analysis: After Nancy Pelosi's visit and China's missiles, a peaceful 'resolution' in the Taiwan Strait is further away than ever

China has continued air combat exercises around Taiwan for a fifth day and foreshadowed “routine” drills closer to the island in future, as part of an unprecedented military response to the visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week. 

After firing missiles over and near Taiwan and deploying jets and warships, Beijing is now scheduled to ease off the large-scale military exercises.

The tension will now shift from the sea and airspace around Taiwan to the diplomatic arena.

So far, Beijing looks like it's made some long-term strategic progress in recent days. 

There was no strong US naval presence near Taiwan to monitor and deter China's military and the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force broke new records for the number of flights it made towards the island. 

All of this would appear to show the Chinese forces venturing ever closer without much pushback.

The PLA's navy has claimed it came within 12 kilometres of Taiwan's east coast for the first time, too, which Taiwan's military disputes. 

Despite failing to deter Nancy Pelosi from visiting Taiwan in the first place, China's government is now hailing these military achievements among “10 breakthroughs” from its response. 

analysis:  After Nancy Pelosi's visit and China's missiles, a peaceful 'resolution' in the Taiwan Strait is further away than ever

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen during a trip to the island last week. (AP: Taiwan Presidential Office)

Others include drills off the east side of the island to “block the escape path of the Taiwan separatists”, by which Beijing means the democratically elected government. 

However, overall, many of the same old dynamics that have defined the “Taiwan question” for decades are more firmly entrenched than ever. 

And at the heart of the problem is that the views of the Taiwanese themselves remain largely irrelevant to Beijing's perspective. 

A decades-old pledge for a 'peaceful resolution' 

Over the past week, Chinese officials and their state media spokespeople have continually claimed that the US is violating its own One China Policy and commitments it made in a series of decades-old communiqués. 

However, the US view is that China is increasingly breaching its pledge, made in the same documents, to seek a peaceful resolution, fuelling a spiralling cycle of actions from both sides. 

Reading back through the documents, it's clear that, in the 1970s and 80s, China's leaders thought they likely wouldn't need to fight a war to take control of Taiwan. 

While never ruling out military means, Beijing continually pledged to seek peaceful reunification with Taiwan through a mixture of persuasion and pressure.

analysis:  After Nancy Pelosi's visit and China's missiles, a peaceful 'resolution' in the Taiwan Strait is further away than ever

China's military says its drills are focusing on testing long-range air and ground strikes, which could reach Taipei. (ABC News: Mitch Woolnough)

If tension abated, the US pledged to scale down its arms sales to the island.

An offer of “One Country, Two Systems”, similar to what Beijing granted people in Hong Kong, was the carrot. 

Military sabre-rattling and diplomatic pressure was the stick. 

The aim was to weaken morale and scare off the Americans so the Taiwanese would find themselves isolated, internationally marginalised and seeing no hope but to accept a peaceful Communist takeover. 

But it hasn't worked out that way. 

What do the people of Taiwan want? 

That US commitment on reducing arms sales never happened because, in the eyes of successive American governments, Beijing has failed to create conditions conducive to the “thorough settlement” of the issue.

And those conditions, in large part, haven't occurred because the people of Taiwan can express their own views, a dramatically different situation to the 1970s and 80s, when a dictatorship still claiming to be China's rightful government ran the island. 

Since China's strongman leader Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, Taiwanese voters at successive presidential elections have chosen, by landslide, a government that rejects Beijing's relentless pressure for closer ties on China's terms. 

Somehow, the idea of their children in future studying “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”, “Xi Jinping Thought” and using a heavily censored internet that's largely cut off from the world doesn't appeal to most Taiwanese. 

The US — not so much through its continuing arms sales but more through the high-level government contact, such as Nancy Pelosi's visit — is, Beijing argues, hollowing-out its stated commitment to its One China policy. 

analysis:  After Nancy Pelosi's visit and China's missiles, a peaceful 'resolution' in the Taiwan Strait is further away than ever

Over the years, the number of people who identify themselves as Chinese and Taiwanese has declined. (ABC News: Mitch Woolnough )

However, like Australia, the US has never recognised Taiwan as part of the People's Republic.

Instead, it merely acknowledges that this is China's position, deliberately leaving itself some wriggle room. 

And, unlike Beijing's static view of historical documents, Washington's ambiguous position to this day better reflects the reality that Taiwan itself has changed. 

A yearly survey by Taiwan's National Chengchi University that began in the early 1990s shows a decline in the number of people who, at the very least, identify as being both Taiwanese and Chinese. 

From a peak of 49 per cent in 1996 to just 30 per cent now, it's only part of the headache for China's government. 

Those who simply say they're “Taiwanese” has steadily increased from below one-fifth of the population to 63 per cent in the most recent survey. 

Those who say they're just “Chinese” are at a record-low of 2.4 per cent of respondents. 

The trend is clear.

Xi isn't winning hearts and minds

Just as with Hong Kong, the Chinese government's inability to reflect on why people it doesn't rule are so reluctant to become part of the People's Republic is a core factor driving the risk of conflict. 

Having watched Hong Kong's political and speech freedoms get crushed by Xi last year, the “One Country, Two Systems” offer looks less appealing than ever before. 

Chairman Xi is set to be given another five years in power  — at least  — later this year.

analysis:  After Nancy Pelosi's visit and China's missiles, a peaceful 'resolution' in the Taiwan Strait is further away than ever

Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Joe Biden against “playing with fire” over Taiwan before Nancy Pelosi landed on the island. (Reuters: Darrin Zammit Lupi )

And there's little sign from Beijing of an approach that better tries to woo the hearts and minds of Taiwan's 23 million people, if China is still intent on peacefully seizing control of them.

Ignoring the will of the voters and continually writing off the governments they choose as “Taiwan separatist forces” who “are doomed to fail” isn't cutting through. 

Even the head of the opposition KMT party — which Beijing still pins its hopes on as the more friendly side of Taiwan's political spectrum — voiced support for Nancy Pelosi's visit and chided Beijing's militaristic response, overruling some within his party who opposed the US House Speaker's visit. 

However, as China's ambassador to the US, Qin Gang, put it in a Washington Post opinion piece: “The Taiwan question is about China's sovereignty and unity — not democracy.”

While he urged the US to respect the view of “1.4 billion” Chinese people, it's Beijing's unwillingness to respect the view of the Taiwanese that makes for such a bleak outlook. 

After all, they have the most to lose — or gain, from the Communist Party's perspective.

If only it could convince them. 

analysis:  After Nancy Pelosi's visit and China's missiles, a peaceful 'resolution' in the Taiwan Strait is further away than ever

China has never recognised Taiwan's government and has set a deadline of 2049 for unification with the mainland. (ABC News: Mitch Woolnough)

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