Is Taiwan the next Crimea?
Is Russian President Vladimir Putin trying to recreate a Russian empire of sorts?
After waiting for the Sochi Winter Olympics to end, Putin waltzed into the Ukraine to take over the Crimean Peninsula. US President Barack Obama’s seemingly feeble response to this — carefully worded to omit any reference to protecting Ukraine from a Russian invasion — has left many shaking their heads and wondering about Putin’s imperial ambitions. After all, the invasion violates an agreement that the US and the UK are party to.
Having taken any military option off the table, Obama has left only sanctions and diplomacy as solutions, basically hoping to “unring the bell” in Crimea — good luck with that.
Clearly, even if Russia withdraws, it will come out ahead from this episode, which will undoubtedly include compromising Crimea’s integrity and independence in some way, such as with a port agreement or some form of regional autonomy.
Moscow has been playing chess in world politics since Putin began flexing his imperial muscles in Georgia, Crimea, Iran, Syria, China, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, the Middle East and anywhere else where it can act as an obstacle to Washington. It is just like old times, despite Obama’s statement before the last US election that the Cold War was long over.
Obama does not play chess; he is content to color in his “The World is Singing Together” coloring book. Pundits say that the world is united against Russia on the crisis in Ukraine.
Many have said that China, which strongly defends its territorial integrity, will bridle at Russia’s foray into the peninsula. However, Beijing is probably keenly watching Washington’s response, measuring just how committed the US is to helping an ally whose territory is being invaded and annexed by another power based on the thin justification of “protecting its citizens in that country from aggression.”
The Chinese military leaders looking at Taiwan and licking their lips will draw strong parallels between the situation in the Ukraine and across the Taiwan Strait. Crimea is a highly strategic strip of land blocking Russian access to the sea that acts more or less like a cork.
Taiwan is in a similar position. It is essentially the most important aircraft carrier in the world, since it not only blocks China’s access to the open sea and its imperial intentions, but also serves as a free and democratic reminder to the totalitarian regime in Beijing that ethnic Chinese and Taiwanese can have a democratic government, human rights and live under the rule of law.
Yet there are those in Taiwan who consider themselves part of China and would welcome the nation’s annexation, just as Russia appears to have done to Crimea. The parallel is more than just a little scary.
Far from criticizing Russia’s foray, China will stand back and say nothing, watching with interest how the situation plays out and perhaps moving its chess pieces around as a result.
Moscow plays chess, and so does Beijing. Washington needs to toss out Obama’s coloring book and sustain its ability to prevent, meet and counter unwarranted and unbridled aggression in concert with NATO, the EU, its international allies and the UN. Obama has given every indication over the past six years that he has no stomach for contact sport. This has encouraged adventurers such as Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and others to flex their muscles.
The US does not need to use its military might to curb these shows of strength, it just needs to put this power on the chess board and make other players believe in the consequences — economic or otherwise — they may face if they cross the “red lines” that Obama is fond of mentioning, but which have never materialized.
Russia’s violation of its 1994 treaty with the Ukraine, US and UK should be one such line. What will the rest of the world think if Putin blithely violates the pact as though treaties with the US mean nothing, and Obama discusses it with reporters like he is analyzing soup?
Taiwanese should watch what unfolds in Crimea and the Ukraine with keen interest. It could be the writing on the wall for the nation. Under present conditions, there is little assurance from the US that it will not stand idly by and watch as China waltzes into Taipei. As with Crimea, that would be a very difficult bell to unring.
Los Angeles, California