Will the Taiwan-Philippines Dispute Unite Taiwan with China?
The Philippine Coast Guard shot and killed a Taiwanese fisherman on May 9 in waters claimed by bo...
The Philippine Coast Guard shot and killed a Taiwanese fisherman on May 9 in waters claimed by both nations, setting off a chain of events that could mend the breech between Beijing and Taipei.
Both Taiwan and the Philippines are allies of the United States, but Washington’s ties with Manila run deeper than those it has with Taipei. However, there’s one factor of much greater importance than which side the war-weary U.S. may choose.
Beijing is actively courting Taiwan in the dispute. In the days after the fatal shooting, China’s Global Times published articles urging the Philippines to apologize, and Taiwan recalled its envoy to the Philippines and froze all hiring of Philippine workers. Philippine President Benigno Aquino responded by sending a personal representative to Taiwan to convey “his and the Filipino people’s deep regret” to the fisherman’s family and the people of Taiwan.
Taiwan and China stood together in rejecting Manila’s apology as “insincere.”
With the rejection came several more sanctions from Taiwan against the Philippines, including a travel alert and an announcement of plans to hold military exercises in the waters where the incident went down.
China’s Global Times applauded Taiwan’s punitive measures as a “second front” for China to stand up to neighbors in territorial disputes. The paper reminded readers that, in China’s eyes, Taiwan remains a province-in-waiting, and deserves China’s protection. “China has reiterated over time that Taiwan is an integral part of China. Now is a good opportunity to show that China will not tolerate the shooting of our fishermen, whether they are from the mainland or Taiwan, and that our government is determined to protect the life of its people,” one article said.
Since Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou took office in May 2008, Taipei and Beijing have taken many steps toward greater cooperation. And now the two governments are banding together in common aggression toward the Philippines, and by proxy, toward the United States. The two sides have some opposing interests in the dispute, but by the time Taiwan realizes this—and sees that China views the ordeal primarily as a chance to pry the Island nation out of Washington’s sphere of influence and into Beijing’s—it may be too late.
For several decades the close relationship between Taiwan and the U.S. has deterred China from using military force to accomplish its goal of bringing Taiwan officially under Beijing’s rule. But the current skirmish could persuade Taiwan to sacrifice its relationship with the Manila-friendly U.S., and to instead rely on China.
“Taiwan finds itself potentially crosswise with a U.S. treaty ally at the same time that it is being actively courted by Beijing,” said Scott Harold of the rand Corp. think tank. “This is in fact a far greater threat to Taipei than any dispute with Manila over fishing rights could ever possibly be.”
The China-Taiwan relationship has been moving closer for several years. This territorial dispute offers these Asian neighbors common ground that could be exploited for the unification project.
The simmering Taiwan-Philippine territorial dispute may become a key step toward fulfillment of those geopolitical predictions. Such an outcome would bolster China’s ability to push in the Pacific, and persuade other Asian states to rally behind Beijing.