While the world recoils in horror at what is transpiring in Ukraine and wondering whether China is taking notes on what lies ahead for another potential conflict, I want to offer a brief word of worry about a possible target of Chinese aggression.
It sits off the China coast. Taiwan has been a thriving nation of its own since 1949, when Chiang kai-Shek’s government set up shop in Taipei after losing a bloody civil war with the communists.
China wants Taiwan back. It has been threatening to take the island nation back ever since the end of the conflict on the mainland. Whether Russia succeeds in its effort to subdue Ukraine could spell a heap of trouble for China and for Taiwan.
My interest in Taiwan is personal. I have been there five times, starting in 1989. I returned in 1994, in 1999, 2007 and 2010. My first visit came at the end of a grueling three-week tour of Southeast Asia. Taiwan was still under martial law. It lifted the martial law between my first and second visits.
The country is as independent from China these days as it possibly could be … except that it hasn’t declared its independence. It dare not make the declaration, as it would enrage the communists on the mainland to the point of launching an invasion of their own to retake the island.
Taiwan’s population now consists almost entirely of people who were born there. Few Taiwanese have any direct tie to China. The country is a thriving democracy. Taiwan is an economic powerhouse. It also possesses a stout military apparatus that benefits from a defense agreement with the United States.
To be clear, Taiwan has few diplomatic allies, in that the world recognizes only “one China.” That happens to be the one that governs in Beijing. However, the reality is that even though Taiwan once was part of China, it now considers itself to be a separate nation. Yes, it is a curious and complicated matter that cannot be solved easily and cleanly.
I cannot pretend to know how this will play out. President Biden has been talking extensively with Chinese leaders since war broke out in Ukraine. I keep hearing that Biden has persuaded the Chinese to stay out of the Russia-Ukraine fight; that it shouldn’t send arms to Russia. That suits me just fine.
If the Ukrainians somehow can broker an end to the fighting without Russia marching into Kyiv, then there could be some hope that China would have to rethink whatever aspirations it has about taking Taiwan back in a fight to the finish.
Believe this, too: Taiwan will fight like hell for their country just as Ukrainians are fighting for theirs.
It all still brings cause for worry.