Monday, March 25, 2013

Land Grab: How China could apply the Argentina-Falkland argument in its objective to annex Taiwan

      It is understandable if upon an initial observation one failed to find a correlation between current British jurisdiction of the Falkland Islands and the Chinese Communist Party's objective of the annexation of Taiwan.  After all, there is no apparent history that would connect the two disputed territories where such a comparison would easily be made.  Yet upon further examination, the recent referendum vote on the Falkland Islands, and the statements from Argentinian government (which continues to lay claim to the islands) that followed, could be carefully studied by the Chinese leadership in Beijing as a method in which it could modify its claim on Taiwan in the future if present trends within Taiwanese society continue.

         From  historic, geographic, and social points   of view, the Falkland Islands share a number of similarities with Taiwan.  Both have been "discovered" and claimed by multiple states throughout the previous centuries, both lie in proximity to powerful regional states that claim them as sovereign territory, and both have populations that do not wish to alter the current "status quo" in terms of their political arrangements.

     For those familiar with Taiwanese history, the following will sound eerily familiar:

     While a number of states had dealings of various levels with the Falkland Islands, it was the British who finally established a firm grip on the territories during the beginning of the 20th Century, previously Argentina had established a presence on the island, but were pushed out by a stronger British navy.  Argentina, however, never relinquished its claims on the islands, and continued to negotiate with the British regarding their status.  Such negotiations led to the first direct air links between Argentina and the Islands, as well as an agreement that gave the Argentine national gas company exclusive rights to the Falklands' energy needs.  Yet the British Governor of the islands, in his first cable back to England stated that "There is no way we will convince these islanders that they will be better off as part of Argentina".

     In 1982, in an attempt to reclaim the territories, Argentina invaded the Falklands with the hope that a smaller British military presence in the region would enhance the possibility of recapturing the islands.  A war ensued and the islands have remained under British jurisdiction until present day.  Argentina continues to claim that the islands are part of its territory, due to the fact that it gained independence from Spain in 1816, and the islands were taken away by force by the British years later in 1833.

     China, much in the same context, has claimed that Taiwan is an inherent part of its territory due to the fact that it believes upon establishment of the PRC in 1949, all previous territory that was under the jurisdiction of the ROC was to then be considered part of the newly established PRC.  And much as Argentina believes that it is being denied its rightful territory by a stronger illegal occupier in Great Britain, China has long felt Taiwan has been under the protection of the United States.

     On March 9th, a referendum was carried out on the Falkland Islands asking the question: "Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?"  Although the island only maintains a permanent population of less than 2,000 people, the results were conclusive:  1,514 voted "yes" with 3 voting "no", with a turnout of 92%.  The voters of the islands were able to vote without fear of large Argentinian neighbor threatening military action due to a British military presence on the island, and voted accordingly.  If the residents of Taiwan were given a similar vote on maintaining its current status, or to choose joining the PRC, the results, while surely not reaching the 92% range, would surely have the same results that were reached on the Falklands if its citizens were given the same scenario of security.

     The Falkland Scenario is one that Beijing must prepare on two levels.  First, it must realize that the Taiwanese identity will strengthen, not weaken over time, and its overtures of cultural bondage with the people of Taiwan will increasingly fall on deaf ears as time progresses.  The current methods of economic carrots and its perceived notions of historical-ethnic ties with people on Taiwan do not have the staying power that will bring about the outcome Beijing desires. Undoubtedly, the PRC is aware that if Taiwan were permitted to have a similar Falkland referendum, the results would wash away any perceptions of a peaceful annexation of Taiwan with both Taiwanese and Chinese alike.  With this reality, China must justify potential military action towards Taiwan  by looking through another prism. 

     Following the March 9th Falkland referendum, Argentinian ambassador to Britain, Alicia Castro  made a shrewd comment regarding the outcome, stating "We respect that (the islanders) want to stay being British, but the territory they inhabit is not."  In one simple sentence, Castro was able to separate the people residing on the Falklands from the territory itself.  Realizing that no volume of economic carrots would alter the mindset of its citizens, the argument was shifted to one of simply territorial rights.  Could the PRC eventually choose to follow the Argentina-Falklands territory model?  With each year that passes without a resolution between Taiwan and China over their differences,  the possibility grows more likely.  China could choose to read the writing on the wall and see that no amount of lop-sided economic treaties, no amount of references to "Chinese brotherhood" will alter the growing strength of Taiwanese identity, and could elect to deal with Taiwan as a territorial issue--- simply a lost piece of territory---people be damned.  If China's  objective to annex Taiwan  were to be achieved without the need to separate the issues of people and territory,  the offer of a "Hong Kong style" of arrangement in the attempt to placate Taiwan's population  could be off the table, and in its place an occupied Taiwan could feel more like Tibet or Xinjiang.  Hopefully, the PRC does not look to Buenos Aires for a philosophy to justify territorial claims to follow.

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