Illustration: Stephen Case
Ronny Tong
Ronny Tong

How can the West say it respects the one-China policy when it refuses to see Taiwan as part of China?

  • As the political temperature rises over the Taiwan Strait, the US is supplying more arms and seeking to raise the temperature even more
  • Chinese are a peace-loving people but they will not accept being bullied any more or ever allow Taiwan to be separated from China

I got angry recently because a leader of a Northern European country claimed that if China “invaded” Taiwan, European countries would not sit and do nothing. This is not the first time I have heard the word “invade” being used in relation to Taiwan. In fact, it is all over the internet.

People are falling over each other to offer their own view on what would happen if China “invaded” Taiwan after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit. China “invaded” Taiwan? How does a country invade itself? If Hawaii were to unilaterally declare independence, would the United States seek to “invade” Hawaii to preserve the federation? If Scotland unilaterally declares independence, will the United Kingdom “invade” Scotland to safeguard itself?

Why do those who have sworn to respect the one-China policy never actually regard Taiwan as part of China? If that is not hypocrisy, I do not know what is.

If one looks back at recent history, it is clear that except for the period when Japan occupied Taiwan, it has always been part of China. From a historic point of view, Taiwan is probably more Chinese than Hawaii is American, or Scotland is British. So since when has Taiwan become just an island off the coast of China?

We speak the same language, we share the same culture and we are descended from the same ancestors, but why are we so different that the US might fight a war, if need be, to keep us apart? Pelosi has said this is dictated by the needs of democracy but since when has democracy become a divisive tool rather than a building block of a cohesive pluralistic nation?

I recall when I first went to Taiwan after my studies in the United Kingdom, Taiwan still had night curfews. Everywhere I went, I saw huge posters reminding people “not to forget” they were merely resting in a strange land for now, and they had to “counter-attack the mainland” when the time was ripe. But the time was never ripe. The determination to take back the mainland has waned with the passage of time, while a misguided notion about betraying the motherland has emerged.

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Western countries, especially the US, saw this weakness and began to exploit the division as an important part of their foreign policy towards the East. Seeds of hatred and separatism were sown and now it is almost time to harvest. The last US consul general in Hong Kong once asked me before his departure from these shores, why China wouldn’t leave Taiwan alone? Why keep building up the pressure, forcing the US to respond in kind?


Therein lies the dichotomy between China and the US. Is a divided America, or for that matter, any country in the world, a tolerable fact and a matter of national pride?

Conspiracy theorists have long suggested that the US-led alliance is seeking to conjure up a civil war in order to repress the rise of China. There may be some truth in this; after all, what could cripple a nation more than a civil war?

They conveniently forget that Chinese are not a naturally belligerent people. Even when we were strong and thriving in the Han and Tang dynasties, we were more devoted to assimilating neighbouring peoples and expanding trade routes than conquering nations and demanding servitude.

When Zheng He of the powerful Ming dynasty sailed to Southeast Asia – and even America, according to some – China did not set up any colonies. That is the difference between China on the one hand and Japan, Britain and European countries on the other. We are a peace-loving people. As a nation, we have been sinned against more than we have sinned. However, others see this as a weakness and an opportunity to be exploited. That brings us to today.


Taiwanese fish farmers hurt by mainland China import bans after Pelosi visit

Taiwanese fish farmers hurt by mainland China import bans after Pelosi visit

It is inconceivable that Western countries still do not understand the nature and history of the Chinese as a people. And yet the US, in particular, has never stopped encouraging the upswing in pro-independence sentiment in Taiwan. The Pelosi visit is just another tip of the iceberg.

As the political temperature rises over the Taiwan Strait, the US is supplying more arms, giving more encouragement and seeking to raise the temperature even more. This is a vicious circle we seem unable to get out of. While the former US consul general to Hong Kong seems to suggest this was started by China, it takes two to tango. In any event, does it really matter how history forces people to move towards war? Didn’t we learn anything from two world wars?

Nobody likes wars. Wars cannot solve problems. But could China choose not to fight when the Eight-Nation Alliance and Japan invaded us in the past? In answering this unavoidable question, maybe we do not have a choice. As Japanese invasions of China and German aggression in Europe in both world wars show, history has a tendency to repeat itself. It will bring us more harm and pain if China chooses to cower and pretend not to notice a ploy is at play to sever Taiwan from China.


The People’s Republic of China would not want to lose Taiwan, as the Qing dynasty once lost Hong Kong. No leadership in Beijing would be willing to go down in history as another Daoguang emperor.

Today, China proclaims a clear message to the world, including the US: it will not accept being bullied any more and suffer the separation of our country. China has chosen national dignity when there are no choices. The world, and especially the US, had better take heed.

Ronny K.W. Tong, QC, SC, JP, is a former chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association, a member of the Executive Council and convenor of the Path of Democracy