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The Real Reason Why China May Want Reunification With Taiwan

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A husband and wife are sitting in an office inside of an automobile dealership. They are buying a new car. It is an all-electric Tesla. They finish signing the papers and are handed the keys to their new car. They drive it home and park it in the driveway.

Seventy-five percent of their new car's components, including the batteries, electric motors, the reduction gears, the LED headlights, and LED tail lights -- are manufactured in Taiwan.

China says it wants "reunification" with Taiwan, but -- is it for historical or political reasons, or something else, that it's not directly revealing?

Taiwan has been separate from China ever since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. During the 1980s and 1990s, Asia's "four tigers" -- Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore -- focused on export-based economic growth. In Taiwan, the results of its quick industrialization and rapid growth, called the "Taiwan Miracle", was impressive. Taiwan prospered and, after 2000, became a major economic investor in China.

Taiwan has an economy that is driven by industrial manufacturing, and exports of machinery, electronics, and textiles. It is a leader in manufacturing electronic components and devices, including computer manufacturers Acer and Asus, which have their corporate headquarters in Taiwan. And, Taiwan manufactures 60% of the world's semiconductor chips!

Taiwan also runs a trade surplus with many countries, including China and the United States. China eventually overtook the U.S. to become Taiwan's second-largest source of imports in 2006. Currently, as of 2020, 28% of Taiwan's exports go to China. And China is also Taiwan's number one destination for foreign investments. Close economic ties with China bring opportunities for Taiwan's economy, but also pose challenges, as political differences remain unresolved and China's economic growth is slowing.

Chinese policy makers have acknowledged the need to recalibrate the economy's engines for more than a decade. Their system generates high rates of growth, but also large amounts of waste, inefficiency, debt, and financial losses.

China's political and military strength can continue to build only if its economic resources and technological prowess continue to advance. If China's policy makers can successfully pivot their economy to be a more productive and dynamic one, the risk to [the United States] is real.

Another, darker possibility, exists: What if China recedes as an economic competitor but rises as a political one? Fearing his country will be weaker in the future than in the present, and needing a new source of legitimacy to replace economic performance, [President] Xi Jinping might turn to nationalist causes and become more aggressive, perhaps making a grab for Taiwan.

The grab for Taiwan is real, especially if China's economic growth is slowing. If China decides to invade Taiwan, it may not be for "political" reasons, but rather for "economic" ones. China may try and use Taiwan's economy to help build up its military in order for it to achieve its dream of world dominance. If China takes over Taiwan, it would mean that any money that would normally stay in Taiwan, for Taiwan's economy, would now flow through into China -- and its military.

But an invasion of Taiwan by China would be very costly, in terms of both economics and human lives. And with support of Taiwan from the United States and European countries, the invasion would have an uncertain outcome.

Support for moving toward "independence" for Taiwan, meaning pursuing a future formally separate from mainland China, is at its highest point in decades, according to surveys by Taiwan's National Chengchi University's Election Study Center.

In June [2021], a poll of 4,717 people in Taiwan found 25.8% want to move toward independence, while fewer than 10% want "unification" with mainland China. The majority opinion was to stick with the status quo for now.

The sentiment for a move toward independence has more than doubled since 2018, the survey found.

Sung [Wen-Ti Sung, a fellow at the Australian Centre on China in the World at the Australian National University (ANU)], attributed the rise to Beijing's brutal treatment of Hong Kong, a major financial hub that was promised 50 years of semi-autonomous governance, only to have its civil liberties severely curtailed by Beijing after major pro-democracy protests in 2019.

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Jack Lindauer has written for the Los Angeles Daily Journal newspaper. He is a Los Angeles based filmmaker. He writes on foreign policy issues. He studied Political Science at Harvard University, with a concentration in U.S. Public Policy.

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