Just as the world entered the sixth month of the ongoing Ukraine war in Europe, the threat of another has exploded in Asia, featuring two nuclear powers dangerously saber-rattling over a coveted prize, a raging war of words and actions that threaten world peace, the Asian region as the new theater for possible war – and a non-independent territory being accorded international recognition and treated like a nation.
For over 72 years China-Taiwan matters were basically an ongoing internal affair on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait that divides the island from the mainland — and for just as long, successive elected administrations in the self-governed island of 25 million have harboured ideas and spoken of independence, but never formally pursued it.
Beijing has always insisted — since 1949 when Taiwan was occupied by Chiang Kai-Shek and the Kuomintang (KMT) fighters after losing the mainland war to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) — that it will always treat the island as an offshore province (like Hong Kong), never allow its rulers to declare independence — and would surely respond militarily to any move by other nations to treat the island as an independent nation.
The United Nations (UN) has recognized only One China since 1971; and today, while 188 nations recognize China, only 15 recognize Taiwan — more-than-half in the Caribbean and Central America and five in CARICOM.
But despite their largely politically based cross-strait historical, political and ideological differences, China and Taiwan have demonstrated, time and again (and especially between 2008 and 2016, under an elected KMT administration in Taipei) that they can not only peacefully coexist, but can also work and play together, engaging in fruitful bilateral trade, tourism, communications and other developmental exchanges, to their populations’ mutual benefits.
Indeed, most Taiwanese are Chinese of mainland origin and can trace their grandparents to neighboring Fujian Province, across the strait of water that divides them.
But since taking office in 2016, the ruling Democratic People’s Party (DPP) has reversed the eight years of friendly ties between Taipei and Beijing and pursued a hardline, hawkish position against Beijing, virtually ending the flourishing trade and tourism ties developed by both sides during the KMT’s two terms.
But today, six years later and thanks to latest efforts to elevate Taiwan’s international diplomatic status, the world has been brought to the brink of nuclear calamity.
China and Taiwan have too much at stake to want to appear weak, but the risks are too great; and Taiwan is counting completely on promised (and expected) military support from Washington – and hopefully other powerful states – to mount any resistance to China’s overwhelmingly-superior armed air and naval forces.
The missiles are flying around Taiwan and the world also faces another risk of another World War III, this time alongside Ukraine’s ongoing war.
Decades of diplomacy have given way to a new era of uncertainty that have led to an irreversible conflict between two nuclear powers unwilling to back down, no matter what.
Both contending superpowers face crucial elections of national import later this year and with respective accusations of ‘provocation’ and ‘over-reaction’, both sides are also being seen as willing to risk a global catastrophe on the altar of local politics.
Luck has prevailed and the world is still counting its Lucky Stars that nothing has led to direct clashes.
But the Planet’s future must not be determined by Luck and Chance, only and always by sober responses to stark realities that require determined actions and policies, including honouring mutual agreements, which both sides accuse each other of dishonouring.
The rest of the world will continue to debate whether the current situation could or should have been avoided, but nations large and small, near and far, have an added responsibility to avoid being dragged into taking sides in another distant and unwinnable war.
Nations of the world, including the Caribbean, have, for almost three years, had to contend with Food and Fuel price increases and greater levels of Global Food Insecurity.
Nations not directly involved therefore need to also examine their responses to this latest global crisis and avoid being lulled, by any side, to take a side in a dispute that none can influence the outcome of.
Beijing, Taipei and Washington will naturally expect, request or invite their diplomatic allies worldwide, including in CARICOM and the OECS, to take–side.
But, in this instance, it would be wiser for Caribbean nations to be guided by wise choices than instinctive knee-jerk reactions to usual disagreements between intransigent neighbors.
CARICOM and OECS (Organization of Eastern Caribbean States) nations have bilateral ties with all the major players and ties between close friends always ought to be based on honest mutual appreciation of their value in each case.
CARICOM is split right down the middle over Ukraine and while China enjoys a greater measure of support among member-states, the divide is still real; and all member-states also have equal ties with the USA, UK and the European union (EU) and NATO states that stand with the US against China.
Belize, Haiti, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Vincent & The Grenadines have stood with Taiwan over the years, just as Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Surinam and Trinidad & Tobago have stood by and with China.
Caribbean nations should therefore avoid again being seen and treated like cannon fodder in an unwinnable war of words and actions and instead allow good senses to prevail over making meaningless or fruitless, kneejerk responses.
A grand theater is at play in Asia, but this is not the world of movies, and more attention should be paid to learning the countless lessons at hand from the region’s much-too-early response(s) to the Ukraine crisis, before taking sides and promoting – one way or another — continuation of what is already a dangerous threat to world peace and global stability.
(The author has visited both China and Taiwan several times and officially observed the 2016 Taiwan elections won by the DPP over the KMT.)