Now I've thought a lot about the possibility of a China-Taiwan peace agreement and what it would mean for Taiwan's future.
My early ramblings focused on the challenges of getting anything of substance in the agreement, given the political realities between the two sides. However, The continued cooperation between the KMT and CCP on a number of ideological points reduces the chances a peace agreement would be devoid of substantial changes in the relationship.
Still, any peace agreement will be able to tackle only peripheral political issues -- military CBM, maybe exchange of press and private individuals, etc. Nothing in the peace agreement would be able to tackle the core sovereignty issue at this time, because this is still too difficult for Taiwan or China to handle in a mutually agreeable way.
Which led me to my first major shift in speculation, which was that any peace agreement would explicitly be an "interim agreement" with a time table and an understood final result of unification. Like a treaty with a doomsday clock attached.
As this "interim agreement" becomes central to international understanding, Japan and the US will lose interest in Taiwan's defense; the KMT will scale up promotion the Zhonghua Minzu identity instead of a Taiwan-centric identity, and the CCP will also bombard Taiwan with related propaganda; promotion of Taiwanese Independence or statements that Taiwan is already independent will become increasingly taboo again, if not outright illegal; and at the end of the time table laid out in the "interim agreement," Taiwan will have little choice but to be swallowed up.
Now, I've shifted opinion again. I've just finished reading a paper: Bridge over Troubled Water? Envisioning a China-Taiwan Peace Agreement by Phillip C. Saunders and Scott L. Kastner. The paper is very China-centric in its thinking, but it had at least one piece of info that was news to me:
In private conversations with Western academics, however, Chinese officials have indicated their opposition to an interim agreement with a specified duration. This opposition may be partially rooted in concerns that as an agreement neared its end, it might turn into a de facto timetable for unification that could place future Chinese leaders in a difficult position. PRC officials may also be reluctant to sign an agreement that, in essence, implies that unification is off the table for several decades.I think this seems quite reasonable. China would not want to have its hand forced and does not want to give up on the unification issue either.
So now, I think the most likely result is a peace agreement that touches on those peripheral CBM/press/exchanges issues we've outlined above and officially ends the state of hostility between Taiwan and China; a KMT/CCP united front of propaganda about Taiwan's Chinese heritage; but, very importantly, no time table for unification or an end to the agreement.
That means the CCP will need to push for separate political negotiations for unification after the treaty comes into place, but that will be a completely separate set of issues and hard to get even the KMT moving on. It could also buy Taiwan the leverage and time it needs to wait out the CCP unification campaign and to more fully consolidate a Taiwanese identity (read: wait for the young people to grow up).
I remain skeptical of KMT-CCP intentions for the peace accord and post-accord development in relations. At the same time, I must reiterate that a peace treaty that reduces Chinese threats while indefinitely postponing any chances of unification/annexation talks might not be the worst possible result. In fact, depending on the details, it might be a pretty sweet deal.
Sugar-coated poison? Probably. But I increasingly suspect the pill would not be fatal. This weekend shows Taiwan is full of surprises.