As the Russian invasion of Ukraine turned into a quagmire, the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit — a meeting of defense ministers and security experts from more than 40 countries — got under way in Singapore.
The meeting focused on security in Asia and the Indo-Pacific region, and lessons from the Russo-Ukraine war, which included urging China to publicly condemn Russia’s invasion.
In his keynote address at the summit, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida could not have put it better: “I myself have a strong sense of urgency that Ukraine today may be East Asia tomorrow.”
Judging from the speeches and interactions between leaders, China is no doubt the root of Asia’s security problem.
“In the East China Sea, where Japan is located, unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force in violation of international law are continuing,” Kishida said.
In his criticism, he implied that China has been trying to impose unilateral claims in the South China Sea, and reiterated that “peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, which is located between these two seas, is also of extreme importance.”
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin put it in even more blunt terms, saying that China is orchestrating a “steady increase in provocative and destabilizing military activity near Taiwan,” including almost daily military flights near the nation.
“Maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait isn’t just a US interest. It’s a matter of international concern,” he added.
The reason that every country sees China as the public enemy is well founded. China’s bullying of Taiwan — such as by sending military planes into the its air defense identification zone and efforts to isolate it from the international community — has only incurred ill feeling in the global community.
In the US-Japan-Republic of Korea Trilateral Ministerial Meeting, the countries’ top diplomats emphasized the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and said in a joint statement that they were “strongly opposed to any destabilizing or coercive unilateral actions that seek to alter the status quo and increase tensions in the area.”
In the US-Japan-Australia Trilateral Defense Ministers’ Meeting, the countries’ top defense officials were concerned with the cross-strait relationship, underscoring “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” and encouraging “the peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues.”
Leaders across Asia have unanimously agreed on the same stance following a statement last month by US President Joe Biden, who said that China is “flirting with danger” over Taiwan and vowed that the US would intervene militarily to protect the nation if it were to be attacked.
Even though China has claimed that Taiwan concerns its “core interests,” the nation’s security has become a global concern.
The Shangri-La Dialogue underscored that not only does China pose a threat to Taiwan, it is also a menace to other countries in the Indo-Pacific region.
Aside from Austin’s accusation of China’s muscle flexing in international waters and airspace, Australia and Canada have also accused Beijing of harassing their patrol aircrafts and intercepting their surveillance planes in the Western Pacific. New Zealand has shown its concern toward China’s expansionist moves in the South Pacific as well.
Even more, Bloomberg on Monday reported that Chinese military officials had said that “the Taiwan Strait is not international waters,” increasing concern in the Biden administration.
It is apparent that Beijing has turned a deaf ear to global denunciation of its attempts to militarize the South China Sea and treat it as an inland sea, and it is seeking to reprise its playbook in the Taiwan Strait.
China’s unbridled rise has put other countries around the world on alert, and just as the Russia-Ukraine war has awakened a sleeping Europe, countries are now taking measures in response.
Japan earlier this month announced that it would station an active-duty military officer as an adviser in Taiwan for the first time, a decision reportedly made by former Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga in consultation with the US, and one that underscores Japan’s strong sense of crisis in the Taiwan Strait.
The move is firmly within Japan’s security interests and is unlikely to be changed, despite China’s inevitable objections.
Similarly, US Department of State Counselor Derek Chollet in an interview with The Associated Press published on Friday last week said that the US has made progress in its efforts to contain China in the Asia-Pacific region, including the signing of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework announced in Tokyo last month by 13 countries, which account for about 40 percent of global GDP.
At the same time, Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) went on a tour to 10 South Pacific countries to promote a regional cooperation agreement with China, but returned with his tail between his legs.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy also spoke through teleconference at the Singapore summit, saying that the international community must use pre-emptive measures to prevent conflict.
The Washington Post interpreted this as Kyiv’s strongest statement to date in support of Taiwan, even though Zelenskiy did not specifically name China.
In addition, in his op-ed titled “What America will and will not do in Ukraine” in the New York Times late last month, Biden wrote that the US would continue to assist Ukraine so that it can have the strongest possible position when it enters negotiations.
Taiwan is China’s first target of annexation, and the interference, threats, intimidation, suppression and infiltration Taiwan is exposed to are too numerous to be cited. China’s ban on Taiwanese grouper imports is just the latest example.
Taiwan has conducted tests at the farms Beijing accuses of producing tainted grouper and submitted its findings — that there were no such impurities — to China, but Beijing has yet to respond, which is not only rude and unreasonable, it also flies in the face of international trade conventions.
As Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) has said, this approach is typical of the Chinese Communist Party, which often steals or pirates technology, and then uses it against those who created it. Doing business with China just gives it more ammunition it might use to attack.
Faced with a hostile neighbor such as this, Taiwan should continue to internationalize the issue of security in the Taiwan Strait, seeking mutual assistance from other countries, and strengthening mutual trust and cooperation with its security partners to resist China’s ambitions to annex the nation. Most importantly, all this has to come from Taiwan.
The Ukraine war has made the world see that others will help those who help themselves and that it is vital to stand up to the enemy before relying on outside forces to lend their support.
This being the case, Taiwan must increase its national defense budget, and effectively reallocate military expenditure to reinforce its asymmetric warfare capabilities and demonstrate to the world that it is willing to defend itself.
At the same time, pro-China forces in Taiwan continue to misrepresent friend and foe, and sing Beijing’s tune from this side of the Strait, sending a false impression to the international community. Anti-US elements in Taiwan, and those with enmity toward Japan, are deep down pro-China.
Before becoming British prime minister, Winston Churchill said about the infamous “appeasement” of Hitler by his predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, that “between shame and war, we have chosen shame, and we will get war.”
Similarly, Taiwan should be under no illusions about prostrating itself to China in the hopes of securing peace: Such an endeavor is doomed from the start.
Translated by Rita Wang and Paul Cooper
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