From the January-February 2017 issue of News & Letters
Just weeks after Donald Trump—with Vladimir Putin’s help—claimed his Electoral College victory, he put the spotlight on U.S.-China relations by taking a call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, creating the possibility that the U.S. might abandon the “one China” policy. Like Putin’s seizing control of parts of eastern Ukraine, raising the question of separate recognition of Taiwan undoes a settled issue among nuclear powers in the post-World War II world.
China insisted on recognition of its sovereignty over Taiwan while never sending troops to take control, since for a generation the island has been most valuable as a prime source of capital, including Foxconn and its factories with a million workers building hi-tech Apple phones and computers. Likewise, when the British left Hong Kong in 1997, China nurtured it as a conduit for capital investment with a “one country two systems” policy until 2047.
As China’s President Xi Jinping consolidates power in government, the Party and the military, he has so far reacted most viciously not to politicians in Taiwan or Washington but to citizens calling for self-determination.
Repression of Hong Kong’s Occupy Central in 2014—the Umbrella Movement—was carried out on the pretext that the movement demanded independence. In January, veterans of that movement traveling to meet activists in Taipei in Taiwan were harassed and even beaten by thugs in both cities.
Up until now labor activists in Hong Kong have been able to record the increasing militancy of Chinese workers, with almost 20% more job actions over factories that are closing or being sold off and other corporate theft, and the increasing repression of the regime, as in the village of Wukan.
There, villagers won the right to elect their own leaders in 2011 after evicting all the corrupt appointed ones. But in January, nine Wukan villagers were sentenced to prison terms of from two to more than ten years for leading demonstrations for 85 days in solidarity with village leader Lin Zuluan, who had been jailed and forced to confess to corruption.
The area of the South China Sea is already volatile, as China has built runways on seven artificial specks of concrete built up on underwater reefs. Resistance at home can spark adventurism abroad. A confrontation between China and what it perceives as a Putin-Trump axis, with the rulers of all three countries facing unrest at home, makes for the most perilous big-power international situation since Nixon tilted to China in hopes that Mao Zedong could extricate him from Vietnam.