by Mary Harrington
Monday, 19
October 2020

The West won’t defend Taiwan from China

by Mary Harrington
Donald Trump meets with Xi Jinping in 2017

The People’s Republic of China has escalated its military preparations for the invasion of Taiwan, according to the pro-Beijing South China Morning Post. Advanced hypersonic missiles have been deployed to military bases facing the breakaway island across the South China Sea, while satellite images show Marine Corps and Rocket Force military bases in Fujian and Guangdong steadily expanding over recent years.

Taiwan, an island in the South China Sea about 100 miles from China, has long been the subject of sovereignty disputes, with stints governed by imperial China, imperial Japan and even (for a short time in the 17th century) Netherlands. It’s been governed separately from China since 1949, when then-leader Chiang Kai-Shek retreated to the island after losing the civil war with the communists on the mainland.

This history means that the government of Taiwan sees itself as the legitimate government of all China, exiled following communist treachery. But the Chinese Communist Party views Taiwan as a rebel province, and Xi Jinping has not been shy about his plans to retake Taiwan, stating that “Taiwan’s independence is a reversal of history and a dead-end road”.

When Xi decides to move, we should expect a few Western commentators to say anguished things, but Western powers to do nothing. When Disney thanks the government of Xinjiang province for permitting filming in a region where the Communist regime has incarcerated more than a million Muslims, and the NBA walks back support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, it’s clear that at least as far as the American cultural and entertainment industries are concerned, the ideals of universal freedom and democracy have been weighed in the scales and found (at least relative to commercial considerations) wanting.

This reflects a pragmatic, and accurate, assessment that America no longer has the economic and military clout (and, importantly, self-belief) it once possessed to back up the global spread of its worldview with force if necessary. For all the tortured noises made in the West about parallels between China’s re-education camps and the Holocaust, the reality is that no state today has the power to compel China to do anything.

The fantasy of an ‘ethical foreign policy’, promulgated by the likes of Robin Cook in the days before the Iraq debacle, should be understood as the luxury belief of a regime that — after the end of the Cold War — briefly considered itself unassailable. Anyone still clinging to the tatters of that fantasy would do well to reflect on the playground jibe thrown at anyone trying to compel a reluctant playmate to their viewpoint: “You and whose army?”.

Join the discussion

  • And if Communist China decides it wants to conquer Korea or Japan? Would we help those countries defend themselves? Appeasement does not work with China; we already let it take Tibet to our shame, while stopping the Uygher genocide is probably too difficult. But we should defend Taiwan as long as it continues to be willing to fight hard for its rights.

  • A very clear sighted and realistic article, although I don’t believe Cook ever promised an ‘ethical foreign policy’. Instead, he talked of a foreign policy with ‘an ethical dimension’. Anyway, he did at least have the decency to resign over Iraq.

    Of course, had the disasters of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya not taken place, the West might still have had the credibility and confidence etc to resist the Chinese over Taiwan and various other issues. But all that is gone.

  • To get involved in the discussion and stay up to date, become a registered user.

    It's simple, quick and free.

    Sign me up