China who arrived with Chiang in 1949 following his defeat in the Chinese civil war. Some still look forward to returning.

In short, scratch a Taiwanese and you are scratching a Chinese. Check out a Taiwan businessman and there is a good chance he travels frequently to mainland China, and has friends there.

Beijing knows this only too well. Which is why it has long gone out of its way to emphasise cultural and other ties with the island.

It is only very recently with the rise in political tensions dictated by the US that the close connections have been harmed.

Even so, Beijing has made no move against those Taiwan-held islands just minutes away from mainland coastal towns. In the past they served as bases for Taiwan commando raids into China. Today Beijing sees them as physical evidence of the territorial bonds between Taiwan and mainland China — a proof of its One China slogan.

True, Beijing now faces a new generation of younger Taiwanese who do not like what they see in China and more recently in Hong Kong. They value their independence from mainland China.

It also faces the popular US-educated Tsai Ing-Wen, president of Taiwan for the past six years and a former minister in charge of relations with mainland China. She does not like China either.

But Taiwan’s business community still values its close ties with mainland China. Beijing cultivates them by allowing them the same special entry to China as given to all overseas Chinese (they enter China fast track while the rest of us wait to get out visas checked).

Taiwan’s main opposition grouping, the Kuo Min (national people’s) party, together with Tsai’s predecessor, the scholarly Ma Ying-Cheou, have long favoured closer ties with the mainland.

Beijing’s policy seems to wait till the force of shared culture and economic ties draws the two closer. That may or may not happen.

But it is helped by the fact that almost every nation in the world has opened diplomatic relations with Beijing, and has done so on the basis of recognising or acknowledging Beijing’s claim to be the sole legitimate government of China and Taiwan as an inalienable part of that China.

Taiwan helps Beijing’s claim by continuing to call itself Republic of China — a hangover from the legacy of Chiang Kai-shek’s hopes to conquer China.

(The idea that Beijing sees Taiwan as a “renegade province” — a constant cliche in Western reporting on Taiwan — is yet another mythical invention of our anti-China spy machine accepted eagerly by the shallow Western reportage of China. Nowhere in any of even the bitterest Beijing verbiage against Taiwan does the word “renegade” appear. And it would not appear because it could deny the very basis of Beijing’s claim to Taiwan.)

But whether this legacy and its hangovers are enough to overcome the rising force of independent identity in Taiwan remans to be seen.

Beijing does itself little good by its recent penchant for ruthlessly regimented parades and belligerent rhetoric seized on eagerly by Western hawks.

US hawks, as ever, are spoiling for a fight and will seize any chance for a confrontation.

Japan’s right-wing parties are dangerous. Both former prime minister Shinzo Abe — a power behind the current Japanese cabinet — and the current Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi have direct family connections with Japan’s key wartime politician Nobusuke Kishi, who was jailed as a suspected war criminal.

Nobuo Kishi says he wants a Japan-Taiwan-US security alliance. He looks kindly towards Australia.

Japan’s hawks have still not reconciled themselves to the loss of China almost 80 years ago. The only difference is that this time they want the US, and us, to do the fighting for them.