Taiwan Vulnerable to China’s Aggression
Commentary by Brad Bird
February 19, 2021
Consider Taiwan, the former Formosa, a tiny democratic and capitalist country that endures constant harassment from communist China, the third largest country in the world, a mere 90 miles away. For that matter, consider the 1.4 billion people of China who endure abuses and threats or face the ultimate cancellation by their own regime, as many have.
Living in a sub-tropical paradise, the mostly ethnic Chinese in Taiwan and the 14 islands of the Taiwan group have since 1949 fashioned a democratic-industrial-agricultural success story. When Gen. Chiang Kai-shek moved his nationalist government to Taiwan in 1949 after Mao Zedong’s victory in the civil war, the process of prosperity and industry truly began, with dictatorship eventually giving way to democracy.
The statistics are sanguine. Taiwan ended 2020 as Asia’s top-performing economy.
Taiwan’s statistics office pegs the nation’s economic growth in 2020 at 2.98 percent, which not only edges out China but also the 2.9-percent growth posted by Vietnam, which many had predicted would be Asia’s fastest-growing economy for the year.
A recent column by banker John Manning in International Banker magazine points out even more:
“The ongoing trade war between the United States and China is also playing a major role in Taiwan’s economic recovery. The Taiwan central bank recently acknowledged that the nature of U.S. trade policies towards China in large part explains why its trade surplus with the United States has been on the rise. The administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump had been particularly averse towards Chinese tech firms such as Huawei, whilst also expressing support for democratic Taiwan.”
He notes that both countries now view China with increasing concern.
There’s a downside here that should not go unnoticed. Its economic successes are making Taiwan a particularly appealing fruit to pick right now. China’s autocrats would dearly like to have this economic powerhouse performing for the Communist Party.
As I warned in this space on Jan. 1, this is among the most dangerous periods for the world since the collapse of the USSR. This is partly because of the perception that the United States has been wounded by a disputed election and the COVID-19 contagion, and partly because of the reality of President Joe Biden’s ambivalence on China. With Trump out of office, I believe Taiwan faces an imminent threat from the Chinese regime, which has never ceased to consider it a breakaway province that one day would return to the fold. By force, if necessary.
Consider recent developments that augur well for war, and poorly for peace. On Dec. 26, China’s National People’s Congress approved several amendments in its defense law, rubber-stamping leader Xi Jinping’s proposal of transferring powers for making the national defense policy from the State Council (which functions like a cabinet) to the Central Military Commission led by Xi himself.
A former ambassador, Yogesh Gupta of India, notes also in a recent article in The Tribune of Chandigarh that this puts the gun directly into Xi’s hands. Participation of other Politburo members, who might not be so hawkish on such matters as Taiwan, will now be excluded.
The question arises: Why has Xi centralized all powers in his person at this time? One answer could be that he is an old man who realizes his time is limited. For many years he has waited patiently for this moment, when American predominance in the world is clearly ebbing and its internal resolve visibly weakening, owing to the felicitous coincidence of a worldwide pandemic (spread from and by China) and the systematic undermining of liberal institutions by decades of Chinese infiltration, theft, spying, and corruption.
Now, the final piece is in place: a weak and allegedly personally compromised U.S. commander-in-chief, who through a series of foolish electoral changes to supposedly accommodate the aforesaid virus, i.e. mail-in ballots, managed to acquire enough Electoral College votes to take the presidency from the strong and capable Trump. God help us all, because this could get very messy very soon.
Xi has recently warned his armed forces to prepare for war. Hitler did the same prior to 1939. In fact the two political cultures share disconcerting features: both are fascist, race-based totalitarian systems; both are rooted in realism, meaning they embrace real politik or power politics, the belief that a stronger, better-prepared, and more daring state will win any international showdown over a lesser rival; both amassed military arsenals far in excess of what is needed for self-defense; and both took risks to “feel out” the democracies only to find them prone to appeasement—Hitler, with his demands for lands in the Rhineland and Czechoslovakia; Xi, with his aggression in the South China Sea.
China ended Hong Kong’s autonomy and fledgling democracy with hardly a whimper from the West. Since Biden’s inauguration, it has increased provocative military flights into Taiwan’s airspace. It abuses foreign nationals, including at least two Canadians, with imprisonment on what are widely seen as false charges in retaliation for legal action against Chinese citizens. It’s now poised to take Taiwan by force or threat of force.
The tiny tiger of a state may soon face its worst nightmare—and the question is an open one whether the West will lift a finger to help.
Brad Bird is an award-winning reporter and editorial writer based in British Columbia who has a masters degree in political studies. He has reported on conflicts abroad since 1987, most recently the fighting in eastern Ukraine.