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All Eyes on Ukraine and Taiwan
As Ukraine puts up a stiff fight, Taiwan will inevitably be forced to consider what a real fight for survival entails – basically, everything you've got.
War in Ukraine, a Remembered Uprising in Taiwan
I was tempted not to post at all today – why? Sympathy, solidarity, brother- sisterhood with Ukraine? All that, but the news cycle stops for no one and the Ukraine tragedy doesn’t stop at Ukraine.
Almost on that note – at least with eyes in Taiwan focused on Ukraine – today is the 75th anniversary of Taiwan’s February 28 incident.
Seventy-two years after Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’s forces massacred more than 20,000 Taiwanese in ‘the February 28th Incident’, Taiwan is in the midst of an unacknowledged revolution.
You will not find the Taiwanese Revolution named in history books or identified in newspapers. Indeed, it is assumed that this revolution has yet to occur – or rather that it never will. Yet to occur, because there is no internationally-accepted Taiwanese Republic and never to occur, because the leaders of the People’s Republic of China may use military force to prevent it from happening.
Lev Nachman has an excellent Twitter thread on the so-called 228 Incident, which ushered in 38 years of Kuomintang martial law. The thread includes a host of informative links, including a thoughtful retrospective, “Martial law to mosh pit; Taiwan’s path to freedom” by Taiwan-based journalist Chris Horton.
Former Taiwan KMT prime Minister Ma Ying-jeou is just one Taiwan influencer who would have us believe events in Europe spell doom in Northeast Asia and we’re all just sucking up China-will-never-invade-Taiwan “hopium” if we think the US will lend a hand.
Not everyone agrees. Focus Taiwan writes that the Ukraine conflict is most of all a reminder that being prepared is being prepared.
A full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia has provided a good lesson to Taiwan, indicating that an emphasis on the regular training of military reservists will be key for a country to take on a military intrusion, a Ministry of National Defense (MND) think tank said Saturday.
In a video released on its YouTube channel, the Institute for the National Defense and Security Research (INDSR) analyzed the ongoing war waged by Russia against Ukraine, pointing to the importance of the training of military reservists to fend off enemies during an invasion.
For years, Taiwan has debated the preparedness of its military and its reservists and the outcomes are rarely encouraging. This Business Insider write up is just another of many flapping, singed pages in a hot wind on a plain of print, fretting that when push comes to shove, Taiwan won’t shove back, or at least not hard enough.
Long-time Taiwan-head Michael Turton says:
Unlike Ukraine, whose decades were frittered away, we still have time. That means we need to stop the reassuring talk about how Taiwan is different and start more realistic talk right now: that China is coming so all the takes, hot or calm, are irrelevant. We need to not only talk about Taiwan to others in a way that summons more support to it, but we also need to be talking to Taiwan’s leaders and its people about preparing for the coming calamities.
Wait, Did We Just Tick a Go-Ahead on a War?
The Economist has been wondering whether Xi Jinping regrets throwing China’s weight behind Russia.The conclusion is probably not that much, but Xi would almost surely have preferred Putin didn’t opt for all-out war.
On February 4th Mr Putin came to Beijing for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics. That day he and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, issued a joint statement that signaled the countries’ strongest ties for 70 years. There were “no limits” to the friendship between the two countries, the statement said, and “no ‘forbidden’ areas of co-operation”. It held up the two authoritarian powers as the true guarantors of “genuine democracy”, while deriding unnamed countries for seeking to impose their “democratic standards” on others. Crucially China, for the first time, joined Russia in opposing further expansion of nato, buttressing Mr Putin’s demand that Ukraine be kept out of the alliance. As Russian troops were massing on Ukraine’s border, Mr Xi was binding himself more closely to Mr Putin. Will he regret that choice now that war has broken out?
But he has cast his lot with Russia, and probably believes he will not pay too heavy a price. China can be expected to abstain from any un resolutions condemning Russia, as it did in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea. And as they have done in the past, Chinese diplomats will call for an end to the hostilities on all sides, rather than singling out Russian aggression. Indeed on February 24th Ms Hua took issue with a journalist’s use of the term “invasion” to describe events in Ukraine.
But war it is and The Economist – and others – suspect that Xi figures he can live with it:
Mr Xi may feel comfortable about showing solidarity with Mr Putin because any Western sanctions imposed on Russia will probably have only limited effects on its economic relationship with China … China will find plenty of ways to keep business flowing. Huawei, a Chinese telecoms giant, should be able to sell 5g technology to Russia, whereas Ericsson and Nokia, two Western competitors, may be locked out. China’s development banks can lend to Russian enterprises with less fear of running afoul of financial sanctions targeting commercial lending. And the two countries have steadily reduced their reliance on the dollar to settle trade, part of Russia’s efforts to insulate itself from American sanctions.
It may not, as most suspect Xi thinks, be a disaster – or at least not a disaster that can’t be managed – but the Great Decoupling is now more than mere talk. Sides are being taken. They will continue to be taken. That’s how wars tend to mercurially insinuate themselves into places far from where they started.
Of course, in the case of China’s dilemma, it may be, as the Wall Street Journal suggests, that China is genuinely flailing to find a solid position on Putin’s designs after weeks of bad calls:
For weeks, China’s foreign-policy establishment dismissed a steady stream of warnings from the U.S. and its European allies about a pending Russian invasion, and instead blamed Washington for hyping the Russian threats.
Now, China is trying to regain its balance after making a calculation that could seriously undermine a position it has tried to build for itself as a global leader and advocate for developing nations.
As late as this week, with signs looming of an impending invasion, when a well-connected foreign-policy scholar in China gave a talk to a group of worried Chinese investors and analysts, he titled the speech “A War That Won’t Happen.”
Abe and ambiguity
Nikkei Asia broke the story, I think, but former Japanese prime minister Abe Shinzo was at it again over the weekend, arguing that the US should drop its strategic ambiguity position on Taiwan.
Asked whether he thought China would, like Russia, use unilateral force to change the status quo of Taiwan, Abe reasserted what he said last year: “If Taiwan has a problem, then Japan also has a problem.”
Discussing the US policy towards Taiwan’s defense, Abe said, “The US should end strategic ambiguity” and that it is necessary to clearly articulate its intention to defend Taiwan.
Strategic ambiguity theoretically ups risk adversity for China in an attempted invasion of Taiwan by the US not outright announcing it would fight with Taiwan to defend it. Pressure on the US to commit to Taiwan’s defense has been increasing for years; the Ukraine debacle will only intensify that debate.
If you’re really interested in the strategic ambiguity issue and what’s known as the Shanghai Communique, involving Nixon, Kissinger, Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai – what a cast of characters – this backgrounder by the South China Morning Post is not bad.
Taiwan’s chip behemoth TSMC has announced it will be no longer exporting chips to Russia:
The assumption is that Russia will get them via China.
Hong Kong appears poised to abandon its Zero Covid policy, as cases broke through a record of more than 34,000, reports Bloomberg, overwhelming an underprepared healthcare system.
This rapid erosion of core Covid Zero practices shows the difficulty of maintaining an approach that seeks to wipe out the virus when faced with more infectious strains like omicron.
Hong Kong reported a record 34,466 new cases on Monday and 87 deaths, making the outbreak much bigger than any the zero-tolerance approach pioneered by China has ever quelled. Hospitals are inundated and the city’s morgues are nearly full, with bodies of those who died from Covid left in emergency wards and hallways.
You mean it’s not the US invading Russia? China’s social media is probably more full of junk than our own, as the New York Times is reporting:
The Times notes:
Its users have called him ‘Putin the Great,’ ‘the best legacy of the former Soviet Union’ and ‘the greatest strategist of this century.’ They have chastised Russians who protested against the war, saying they had been brainwashed by the United States.
Mr. Putin’s speech on Thursday, which essentially portrayed the conflict as one waged against the West, won loud cheers on Chinese social media. Many people said they were moved to tears. “If I were Russian, Putin would be my faith, my light,” wrote @jinyujiyiliangxiaokou, a user of the Twitter-like platform Weibo.
As the world overwhelmingly condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Chinese internet, for the most part, is pro-Russia, pro-war and pro-Putin.
It’s something else, it’s significant, but the Chinese internet is not China – it’s no more China than the Chinese Communist Party is China. Just expect things to get weirder. It’s the one thing you can count on.
Book Review: Comrade Ambassador: Whitlam's Beijing Envoy
The book came out in 2015 to some critical acclaim Down Under, and it’s only aged insofar as Australia has wised up some to China, and many Australians today don’t necessarily jive with FitzGerald’s touchy-feely love affair with China’s “Liberation” and its subsequent unique journey to modernity.
This did resonate with some Australians at the time, though. The money quote is right there in the lede by a fawning Sydney Morning Herald release review, which declares FitzGerald’s book is:
Not not so much about China but the opening of Australian minds to possibilities beyond their Anglo-American orientation.
Yes, very nice. But how does this opening of minds, this revelation of non-Anglo-American possibilities resonate with the Great Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward, which between them eliminated tens of millions of Chinese? It’s China? They do things differently there?
FitzGerald, who was with Whitlam establishing diplomatic relations with the Great Helmsman in 1973, thinks everyone but himself is an Asian skeptic. Writes the Herald:
He castigates Howard for his sly racism, Rudd for his deceptively superficial understanding of China, and Gillard as an innocent abroad, happier in a school classroom than at an international conference. He notes the deeply conflicted approaches of recent Australian policy papers on defense and foreign policy, especially towards the United States and China.
Before the deal was done with the Communists, FitzGerald writes:
I know the Australian Government wanted relations with the Nationalists [the KMT rulers of Taiwan] because of our relationship with the United States and its fundamental anti-communist stance. But the British, who were no less in the anti-communist camp, had an embassy in Beijing and a consulate in Taiwan accredited to the Provincial Government, yet hadn’t lent themselves to the KMT delusion that it was the government of China. My problem with Canberra was that it accepted this Nationalist position, and moreover was an active advocate for it, supporting their membership of the United Nations and other international forums, and blocking the government that had effective control of China. I thought Australia’s China policy was illogical, delusional, and unsustainable.”
Nothing really has changed. FitzGerald’s much-despised KMT was voted out of power in 2000 and Taiwan has subsequently become arguably the most democratic and enlightened country in the region. Australia’s China policy remains, as FitzGerald put it, ‘illogical, delusional, and unsustainable.’ Schmoozing with Mao and Co will ultimately be judged by history as politically naive – but then again, everyone else was doing it, most of them still are with the heirs of the Long-Marchers.
Putin just cannot stop laughing his ass off at Xi. Xi takes it graciously, assuming he has a clue what’s going on.