DEBATE OF THE WEEK: Is the tug-of-love over Taiwan threatening global peace?
IN THE NEWS: As China and the US compete for Taiwan’s attention, many fear that what they are actually flirting with is war.
As one proverb popular in both Taiwan and China goes: “Water can make a boat float, but it can also sink it.” These days Taiwan is in particularly rough waters.
The country, which separated from mainland China in 1949, has been on a tightrope for decades. It is a progressive, self-governing democracy, but has not officially declared independence.
China sees it as its own territory and threatens to bring it under Beijing’s governance, if necessary by force. The USA has long been a beacon of protection, pledging support if Taiwan is invaded — but its overtures to Taipei threaten to become a curse.
Now the two have become rivals for Taiwan’s affections, as the island is flattered by charm offensives from both sides. Taiwan’s President Tsai is paying a visit to US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California, whilst her predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, tours the Chinese mainland with the Communist Party of China.
Both visits have raised concerns. Some think Mr Ma’s China visit poses a threat to Taiwan’s sovereignty: in a speech in Nanjing, he stated that “the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are Chinese”, although recent surveys show that 60% of the island’s residents describe themselves as Taiwanese rather than Chinese.
And President Tsai’s US trip is also received with trepidation. When former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei last year, China responded by firing missiles over Taiwan and conducting huge military drills around the island. Many have misgivings that this could spark similar tensions.
For decades, Washington has been operating under a policy of “strategic ambiguity” — officially acknowledging Beijing’s “One China” principle whilst pledging support to Taiwan if it comes under military threat.
But many feel that Washington is moving closer to drawing a hard line on their allegiance to Taiwan and disrupting the delicate balance of peace in the region.
As hostilities in Sino-American relations intensify and China becomes closer to fellow US rivals such as Russia, the risk of war is already great. Some reference cyber-attacks and economic coercion as evidence that China’s offensive on Taiwan has already begun, whilst the US Congress has declared China an existential threat.
So, for some, the die are already cast. Surveys have shown that more than half of Taiwan believes that war with China is probable, and pundits suggest it could begin as soon as 2025. Such an invasion would definitely draw in the US, but probably Australia, Britain and Japan too. A World War could begin overnight.
And though Taiwan may seem slight in size, it would not be the first time conflict in a small region has caused a much larger domino effect. When Germany invaded the small and recently independent Belgium in 1914, the British government was forced to declare war, escalating the growing World War One.
Nor is it the only current territorial conflict causing shockwaves across larger regions. Other examples include Crimea, Abkhazia, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Northern Cyprus and Nagorno-Karabakh.
The US knows that its visits with Taiwan are a huge provocation to China. The critics are right when they say that it is irresponsible to continue them and puts us all at risk.
Taiwan maintaining relations with both the US and China is safeguarding global peace. In particular, strong diplomatic relations between the US and Taiwan are a vital factor in deterring China from invading the island.
“Tug-of-love” is the wrong way to describe what is happening. Both the US and China just want to subjugate Taiwan’s needs to their own self-interest — neither is a good option for Taiwan.
Taipei-The capital of Taiwan. House Speaker-The person who officially controls meetings of the US House of Representatives. They are a member of the party with the most seats. Sovereignty-The authority of a state to govern itself, or sometimes another state.