Tweets and texts were popping all over the place on Wednesday. Not only were China’s economic experts surprised -- but their leaders were actually satisfied.
China’s economy had just rebounded quite strongly, as the country reopened after its full-stop COVID shutdown. February’s numbers showed China’s manufacturing sector registered its largest growth in a decade.
So, this may be a good time to remind China’s President Xi Jinping of something I warned him about just 15 months ago.
And way more importantly, this may be the perfect time to suggest that he consider a totally new way of approaching his ever-tense relations with that certain large island just off China’s coast.
In December 2021, as Russia was menacingly massing troops near Ukraine's borders, I began a column by cautioning: “In his quest to make his country the undisputed leader of the global economy, China’s President Xi Jinping can learn a lot from his next-door neighbor, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Not about what to do, but about what not to do.”
As faithful readers may recall, I was one of many who warned that after Putin invaded that sovereign nation, he would soon be condemned as an international pariah.
Putin ordered his generals give each soldier invading Ukraine a book Putin authored, titled: “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians.” It ended with the proud author’s four words of inspiration: “We are one people.”
Then Putin sent his troops to commit blatant war crimes against those “one people” -- by relentlessly bombing, blasting and otherwise slaughtering thousands upon thousands of those Ukrainian men, women, children, infants and elderly.
It is against that backdrop of immorality that China’s President Xi has been having his troops send all sorts of militarily aggressive signals at ships and planes in international waters and airspace around Taiwan. China experts have been all atwitter on Twitter on whether Xi really intends to invade and conquer the independent, self-governing island of Taiwan. Xi would probably ignite a massive multinational effort to defend Taiwan. He might win militarily. But he would become forever an international pariah -- and he’d never be a leader of the global economy.
But Putin’s book -- from front cover to closing inspiration -- gets us to the very thing we want to suggest to President Xi today. Beginning with Richard Nixon’s opening of talks with Mao Zedong, and then Jimmy Carter’s diplomatic relations pact with Deng Xiaoping, China, the United States and yes, even Taiwan, all agreed to say there is just one China -- and Taiwan is a part of it.
So now we have reached the point where we will make a proposal directly to the one individual who is clearly key to the fate of Taiwan and its population.
President Xi, your pal Putin may well have unintentionally given us the concept that could give you the essential successes you crave -- without a wartime shot being fired. We aren’t talking about Putin the iron-fisted autocrat, but Putin the author.
Here we must rewind to the creation of the one-China policy. We all know what that meant, in terms of land and governance. But essentially, one China can also be defined in terms of humanity. As that author wrote: “We are one people.”
China is, at its essence, one people -- the people of China. They live on the mainland and they live on the island of Taiwan. Each governs its territory in its own way; but here too there can be a workaround.
Suppose, President Xi, you proposed that the people of China, living on the mainland and the island, agree that their representatives will sign a letter of understanding. Suppose that the letter provides that the Chinese people in both the mainland and on the island agree to have most favored national relations and exchanges on commercial trade, and also in all other matters: cultural exchanges, Olympic teams and even professional and collegiate sports teams, and so on.
And suppose that letter of understanding makes clear that, along with the free flowing trade and cultural exchanges among the Chinese people, no military or other organizations from either of these locations of the Chinese people will ever threaten, menace or attack the other.
Then, President Xi, you would be free to build toward your future leadership of the global economy.
What, here, is not to like?
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. -- Ed.
(Tribune Content Agency)