KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) — For as long as most people can remember, cross-strait relations between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Taiwan’s democratically elected governments (of both colors) have been focused on maintaining the status quo.
Both sides have demanded it and the international community has encouraged it. However, time and again the CCP has attempted to shift the goalposts to suit its own agenda.
This has rarely been more in evidence than over the past few weeks. There have been numerous incursions by People's Liberation Army (PLA) military aircraft into Taiwan's airspace and Chinese fishing boats have been removed from the country's maritime territory on a number of occasions too.
Just in case anyone thinks there could be plausible deniability around these incursions, a spokesperson for the CCP’s foreign ministry has publicly stated that “there is no so-called median line of the strait.” This statement is perhaps the most significant shift in the cross-strait status quo for a generation — yet it seems to have gone largely without comment in the wider world.
Then there are rumors the CCP may use a potential transition period that would follow a Joe Biden victory in the U.S. elections to seize Taiwan's Dongsha Islands (東沙群島, Pratas Islands).
These scenarios are being painted by cross-strait experts who analyze the CCP’s behavior toward Taiwan. Even so, when Xi is telling his troops to prepare for war and live-fire exercises are being ramped up, some would say there is little room for ambiguity.
Possibly the biggest dilemma facing President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) right now is what to do if the CCP decides to push even harder. The regime has recently threatened to send PLA fighter jets still further into Taiwanese airspace and indeed right across the country.
While this might be a hollow threat, the Global Times has demanded that this is exactly what should happen. It insists that if these jets are fired upon, the CCP should consider it a declaration of war.
Overlooking the fact that the comments come from Hu Xijin (胡錫進), the rabidly nationalistic editor of the CCP’s most laughably partisan news outlet, his rhetoric is certainly not a lone voice inside China.
The question for Taiwan's president and her government is what they should do if this eventuality were to occur. How should Taiwan react if the PLA attempted to fly jets across the country?
It is a conversation that Tsai needs to be having, not just with her own team but with her allies abroad, including both political parties in the U.S. She needs to be sure of her ground and clear about the support she will receive if Taiwan does respond to such an incursion with military force.
But the reality is that she has little choice. As the elected president of Taiwan, she cannot allow a hostile foreign government to stake a false claim to sovereignty over the country without facing reprisals.
A failure to react would set a dangerous precedent. It would also likely ensure PLA incursions are a regular event.
Taiwan needs to be crystal clear with both the CCP and the rest of the world. It is the CCP that is changing the status quo, it is the CCP that is provoking hostility across the Taiwan Strait, and if it attempts to fly military aircraft across Taiwan or land troops on Taiwanese territory, it is the CCP that will be declaring war.
The CCP’s claims to sovereignty over Taiwan are baseless and have no standing in international law or reality. Even a regular Taichung restaurant owner has a better grasp of the facts than the CCP.
The international community might recognize that China believes in the "one China" policy but that does not mean it agrees with its claims. If the CCP breaks the status quo and challenges Taiwanese sovereignty in any way, the U.S. is both legally and morally obligated to stand up for Taiwan.
Meanwhile, the standing of China around the rest of the world means that we can expect a number of other nations to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Taiwan. But even if Taiwan finds itself isolated, it has no choice but to stand up for its sovereignty, its rights, and its values at all costs.
To give even an inch to the threats, bullying, and provocation from across the Taiwan Strait is only going to make matters worse.