Due to historical circumstances some countries and regions are caught in situations of serious conflict and the potential of even higher conflict. Unfortunately these get transferred from one generation to another in a needlessly prolonged way. The result is that a generation that has nothing to do with the origin of these conflicts sees its present and future life darkened because of their looming, overwhelming shadow over their lives.
There are possibilities of conflict resolution as well as of further conflict escalation at this stage. Which path will a country take? It is not known, but what is clear is that the welfare of people is promoted best by the forces and efforts of conflict resolution and of peace. The people may realize this, but despite this the path of conflict escalation may get pursued largely because of the influence of outside forces which are able to become the main decisive forces overwhelming domestic opinion.
In such difficult situations one way out is to strive to bring the common people and their genuine, sincere voice to the center of the debate. This is very helpful as people are most likely to be committed to their welfare, and to the welfare of the next generation. If the voice of people is heard, one view that is most likely to emerge is that people do not want an escalation and in particular they do not want an escalation based on the pressures of big powers to use them as pawns or proxies in their wider rivalries. As has often been seen on the basis of the past experience, nothing is more destructive for any people than their region becoming yet another center of violent playing out of big power rivalries and disputes.
In the case of Taiwan these factors are even more important as the chances of a violent conflict over the future of this country or region are high. The biggest need is to avoid catastrophic war (including the possibility of nuclear war) between big powers under all conditions. While the maintenance of the present day uneasy status quo involving serious difference of opinion among various parties can continue undisturbed if nothing drastic happens, at the same time in more difficult conditions created by USA-China rivalry or other factors, these differences can also lead to a war which in turn can involve the USA and some allies. We must also keep in mind that Taiwan is a very densely populated country vulnerable to heavy loss of human lives in any bombing.
Apart from suggesting specific solutions a continuous spread of thinking and ideas based on justice based peace among people is also very important and for this a strong peace movement is needed. From this wider perspective of peace (which must always be peace with justice) let us examine the various possibilities.
One possible solution is that the elected representatives of Taiwan ( present day Republic of China or ROC) decide by a big majority to join mainland China (People’s Republic of China or PRC) as a province (just as desired by PRC) and China gives a guarantee that it will not victimize anyone who had been known earlier for opposing this integration. In this scenario a happy union takes place, based on complete equality and zero victimization, which is accepted by everyone.
The second possible solution is that Taiwan’s elected representatives decide by a big majority to join mainland China but not as an ordinary province and instead as a special region having several autonomy guarantees and some special status. This is accepted by China and actually honored in practice. Everyone lives happily thereafter.
These are two easiest solutions involving the least possibility of war and bloodshed. There is no injustice to anyone in these solutions and those who value peace above anything else would like to plead for these and strive to make these a reality.
However one big hitch here is that the people and their elected representatives of Taiwan may not give a big hand to these solutions. One reason for this may be that the people here may not like a future under the more authoritarian conditions in China. They may instead express a clear verdict that they will not like to join mainland China and would instead prefer an independent future (as their best option). Once it is known that this is the clear and honest expression of the choice of the people of Taiwan, then in this situation mainland China must accept this verdict and give up its claim to Taiwan, not resorting to war-based efforts to annex Taiwan. Instead it should promote higher trade and cooperation with Taiwan, and Taiwan should respond suitably. Again everyone can live happily with friendship in this scenario.
However beyond such happy solutions, which can be a reality if all parties accept the overwhelming importance of peace and of avoiding war, there are many grim and tragic realities of the world which have to be considered in any realistic analysis.
One reality that cannot be ignored is that of the wider intense rivalry between the USA and China, and of the USA (with or without several Asian or European or other allies) being either a big force on the side of securing a future for Taiwan independent of China, or else being a big force using Taiwan to strengthen its wider hostile position against China. In such a situation a peaceful union of Taiwan and China (which would strengthen China in several ways) would not be considered acceptable by the USA and this biggest power today may use various methods to prevent this. The USA is also widely believed to be planning a war against China at some stage and this war effort in turn may use Taiwan as a proxy or an instigation point, with the possibility that in the process a lot of destruction would be caused in Taiwan.
Secondly, China has also taken an aggressive, non-compromising stand on this issue and even if the genuine verdict of the people of Taiwan is to remain independent of mainland China, the PRC may not accept this and may instead resort to use of force to annex Taiwan whenever a suitable opportunity is available. This has all the possibilities of a very destructive war including nuclear war opening up, with the USA (and perhaps some reluctant allies) also getting involved. In any case it is wrong on the part of China to have a very aggressive, non-compromising view on Taiwan. The situation of Taiwan cannot be compared to that of a part of a country with separatist tendencies wanting to secede from the larger country (with or without provocation or help of a bigger country). After all Taiwan has been functioning for all practical purposes as an independent entity for several decades now, and the views of the millions of people living there cannot be ignored. Mainland China and its authorities must prepare themselves for a more reasonable, tolerant and peace-based stand on Taiwan in which the views of the people of Taiwan get adequate attention.
The USA and China may also seek to influence internal opinion and politics within Taiwan with a view to mobilizing forces in their favor and this can lead to internal conflict as well.
So what is the most likely peaceful solution? This can be in the form of the UNO first asking China on what terms it wants a union, and whether it will give guarantee of non-victimization of forces opposed to the union in case of a union taking place. Once these terms are known, the UN should organize a referendum in Taiwan on whether people want to continue as present (status quo), or be more formally and clearly independent of mainland China, or whether they want to join mainland China on the terms mentioned by it. Care should be taken to ensure that no outside force is able to influence this referendum in undue ways.
Whatever the majority verdict of people is, this should be accepted by all the people and all the parties involved.
This, or something very similar to this, would be needed for peacefully resolving this complex issue without resorting to war, a war which can in turn into a catastrophic war and a nuclear war.
A peaceful solution can be achieved by both the USA and China giving more importance to peace than to their narrowly viewed, self-centered, aggressive objectives and viewpoints. At a wider level, the USA must entirely give up the thinking of a war against China and China too must learn to move forward in less aggressive ways. Both the big powers need to display a much higher commitment to peace.
Such a peace-centered approach is clearly a much better way of resolving such situations of existing serious conflicts before these escalate to bigger conflicts and wars. This will also enable our badly threatened world to give much more attention to resolving existential environmental issues, as well as to organizing the essential international cooperation for this.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Survival Crisis–Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children, Earth without Borders, Man over Machine and A Day in 2071.