Like a pack of bloodthirsty wolves, China’s military is launching marauding incursions against Taiwan in an increasingly reckless manner.
In the past few months, Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) fighters, heavy bombers and reconnaissance aircraft have been harassing Taiwan’s southwestern air defense identification zone on a near daily basis, often in packs of 10 or more.
Earlier this month, the PLA Navy dispatched the Liaoning aircraft carrier group to conduct a simulated blockade of Taiwan in the waters off the nation’s east coast.
On Monday last week, the PLA Navy issued a statement confirming the carrier group’s presence and rubbed Taiwanese noses further in the dirt by asserting that the drills were “routine” and that “similar exercises will be conducted regularly.”
In other words, Beijing intends to normalize these kinds of intrusive and aggressive exercises.
That China, under the leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), has rapacious designs on Taiwan should, at this juncture, be obvious.
Lined up on the opposing hilltop, Washington has characterized its support for Taiwan as “rock solid” and signaled its determination to push back against Chinese aggression.
To this end, US military aircraft and navy vessels continue to conduct frequent transits through the Taiwan Strait, and to hold naval exercises in nearby waters.
The US Senate has proposed a number of bills aimed at curtailing Chinese expansionism, the latest being the strategic competition act of 2021, approved by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday last week.
The proposed legislation aims to bolster the US’ ability to increase pressure on Beijing over areas of concern, including breaches of intellectual property rights, and human rights violations relating to Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang region.
The bill’s wording also reiterates the US’ strong support for Taiwan and calls for a strengthening of Taiwan’s defenses.
A Taiwan-US-China battlefront that stretches the length of the first island chain is playing out before people’s eyes.
There is no denying that, today, the Taiwan Strait is a powder keg waiting to explode — one misjudgement or accident away from escalating into a full-blown conflict.
Despite the palpable sense of danger, Taiwan’s stock market continues to rise and life goes on as normal, with cultural performances, sporting events and other activities unaffected.
During the past 12 months, as the COVID-19 pandemic has sown destruction across the globe and dark clouds have formed above the Strait, Taiwan feels like a parallel universe and an oasis of calm.
Taiwan’s response to the pandemic has won applause from around the world and shone a welcome spotlight on the nation.
Strictly speaking, during the past seven decades there have been just two major crises in the Taiwan Strait.
The first occurred not long after former president Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government retreated to Taiwan, while the second is unfolding now as China openly displays its ambition to annex Taiwan by means of military coercion, holding a near-constant succession of ostentatious and threatening “exercises.”
The threat today is no less severe than that faced by the Chiang regime. At the time, having lost the Chinese Civil War and been utterly routed by Chinese Communist Party forces, the nationalists withdrew to Taiwan, a natural stronghold protected by the Taiwan Strait.
After the Korean Peninsula erupted into civil war in 1950, policymakers in Washington were reawakened to Taiwan’s strategic importance and the US began to provide support to Taipei.
That support was effective in checking the communists’ agitation, and enabled the nationalists to hold the line and establish a permanent foothold in Taiwan.
Ruled by the authoritarian Chiang regime, Taiwan’s economy was on its knees following years of war and needed to be completely rebuilt.
During this time, Taiwan possessed neither an economic niche nor did it enjoy democratic values that could enable it to engender the support of democratic nations.
The US’ unflinching support for Taiwan as “free China” was purely a result of Cold War geopolitical considerations and cold political calculation.
At the time, Taiwan was on the front line of the US’ battle to roll back international communism. Washington believed that if it allowed the “unsinkable aircraft carrier” off China’s eastern seaboard to fall into the hands of the communists, it would risk unleashing a domino effect in the region, causing nations, one after the other, to turn “red.”
Today, the situation in the Strait is just as unstable, but the backdrop to today’s tensions could not be more different.
Unlike the highly militarized society of the 1950s, contemporary Taiwan is a prosperous nation that has enjoyed decades of peace and stability.
China today is a wholly different animal, too.
The second-largest economy in the world in possession of a powerful military, it is now in a position to impose its will on the world. To make matters worse, a nationalistic fever is sweeping across China. This adds up to a serious threat, not just to Taiwan and neighboring nations, but also to the entire free world.
At the end of the Cold War, Taiwan underwent a process of gradual democratization and desinicization, consolidating its unique, native identity distinct from China. Its 23 million inhabitants are today masters of their own destiny and no longer the chattels of a foreign colonial regime.
Taiwan’s democratic system of government, as well as its economy and trade networks, are tightly interwoven with the rest of the world.
The nation’s defense of its democracy, and its protections of human rights and other universal values have placed Taiwan on a trajectory with the rest of the developed world.
Taiwan is also a bastion of free trade and market economics, and its industrial development, particularly with respect to the global technology supply chain, has turned the nation into a central cog of today’s digitized global economy.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co’s pivotal position within the global semiconductor industry has thrown a protective blanket over the nation — a phenomenon that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into stark relief.
All of the above has led developed nations to the realization that they must stand together with Taiwan through thick and thin — that they cannot afford to stand on the sidelines and allow Taiwan to be bullied by China.
In other words, a just cause will attract a great deal of support, whether it is defined as geopolitical or strategic value, or the value of defending democracy and enlightenment.
Located at the heart of the first island chain, Taiwan has become a new defensive line in the battle to defend democracy and the global free-market economy.
This means that the nation will no longer have to single-handedly defend itself against China, albeit with lukewarm, intermittent assistance from the US, and will be able to attract many more allies than its nemesis on the other side of the Strait.
As for China, human rights, liberal values and enlightenment pose an existential threat to the Chinese Communist Party’s grip on power, so to survive it must actively oppose these universal values. This has created a peculiar inverse relationship whereby the more powerful China becomes, the less it will be able to achieve recognition and a favorable opinion from the rest of the world.
As an anti-China mood begins to sweep the globe, Beijing’s propaganda machine is peddling the myth to its people that a new “Eight Nation Alliance” of hostile nations is trying to push China around.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The backlash is a result of the Chinese Communist Party’s brand of digital totalitarianism; its Belt and Road export dumping initiative; its harassment and violation of the sovereignty of neighboring nations; its boast that it is intent on exacting revenge for what the party terms China’s “century of humiliation” and the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese people” through the establishment of a “red empire.”
Utterly ruthless toward his own people and a bully to weaker and smaller nations, Xi has succeeded in turning China into public enemy No. 1 of democratic and peaceful nations around the world.
Although Taiwan rarely receives the recognition it deserves, it has become an indispensable partner to the free world.
In contrast, China’s so-called “peaceful rise” has sadly not come to pass, and its ruling elite has chosen the path of aggression and global dominance.
Everywhere one looks, the malevolent countenances of China’s “wolf warrior” diplomats can be seen snapping and snarling at their prey. This is the reason why, despite China’s formidable power, it has failed to earn the world’s respect.
While China has clearly “stood up,” in the words of its former leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東), its ruling elite continue to manipulate historic humiliations and fan the flames of xenophobia to rationalize their wholesale rejection of civilized values and the rule of law.
The tempestuous situation in the Strait reflects the chasm between Taiwan’s and China’s governmental systems and societal values.
Taiwan has both feet firmly in the enlightenment camp, while China is on track to become the common enemy of almost all of the rest of the world.
Set to this backdrop, Taiwanese possess a high level of identification with their society and its values. Consequently, Taiwanese need not overly fear the hue and cry of the barbarians outside the gates, but should instead focus their attention on bedding down their democracy and further developing the economy.
Only then will Taiwan be able to attract many more allies to its decades-long struggle against the common enemy of the enlightened world.
Translated by Edward Jones
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