Why China’s threats to Taiwan PM William Lai aren’t as ridiculous as they seem

After William Lai expressed his view that Taiwan was independent in the Legislative Yuan, Chinese media outlets called for his arrest. Sadly, in the current climate, this is not nearly as far-fetched as it should be

Taiwan Premier William Lai

Taiwan Premier William Lai (Wikimedia Commons photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- It seems that the hyper-sensitive Chinese Communist Party has had its feelings hurt once again by Taiwanese Premier William Lai (賴清德).

The CCP might be perfectly comfortable killing political opponents, locking up minorities in re-education camps, jailing people for what they post on social media, and disappearing human rights lawyers and outspoken journalists. But when it comes to someone talking about Taiwan as if it were a sovereign nation, they always seem to get terribly upset. It is funny what can upset and offend some people sometimes.

The weird thing about this latest instance is that, by any conceivable definition, Taiwan is a sovereign nation. It has its own democratically elected government, its own currency, its own military, and its own diplomatic service. The list could go on and on and on. Any rational person not familiar with the cross-straits tensions between the two countries, would look at Taiwan, see a sovereign independent nation, and wonder what China was getting in such a huff about.

But of course, Communist China is anything but rational and despite all historical, legal, and practical evidence to the contrary, they continue to claim that Taiwan is part of their sovereign territory. The fact that Taiwan has never been administered by the Chinese Communist Party, and the fact that it has only been under Chinese occupation for a little over two hundred years in its entire history (and only four of the last 120 years – 1945-1949) is irrelevant to them.

Why? Because one of the many tools used by the CCP to maintain their grip on power and their control over the Chinese people is by promoting a frenzied form of Chinese nationalism which is based on the CCP’s view of what constitutes China, rather than any real historical and legal claim they may have.

This is why any hint at Taiwanese independence always provokes such a strong backlash in China. The people have been brainwashed into thinking that Taiwan is their territory and they must come together (behind their CCP leaders naturally) to defend their country’s territory to the last.

And this is why, when William Lai told the Taiwanese Parliament that he believed Taiwan was an independent country, it provoked official responses from the Communist regime, and why state media in China called for an arrest warrant to be issued against Lai.

This was an interesting suggestion and one worthy of closer examination. On the face of it, it seems preposterous to even suggest that China should try to arrest Lai for what he said. Taiwanese citizens are subject to their own legal system and Chinese laws have no more effect in Taiwan than they do in the USA or any other country around the world. And yet the threat is not something that can just be laughed off.

Nothing in China gets published in the state-controlled media without the CCP’s approval. If anything does slip out, it is quickly deleted by the army of censors that monitor all information streams in China. So, if a major Chinese media outlet has called for Lai's arrest, it is safe to assume that, at some level in the CCP, this suggestion has been made. The question of whether it is a literal threat or a bit of CCP rhetoric designed to stir up nationalistic feelings again is hard to determine.

But it is clear that China feels Taiwan should be subject to Chinese legal code and therefore Lai could be charged over their Anti-Secession Law which prohibits anyone from even talking about territory China occupies, or considers it’s own, being independent.

The reality is that this will never happen in Taiwan as long as the current status quo remains between across the Taiwan Strait. But there is now going to be a cloud hanging over Lai whenever he travels abroad.

That is because there are no shortage of recent examples establishing the precedent of China seeking to either apply its own laws overseas, or else render people back into Chinese territory to face the Communist Party’s sham-trials.

The case of Taiwanese activist Lee Ming-che (李明哲), who was abducted in Macau and reappeared in CCP custody in China is just one example of this. But there are countless more.

As a senior political figure in Taiwan, Lai can be expected to have more personal security than an individual citizen such as Lee Ming-che. But even that may not always be enough. Swedish citizen Gui Minhai (桂明海) was still abducted by CCP officials despite traveling with a group of Swedish diplomats at the time.

This means that William Lai will now always have to be looking over his shoulder when he travels overseas. No doubt the Taiwanese Government will be taking steps to offer him the protection he needs when he does so.

It is ludicrous that an aggressive foreign power can unilaterally issue such threats to an overseas political figure for comments made in his country’s own legislative chamber. But until the world comes around to the notion that China’s so-called "One China" claim is little more than a list of the CCP’s territorial ambitions rather than an overview of territory they have a genuine claim too, the situation appears unlikely to change.