The End of China’s Rise: Implications for Cross-Strait Relations

【English below】


  大選前一天,ICLP特別邀請到香港城市大學教授Daniel C. Lynch(林丹)來給師生分享他對中國崛起的停滯與兩岸關係的未來的看法。為了說明該講題的刺激評論,林丹教授以三個因素為導因:經濟放緩、人口轉化與公共衛生。相較於國際社會對日本及蘇聯崛起的敬畏,面對中國的崛起則有所不同,中國被多數人視為不可阻擋、經濟增長永無止境、有望取代美國成為全球霸主的國家。








  Early this quarter, ICLP students had the opportunity to experience firsthand the spectacle of a Taiwanese presidential election. While worth observing every four years, this cycle in particular garnered close attention as a bellwether of the next phase in cross-strait relations, with the historically China-friendly Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) uncharacteristically fronting controversial Han Kuo-yu to challenge President Tsai Ing-wen.

  A day before the election on January 10, Professor Daniel C. Lynch of the City University of Hong Kong visited ICLP to share his thoughts on the end of China’s rise and its implications for Taiwan, and after Tsai’s re-election provided a few additional insights with the ICLP e-Newsletter.

  The provocative nature of the presentation’s title was not left unexplored, as Lynch outlined three sectors supporting his assertion that China has come to the end of its dramatic rise: the economy, demographics, and public health. With the same awe that accompanied Japan and the Soviet Union’s seemingly limitless ascension, many are viewing China as a similarly unstoppable giant poised to overtake the United States as global hegemon, even as it encounters the same challenges that led to its two neighbors’ downfall.

  As in 1980s Japan, China has a rapidly aging population and shrinking workforce, leaving it with the herculean task of becoming the first nation to ever boost its relative power with slow population growth. Contrary to expectations for a developing country, the death rate is also rising, likely due to pollution and other factors that also plagued the Soviet Union. Significantly, China is also relying on debt to inflate economic growth, with banks freely lending to state-owned enterprises as the government remains hostile toward private business. Even though Chinese President Xi Jinping during a 2013 Chinese Communist Party (CCP) work conference on the economy vowed to resume reform, without the political will to sacrifice the growth rate or enact more drastic measures, the writing is already on the wall.

  Faced with these insurmountable challenges, the CCP’s 25-year plan to annex Taiwan through economic dependence has likely been left in ruins. Without strong incentives or resources, it is becoming more difficult to “maintain a constellation of interest groups determined to appease the CCP at all costs.”

  January’s electoral outcome threw this plan into further disarray as Han garnered only 39% of the vote, a particularly disappointing result considering China’s massive disinformation campaign. After proving instrumental to Han’s 2018 mayoral victory in Kaohsiung and taking front stage in the campaign, fears abounded that a new era of disinformation was dawning in Taiwanese politics. In the end, media literacy efforts won out, leaving the CCP flummoxed and without its familiar KMT crutch to lean on. Indeed, there is now talk within the KMT about abandoning the “1992 consensus,” China’s basis for cross-strait dialogue and its justification for freezing ties under Tsai. Even the concept of the Republic of China — the KMT’s nostalgic glue, as evidenced by the sea of red and blue flags during election rallies — will be thrown into question, as it “relies on China’s rise for legitimization.”

  Even though the annexation plan is failing, Taiwan will not necessarily benefit. As a party founded on struggle, the CCP must “keep the population mobilized by redirecting toward a struggle,” such as against Taiwan, providing incentive to preserve confrontation without armed conflict. On the other hand, military action is not out of the question, as Xi has “an explosive temper and might want to divert attention away from his unfulfilled promises.”

  “It will take the world a while to realize that the rise has stalled, but it will happen,” and is indeed already happening. There is a kind of contempt in the media that was rare five or 10 years ago when the world viewed China’s rise with respectful awe. The Xinjiang camps, Hong Kong protests, and now COVID-19 are accelerating the deterioration of China’s image and exposing the dangers of economic and political reliance on an authoritarian system. China will undoubtedly remain a global power, but will likely be expected to conform to international standards going forward.

  In Lynch’s opinion, we will likely not know the CCP’s updated strategy on Taiwan until this year’s postponed National People’s Congress or later in the summer, pending the KMT’s decision on the “1992 consensus.” However, with Taiwan standing on more precarious ground than ever, it is also important to remember that all the major global powers (minus China) maintain unofficial ties, showing that Taiwan is not as isolated as it may seem.



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