Alex Lo
SCMP Columnist
My Take
by Alex Lo
My Take
by Alex Lo

Taiwanese do actually know what is going on in Beijing

  • Forget Western think tanks and politicians, Taipei offers a truer picture of mainland affairs and the need for stability, not an invasion

Say what you like about the Taiwanese, they do tend to have a much more accurate or realistic appraisal of mainland China’s intentions than most Western think tanks and politicians.

Remember all that nonsense about Beijing’s preparations to invade the island, any time now? And, if the Russians have done it to Ukraine, surely Beijing will want the same with Taiwan?

But Taiwanese media accounts of the latest report on the all-important twice-a-decade national congress by the Mainland Affairs Council – a cabinet-level agency under the Executive Yuan of the Taiwanese government – offers a very different picture.

One immediate takeaway is that at the October meeting – where President Xi Jinping is expected to take a precedent-breaking third term – economic and political stability will remain Beijing’s policy priorities. From this assessment, paradoxically though, many of the mainland’s ongoing problems and challenges follow.

You may or may not agree with the council’s report. But if stability is the priority, then the last thing Beijing wants is to risk an invasion of the island, at least for now.

The report argues that the ruthless and unquestioned drive for stability has often resulted in its opposite. For example, tough control measures during the Covid-19 pandemic were initially successful, making China the first major economy to recover last year. This year, though, it has become a liability and a complete drag on the economy, making the goal of 5.5 per cent annual growth difficult, if not impossible.

Interestingly, the council’s analysis links the social phenomenon of “lying flat” among younger people on the mainland – taking it easy from the crush of life and work – to the rise of jingoists and ultranationalists. Such individuals tend not to challenge political institutions but instead, take up online positions against foreign forces that pose a threat, whether real or perceived, to mainland China.

This is a very different interpretation from most of those offered by Western social scientists and think tanks, which tend to view lying flat as inherently apolitical or even anti-political. A recent study by the Washington-based liberal Brookings Institution argues that encouraging young people and workers to take it easy amounts to “passive resistance” to Xi’s call for national self-reliance and technological innovation!

I have never read of such a link between lying flat and Chinese nationalism as made in the Taiwanese report. But if true or at least plausible, it’s well worth investigating further. Understandably, Taiwan would be especially concerned about Chinese nationalism, whose raison d’être is precisely against the island’s independence.

And despite various ongoing issues such as the mass mortgage non-payment protests against uncompleted flats and frozen bank accounts in Zhengzhou, Henan province, due to corruption, the council did not think they would undermine political stability on the mainland, at least in the short term. But if they are not resolved, they could eventually undermine public confidence in the Communist Party and the state.

Like it or not, as opposed to Western fantasies about “peak China” and regime collapse, the Taiwanese understand they will be dealing with Xi and his communist state for a long time yet.