A railroad from the mainland to Taiwan? Why not?


Nikkei Asia

During a solemn gathering to mark the 74th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid special attention to the Taiwan issue, saying that the reunification of mainland China and Taiwan is «a historical inevitability that no force can prevent».

«We should uphold the principle of One China and the 1992 Consensus, promote the peaceful development of relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, advance the integrated development of the two sides of the Strait, safeguard the basic interests of the Chinese nation and improve the welfare of compatriots on both sides of the Strait. Achieving the complete reunification of the motherland is the common aspiration of the people, the trend of the era», the Chinese leader said in rather peaceful terms about ways to reunite the island with the mainland.

To mark the holiday, an ultramodern high-speed railroad was launched in the Taiwan Strait, in its part adjacent to the mainland.

Yes, yes. There is no mistake here, 20 kilometers of the main line, which connects the coastal Chinese province of Fujian with the former Portuguese colony of Xiamen, literally floats above the waves. At the same time, trains run along it at the usual for Chinese high-speed railways speed of 300–350 kilometers per hour. (For comparison: the length of the railway part of the Crimean Bridge is 18 kilometers).

China seems to be saying to the Taiwanese: look at the prospects for unification with the mainland. A high-speed railroad from the Chinese mainland to the island of Taiwan may well become a reality, all that is needed is the willingness of the rebellious province’s authorities. The People’s Republic of China has all the capabilities to build a high-speed railroad across the Taiwan Strait, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported not long ago, citing a statement by Cong Liang, deputy head of the State Committee for Development and Reform of the People’s Republic of China.

«We should work together to realize the dream of people on both sides to cross the Taiwan Strait by high-speed train in the near future», the SCMP quoted Cong Liang as saying.

According to Cong Liang, the railroad between the mainland and the island will help Taiwanese goods get to markets in Eurasia, while advancing China’s One Belt, One Road economic initiative. And he knows what he’s talking about. Although a road across the sea at least 250 kilometers long cannot be imagined.

Last week, the CPC Central Committee and the Chinese State Council jointly issued a plan to deepen integration with Taiwan through its closest province, Fujian. The 21-point directive calls for turning the Chinese province into a «demonstration zone» for citizens and companies that decide to move from the island to the mainland.

Even now, however, transportation (ferry and air) runs regularly between the island and the mainland. China remains Taiwan’s main trading partner. Bilateral trade accounts for about 30% of the island’s total foreign trade turnover (half as much with the United States). Humanitarian ties are expanding.

Against this background, Western TV channels are intensively running clips of a flash mob in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. A group of exalted Taiwanese mock the Chinese flag and symbols. They speak English, and their posters bear the slogan, «We are not Chinese». These particular islanders, perhaps to please Western television personalities, have already stopped feeling themselves to be Chinese. The same cannot be said about the other 23 million Taiwanese citizens, most of whom speak a South Chinese dialect but write in the same characters that united China in prehistoric times under the great emperor Qin Shihuang.

Beijing’s policy of peaceful integration is aimed at them. And for the current leaders of Taiwan, represented by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), who are oriented toward Washington and other Western capitals, there are special sections in the Chinese constitution that are devoted to forceful options for solving the Taiwan problem. And they are related exclusively to the declaration of independence of the island and the intervention of third forces. These options are probably known to a certain politicized part of the Taiwanese population, who probably compares the peaceful prospects for the unification of the island and the mainland with war as a result of the intransigence of Taiwanese politicians, who do not consider themselves to be Chinese.

However, not everyone in Taiwan is like them. The descendants of the Kuomintang leaders who fled to the island are much more pragmatic. Is it worth destroying the island and the established economic and human symbiosis with the mainland in favor of ephemeral «democratic values» that the West sells them in addition to mountains of weapons? Many in Taipei realize that Washington sleeps and sees a military containment of China and a war to the last Taiwanese along the lines of Russia and Ukraine.

And these forces may well come to power as a result of Taiwan’s presidential election in January 2024. It is not excluded that Beijing has already agreed behind the scenes with some representatives of the Kuomintang on the prospects of relations and the future of the island. China has unlimited financial resources for a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue. And here the matter may be not only about a high-speed railroad from the mainland to the island…..

Isn’t that also why Washington has recently been looking for approaches to official Beijing? Visits of high-ranking Americans to China follow one after another. But now the Wall Street Journal wrote that the parties are discussing a trip to Washington by Xi Jinping’s chief economic policy adviser, Vice Premier He Lifeng. Also, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is allegedly scheduled to visit the United States. It is possible, as the newspaper says, that behind this diplomatic activity are preparations for a summit between the PRC and US presidents. Biden, as we know, has long dreamed of this meeting and even expressed regret that Xi did not go to the G20 leaders’ meeting in India. Xi is not very eager to reciprocate, and the main stumbling block is Washington’s hypocritical policy on the Taiwan issue, which combines official statements about One China with the supply of weapons to Taiwan and fueling separatist sentiments among Taiwanese politicians.

However, positive signals have also been heard from Beijing. According to U.S. officials, it was China that facilitated the return to the United States of an American soldier detained in North Korea. And on September 19, Chinese media published a letter from Xi Jinping to two veterans of the U.S. Air Force, the Flying Tigers, who fought in China’s skies during World War II. The letter includes a passage about the «deep friendship» between China and the United States that developed during their fight against Japan.

Pragmatic Beijing suggests that official Washington (as well as Taipei) discard the delusional idea of playing the Taiwan card like the Ukrainian one and not to risk the whole complex of bilateral relations. Trade is better than war.

Of course, the Americans in this bargaining will demand something in return. In this game, China is playing a complex and multi-move game. But it is possible that in the run-up to the elections in Taiwan and, more importantly, in the US, the situation around the rebellious island could change dramatically. And the almost fantastic project of the high-speed rail across the strait will become a reality.