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National Observer Home > No. 49 - Winter 2001 >Articles

Peking's Planned Anschluss With TaiwanL: Illusion and Reality in China's Civil War

Professor Leslie R. Marchant

"The unknown man who invented the word 'heat' devoted many generations to error. Heat has been treated as a substance, simply because it was designated by a substantive". H. Poincaré, "The Foundations of Science".

It is quite in order for analysts to compare the present methods being used by the Chinese Communist Party Government to unify China, and end its civil war by absorbing Taiwan in accordance with its One China Policy, with those used in 1949 to win the mainland and drive the Nationalists to Taiwan. The methods that brought victory then, may perhaps promise a final solution now.

Some observers, following the accommodation reached by the two parts of Korea, assume that a bilateral agreement is an alternative offering new rays of hope. That is based on a superficial opinion, not on a study of facts. The cases for China and Korea differ markedly. The Korean split has a short history led by ideological nonentities in the world Marxist-Leninist movement. It came post-war, in the wake of the Russian expansion east following the attack on Japan, and as the Chinese communists rose to power. China's civil war was by then long-existing, and its communist leaders already prominent with their own unique ideologies, couched in a Chinese cultural context. These ideological beliefs still guide, and are not likely to be cast aside because its small neighbour, which has ever followed other ideologies, has held talks with its other half. Experiences in the civil war which brought victory are more likely to persist and dominate.

The two separate but correlated methods popularly regarded as being responsible for the 1949 victory were military action by the People's Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Party, combined with the "united front" tactics designed to undermine, fragment and isolate "the main enemy", that is, the Nationalist Party (Kuo Min Tang), while winning support and approval for the communist-led side at home and abroad.

The military solution warrants little detailed analysis. Success through war has been well recorded. In 1949, the War of Liberation showed that armed conflict brought quicker results for socialism than relying on a "dispossessed proletariat" to rise and overthrow capitalism, as Marx had predicted, and offered more assured ways for communists to take power than trying to win majorities in parliament.

The belief that socialist "power grew through the barrel of a gun" was further evidenced by the creation of the communist monolith which extended from eastern Europe to China with additions around the globe. This monolith was viewed as rising from the ashes of the Second World War and, like the phoenix, growing larger through Wars of Liberation which alliances like S.E.A.T.O. failed to halt. It therefore is logical for Peking now to assume that Taiwan can be won in the same way, by armed conflict or by the threat of it, on the basis that no alternative is evident. There is no dispossessed proletariat in Taiwan urging leaders to overthrow capitalism and replace it with socialism. Nor is there a branch, or likely to be a branch, within Taiwan of the "Share Property Party", the Kung Ch'an Tang, translated in the West as the Chinese Communist Party, that can expect to win power in Taiwan's parliament. Chinese communists do not understand parliamentary processes. They have never faced an electorate at home, nor held parliaments. In Taiwan they would be rejected by voters in view of their suppression of democrats and any other opposition at home.

For the Peking government, military force therefore may seem the best option.

However, that kind of solution in the year 2001 will not be as simple as it was fifty years ago, for five reasons.

First, in view of the fact that the People's Liberation Army massacred democrats in Tien An Men Square, its troops will not be likely to be welcomed as liberators of the people in Taiwan. They are the armed wing of a totalitarian regime that is continually haunted by the events of 1989. Taiwan is a parliamentary democracy whose principles are deeply rooted in Confucian humanism which permeates the outlook in that region. It lies at the core of the education system.

Second, any war would be high-tech. Peking has the weaponry and is buying and producing more, but its ranks of technocrats have been limited by the Cultural Revolution, which undermined the education system. Taiwan is smaller, but more capable. It is a high-tech power.

Third, the one-child policy promises to affect the People's Liberation Army. Its recruits today, often criticised as spoilt brats wanting mobile phones, are not like those who joined the struggle in the 1940s equipped with the self-sacrificing "Spirit of Yenan".

Fourth, China lacks unity at home. Dissidents and provincial and territorial independence movements have emerged, and are being crushed. Controlling these could fragment China's forces. (In the case of the self-determination movement, incidentally, the threat of military violence against Taiwan can also be viewed to be a warning to democrats and dissidents. Peking is making clear that it will allow no Chechnyas in places like Tibet or in Moslem regions, about which discussions were recently held with Russia.)

Fifth, Taiwan has good reason to resist strongly. If Peking takes command, its advanced economy promises to be overshadowed by the key economic areas being developed in the People's Republic, as is happening to Hong Kong. There, a high-tech key area is being developed without correlatively advancing the agricultural-fisheries-small, light industry base. The result is an increasing gap between rich and poor, and between those with a future and those without hope. This has increased tensions, and as in other key areas, has stirred opposition to development, to increasing government impositions and to measures undermining social security, as cartoons in the mainland press reveal. The Taiwan parliament and financial institutions would not be able to guard against this. After an Anschluss they would become toothless tigers. There also are other factors prompting resistance. The replacement of English with the communist Chinese script in Hong Kong could mean that the traditional script taught in Taiwan would be replaced by the communist variety. That would not only cause generational divisions. It would also cut off the Chinese in the democratic region, from their traditional literature and knowledge of the past expressed in their ideographic and pictographic writing.

What Peking may view as its trump card is the carefully conceived, sophisticated methods of the "united front" which, more than action by the armed forces, brought victory in 1949. For these tactics made whatever the People's Liberation Army did, palatable, and won Chinese communists international acceptance in a widespread manner never enjoyed by Russian communists. The essence of the method, as described in my book "To Phoenix Seat", is for the Communist party to have a United Front composed of disparate political groups such as land reformers, supporters of women's rights and others, with the Communist Party maintaining control of the Front. When exhibited, these component parts attracted the support of outside liberals and reformers and the like, who concluded that China was reforming in the image of their beliefs and hopes for China. This image was confirmed by complimentary media reports made at the time by selected reporters invited for that purpose. For example, Colin MacDonald, the knowledgeable "London Times" correspondent who read Chinese, was not invited, which was foresightful. For later on, when a communist guide in a provincial city was explaining how they had built a university there for the people, MacDonald pointed out that the characters carved in stone above the entrance proclaimed that it was a Christian Mission University for the people, built long ago.

These days, in view of China's shift to a market economy and its openings to outside businesses and investment under Communist Party direction, business people seeking trade and contracts, and government officials supporting them, are proving to be Peking's main champions. It is not unusual for them to proclaim that the Tien An Men Square massacre was a storm in a teacup, and that the fifteen hundred or so people massacred are of little matter in a country with such a large population, and that China is now on the road to capitalism. What they do not see is that the Communist Party exercises a strict control over culture which, since the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art in 1942 (when foundations were laid for the socialist conversion of China by cultural revolution), is viewed as propaedeutic economics above all else. For culture is conceived to be the core element in the revolutionary process.

This type of "united front" tactic, incidentally, was used by Burke and other W.A. Inc. governments in Western Australia and others which sought to maintain their rule based on political correctness. The "right" in their party took command of economics and development while the left and radical elements were given control of the arts, although cultural revolution was conducted by political gurus in higher echelons. The administration of the arts was used to end traditional forms associated with "the bourgeoisie", and to promote a Proletkult.

Although foreigners involved in business and investment are making an impact creating modern impressions of China, Peking's obtaining support at home and abroad to unify China by means of an Anschluss with Taiwan fifty years after the start of the division, will not be as easy for six reasons.

Prime amongst these is the fact that Peking has badly blotted its copy book with the Tien An Men Square massacre. That was a mistake impossible to undo, whose repercussions promise to grow worse with each anniversary and with each further arrest or act of political oppression that highlights the continued plight of political dissidents.

Second, communism and socialism are everywhere discredited and in retreat, even in Germany and Russia, their very birthplaces in Europe. It will be difficult to muster international support for the totalitarian communist government in China, and to revive flagging interest in Marxism-Leninism, because of the failure of its predictions derived from dialectical theory. They can no longer be relied on to prophesy the future. What happened previously when predictions went wrong was that communist theorists kept on adding new stages to explain capitalism's failure to fall. Imperialism was declared to be a higher stage of capitalism that had to fall before socialism could reign. When that prediction failed, neo-colonialism was added as a further higher stage, and so on, so that instead of the prediction coming true, more and more stages were added to the pre-requisites.

What the Chinese communist theorists and practitioners have done in China is not provide a new stage, but alter the timing. They have been proclaiming that a state of socialism now lies in the distant future. This has given rise to the "Theory of Two Points". This means that in the present conditions of the world, officials in the Communist Party Government of China can act as economic developers using market economy techniques, but in doing so they must keep the ultimate aim of establishing socialism, that is the Second Point, firmly in mind. That is one basic reason why they refuse to share political power. Others might be less single-minded with similar aims.

Third, now that the communist monolith has disintegrated, Peking has few fraternal links abroad. The main one left in Europe has been Serbia, with which Peking forged special relations in 1979, after its friendship with Albania soured. Peking will now have to rely on non-fraternal powers to win approval to take Taiwan. One point of interest to Australians in this regard is former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser's approval of the parliamentary democracy of Taiwan being absorbed by the totalitarian regime in Peking. This was made in a thoughtless manner indicating feeble research or a lack of intelligence.

The fourth and a more important difficulty to overcome, stems from the fact that when Mao conducted the revolution, he jumped the gun. Soon after he won the mainland, he leaped forward to socialism on the mainland, instead of waiting until China was unified. This was done with such excesses that it will now be difficult to attract the other part to join, making a truism of the Marxist belief that socialism cannot be established in "half a nation". What has happened to dissidents in the communist part will not make an Anschluss with democratic Taiwan easy to accomplish.

Fifth, the eschatological beliefs that socialism grows through set stages, which led Mao to jump the gun, will deter Taiwan from forming any close political link with the communist-led part. When Mao won in 1949, he announced the democratic-proletarian stage of the socialist revolution. That was a period of reconstruction. That stage ended in 1956 when the socialist stage of the revolution was announced. That is the present stage led by the Communist Party, which is reluctant to step back one stage. Non-socialists in Taiwan cannot expect either to share power as happened in the democratic-proletarian stage of the revolution, or to help to plan for the future of the nation which will be fashioned in accordance with the Two Point Theory initiated by the Communist Party. (There has been great confusion about Chinese communist beliefs and practices, largely as a result of various American scholars from the 1950s dominating the text-book market and disseminating misleading information, while margin- alising other scholars more proficient. The main fault with text-book writers like Fairbanks is, that like most Americans who were cut off from Europe before the rise of doctrines of action, they have no experience and little know-ledge of ideological politics. They tend to look at Chinese communists and nationalists as Asian reflections of their republican and democratic parties. That is why there are few or no analyses of communist doctrines and of essential sources for these, such as the Sino-Japanese wartime "Yenan Forum on Literature and Art", in their text-books. Scholars and students in Taiwan are more sophisticated, with a better understanding.)

Six, apologists such as text-book writers and uninformed journalists who spread the idea that Chinese communists in reality are not communists but nationalists intent on economic development designed to elevate China to great power status may not be able to propagate this as easily as in the 1940s. A major difficulty with this line is that China is an empire, not a nation. What the Chinese communists have taken control of is the vast imperial system created by the Manchu dynasty in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when China became the second largest political unit after Russia. China is now made up of a variety of territories and nationalities. Many of these regions, like Tibet, are demanding self-determination, and are objecting to China's policy of changing the racial composition of the outlying territories by Chinese migration.

Taiwan will add to the problem of nationality. It is a very new part of the empire, and has been under Chinese jurisdiction for only a short period. Prior to the Manchu period (from 1644 to 1912), it existed as a Pacific island with its own indigenous people. It became a kingdom of sorts in the seventeenth century, when the Dutch and Portuguese moved in to establish a trade base near China and Japan. The island was captured in 1683 by the Manchus who made it a dependency of nearby Fukien Province. In 1885, as part of a general re-organization of the empire made to shield it from expanding Europe, Taiwan was made a full province. That status did not last long. Taiwan was taken by Japan in 1895, and remained part of its empire until 1945. The nationalists retreated thence in 1949. The call for unity, in these circumstances, will require detailed explanations, at least for those with scholarly knowledge. The Taiwan people might insist on speaking about their own future.

The main weakness of the argument that the Chinese communists are nationalists in disguise is that it reflects a superficial form of anti-communism. It implies that communist beliefs in China are not deeply entrenched. That is not the case. Chinese communists have firmly held beliefs. To think other- wise is to give credence to an illusion. Those who conduct business or make bilateral links founded on that illusion, may find themselves being used as pawns or puppets, or short-term acquaintances.


National Observer No. 49 - Winter 2001