The world is a dangerous place. With Russia announcing a new generation of “invincible” intercontinental cruise missiles, heightened tensions over North Korea’s nuclear provocations and China’s boisterous behavior in the region, national defense remains a priority everywhere.
Taiwan’s predicament is exacerbated by China’s refusal to concede that the nation has the right to defend itself, or that it is indeed a nation.
Russia continues to push territorial boundaries, stoking concerns in Europe. North Korea has threatened the US, South Korea and Japan. Who would have concerns about Taiwan having expansionist ambitions? Which country fears an attack by Taiwan?
Ministry of National Defense spokesman Chen Chung-ji (陳中吉) on Tuesday reiterated the government’s pledge to increase defense spending every year. Only a country that harbors ill will toward Taiwan would find this cause for concern.
He said that Taiwan would continue to purchase foreign-made weapons and develop domestic weapons to “satisfy the needs of defensive warfare and assure the security of Taiwan.” Which country would argue with that?
He said the objective is “to maintain regional stability and peace.” Why would that be taken as anything more than a noble aspiration?
Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and National People’s Congress (NPC) spokesman Zhang Yesui (張業遂) took a similar postition on Sunday.
“China proceeds from a defense policy that is defensive in nature. China’s development will not pose a threat to other countries,” he said.
Again, which country could criticize that?
Well, first, few governments believe him. His words betray conceit: China’s defense policy is defensive in nature. The clue is in the name.
There is a reason that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing to expand his country’s right to engage in military activities, and why his attempts to remove constraints in Japan’s post-war pacifist constitution are winning increased support at home.
North Korea’s recent missile flyovers served to bolster his resolve, but they did not start it. China’s increased provocations on territorial claims in the region played a large role in spurring Abe in this direction.
Second, for Taiwan the larger problem is in Zhang’s “assurance” that China’s development will not pose a threat “to other countries.”
China does not consider Taiwan to be a country.
Under pressure from Beijing, there are few countries in the world that do not go at least partly along with this delusion, by paying lip service to the “one China” principle. Beijing criticizes any government dealing with Taipei in any official capacity, accusing them of interfering in its domestic affairs.
So let us suspend belief for a second and enter the delusion. Where else in the world would a government promulgate laws legitimizing military offensives against its own people, place missiles directed at an area populated by its own people or routinely hold military drills overtly preparing to attack its own people, and not be met with international condemnation?
In January, the US House of Representatives passed the Taiwan Travel Act, which would allow for visits between high-ranking Taiwanese and US officials. The US Senate passed the bill last week. It still requires US President Donald Trump’s signature to be made law, but the US is to be commended for taking this step.
While perhaps a small concession, the bill is important because it implies recognition of Taiwan’s autonomy and because any progress in international relations for Taiwan is necessarily incremental, given Beijing’s anger at the slightest change.
Zhang can say that China presents no danger to other countries. Like any other nation, China has the right to develop the capability to defend itself.
However, do not for a second believe that “other countries” was meant to include Taiwan.
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