To understand the contemporary geopolitical significance of the Republic of China, Vijay Prashad says it is necessary to examine Cold War history.
By Vijay Prashad
Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines met with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at Malacañang Palace in Manila on Feb. 2, where they agreed to expand the U.S. military presence in the country.
In a joint statement, the two governments agreed to “announce their plans to accelerate the full implementation of the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement” (EDCA) and “designate four new Agreed Locations in strategic areas of the country.”
The EDCA, which was agreed upon in 2014, allows the U.S. to use land in the Philippines for its military activities. It was formulated almost a quarter of a century after U.S. troops vacated their bases in the Philippines — including a massive base at Subic Bay — during the collapse of the U.S.S.R.
At that time, the U.S. operated on the assumption that it had triumphed and no longer required the vast structure of military bases it had built up during the Cold War.
From the 1990s, the U.S. assembled a new kind of global footprint by integrating the militaries of allied countries as subordinate forces to U.S. military control and building smaller bases to create a much greater reach for its technologically superior airpower.
In recent years, the U.S. has been faced with the reality that its apparent singular power is being challenged economically by several countries, especially China. To contest these challenges, the U.S. began to rebuild its military force structure through its allies with more of these smaller, but no less lethal, bases.
It’s likely that three of the four new bases in the Philippines will be on Luzon Island, at the north of the archipelago, which would place the U.S. military within striking distance of Taiwan.
For the past 15 years, the U.S. has pushed its allies — including those organised in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) — to strengthen their military power while increasing U.S. techno-military power and reach by establishing smaller bases across the world and producing new aircraft and ships with greater territorial reach.
This military force was then used in a series of provocative actions against nations it perceived as threats to its hegemony, with two key countries, China and Russia, facing the sharp edge of the U.S. spear.
At the two ends of Eurasia, the U.S. began to provoke Russia through Ukraine and provoke China through Taiwan. The provocations over Ukraine have now resulted in a war that has been going on for a year, while the new U.S. bases in the Philippines are part of an escalation against China, with Taiwan as a battleground.
To make sense of the situation in East Asia, the rest of this newsletter will feature briefing No. 6 from No Cold War, Taiwan Is a Red Line Issue, which is also available for download as a PDF.
In recent years, Taiwan has become a flashpoint for tensions between the United States and China. The seriousness of the situation was recently underscored on Dec. 21, when U.S. and Chinese military aircraft came within 3 metres of each other over the South China Sea.
At the root of this simmering conflict are the countries’ diverging perspectives over Taiwan’s sovereignty. The Chinese position, known as the “One China” principle, is firm: although the mainland and Taiwan have different political systems, they are part of the same country, with sovereignty residing in Beijing.
Meanwhile, the U.S. position on Taiwan is far less clear. Despite formally adopting the One China policy, the U.S. maintains extensive “unofficial” relations and military ties with Taiwan. In fact, under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, U.S. law requires Washington to provide arms “of a defensive character” to the island.
The U.S. justifies its ongoing ties with Taiwan by claiming they are necessary to uphold the island’s “democracy” and “freedom.” But, how valid are these claims?
Foothold for Influence
To understand the contemporary geopolitical significance of Taiwan, it’s necessary to examine Cold War history. Prior to the Chinese Revolution of 1949, China was in the midst of a civil war between the communists and the nationalists, or Kuomintang (KMT) — the latter of which received billions of dollars in military and economic support from Washington.
The revolution resulted in the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, or PRC, on the mainland, while the defeated KMT forces fled to the island of Taiwan, which had returned to Chinese sovereignty four years earlier, in 1945, following 50 years of Japanese colonial rule.
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From Taipei, the KMT declared that they were the rightful government-in-exile of all of China under the name of the Republic of China or ROC — originally founded in 1912 — thereby rejecting the legitimacy of the PRC.
The U.S. military soon followed, establishing the United States Taiwan Defence Command in 1955, deploying nuclear weapons to the island and occupying it with thousands of U.S. troops until 1979.
Far from protecting “democracy” or “freedom” in Taiwan, the U.S. instead backed the KMT as it established a dictatorship, including a 38-year-long consecutive period of martial law from 1949–1987.
During this time, known as the “White Terror,” Taiwanese authorities estimate that 140,000 to 200,000 people were imprisoned or tortured, and 3,000 to 4,000 were executed by the KMT.
Washington accepted this brutal repression because Taiwan represented a useful foothold — located just 160 kilometres off the south-eastern coast of the Chinese mainland — that it used to pressure and isolate Beijing from the international community.
From 1949–1971, the U.S. successfully manoeuvred to exclude the PRC from the United Nations by arguing that the ROC administration in Taiwan was the sole legitimate government of the entirety of China.
It’s important to note that, during this time, neither Taipei nor Washington contended that the island was separate from China, a narrative that is advanced today to allege Taiwan’s “independence.”
However, these efforts were eventually defeated in 1971, when the U.N. General Assembly voted to oust the ROC and recognise the PRC as the only legitimate representative of China. Later that decade, in 1979, [after Nixon’s trip to Beijing] the U.S. finally normalised relations with the PRC, adopted the One China policy, and ended its formal diplomatic relations with the ROC in Taiwan.
The Dangers of US Interference
Today, the international community has overwhelmingly adopted the One China policy, with only 13 of 193 U.N. member states recognising the ROC in Taiwan. However, due to the continued provocations of the U.S. in alliance with separatist forces in Taiwan, the island remains a source of international tension and conflict.
The U.S. maintains close military ties with Taiwan through arms sales, military training, advisers and personnel on the island, as well as repeatedly sailing warships through the narrow Taiwan Strait [which China says is its territorial waters] that separates the island from the mainland.
In 2022, Washington pledged $10 billion in military aid to Taiwan. Meanwhile, U.S. congressional delegations regularly travel to Taipei, legitimising notions of separatism, such as the controversial visit by former U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi in August 2022.
Would the U.S. or any other Western country accept a situation where China provided military aid, stationed troops and offered diplomatic support to separatist forces in part of its internationally recognised territory? The answer, of course, is no.
In November, at the G20 summit in Indonesia, Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden held their first in-person meeting since Biden was elected president. At the meeting, Xi strongly reiterated China’s stance on Taiwan, telling Biden that:
“the Taiwan question is at the very core of China’s core interests, the bedrock of the political foundation of China-U.S. relations, and the first red line that must not be crossed.”
Although Biden responded by stating that the U.S. adheres to the One China policy and that he is “not looking for conflict,” just a few months prior, he affirmed in a televised interview that U.S. troops would militarily intervene to “defend Taiwan,” if necessary.
It is clear from the U.S. track record that Washington is intent on provoking China and disregarding its “red line.” [Two weeks ago a four-star U.S. general predicted war with China within two years.]
In Eastern Europe, a similarly reckless approach, namely the continued expansion of NATO towards Russia’s border [ignoring Russia’s “red line”], led to the outbreak of war in Ukraine. As progressive forces in Taiwan have declared, “to maintain peace in the Taiwan Strait and avoid the scourge of war, it is necessary to stop U.S. interference.”
Meanwhile, on Jan. 31, Pope Francis conducted a mass in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with a million people in attendance, where he declared that, “Political exploitation gave way to an ‘economic colonialism’ that was equally enslaving.” Africa, the pope said, “is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered. Hands off Africa!”
Later that same week, the U.S. and the Philippines — in complete disregard of the pope’s declaration — agreed to build the new military bases, completing the encirclement by U.S.-allied bases around China and intensifying U.S. aggression towards the country.
The pope’s cry could very well be “Hands off the world.” This means no new Cold War, no more provocations.
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and, with Noam Chomsky, The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.
This article is from Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
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It remains to be seen whether the Taiwanese themselves have the sufficient fire in their bellies to stave off a concerted invasion attempt from mainland China. It is not about money or even weapons technology. It is about a willingness of a people to both fight and sacrifice in the name of their own national survival.
If and when the day comes, will Taiwan act like either Vietnam or Israel in defending to the death what is theirs, or will they behave (and most likely rapidly collapse) more like Afghanistan, Iraq, and WW II era Italy?
Time will certainly tell, but scores of billions of dollars of American money, the best American made weapons, and ample amounts of American manufactured ammunition cannot save a people who do not truly wish to save themselves. Taiwan, what say ye?
The US game plan here is the same we deployed in Ukraine:
1) work to infiltrate a region/nation of critical importance to the target country (Ukraine for Russia; Taiwan for China).
2) develop such control over the infiltrated region/nation that they voluntarily take steps that are highly provocative to the security of the target nation or its people and thus maneuver the target nation to take offensive steps to rectify the risk.
3) use the power of the reserve dollar and influence over national leaders gained over decades to ostracize, isolate, and if possible even militarily attack the target nation.
China needs to be very wise and careful here and avoid unnecessarily abrupt steps … they need to remember that time is on their side: their economy is already bigger than the US but will dwarf us in 50 years if they can avoid catastrophe. All will be solved over time.
To those of us infected with Cassandra’s curse (disregarded precognition), it is clear that the United States Deep State, through the Democratic Party, it’s political puppet, and the corporate media, it’s propaganda arm, is determined to provoke a nuclear holocaust, which for some reason, it believes that it can win at a cost it deems reasonable, regardless of the price we as individuals will have to pay or its long term impact on our planet. It does so through constant provocations we would never accept, including clear acts of war against both the Russian Federation and the Peoples’ Republic of China. Witness, for example, the recently disclosed United States-Norwegian military attack on the Nord Stream pipelines and the United States targeting of missiles it supplies to the Ukraine against Russian positions.
As this article makes clear, a similar campaign of intolerable provocation is being directed at the Peoples’ Republic of China in order to provoke it to assert its sovereignty over the province of Taiwan through the use of force, against which, the United States and its allies could then respond as they have in the Ukraine. Or perhaps more blatantly and more directly in the hopes of ending the economic threats to a neoliberal world order premised on the fiat dollar’s supremacy.
That the positions under international law (an illusion at best most respected in its breach) are reversed in the two cases (the Ukraine and Taiwan) is irrelevant, as is logic and morals, and perhaps, most importantly, common sense. The golden rule has no place in Deep State calculations and actions.
The Deep State’s tools involved and their NATO counterparts are all too quickly leading us into disaster, and most American voters, with their eyes tightly shut, their ears safely plugged and their heads in the sand (if not in a darker and more olfactorily unpleasant orifice), appear unwilling, or perhaps, now that democracy is clearly just an illusion, unable to reverse the lemming-like trend towards planetary destruction. Perhaps though, if the non-Anglo-nations of the Southern hemisphere can maintain our independence and exercise decent, independent judgment, we may survive to pick up the pieces, and learning from the Northern Hemisphere’s incredibly idiotic mistakes, perhaps avoid them in the future.
US: Hands off the Philippines and Taiwan.
Filipinos: Keep quiet today. Get incinerated tomorrow. Agitate and subvert US-Philippines military plans against China. Overthrow US puppet Philippine government and replace with pro-Filipino government. Next, ally with China to remove American forces from Asia. Establish closer relations with China via BRI, SCO, AIIB, BRICS, etc.
Filipinos: Stop being led by the nose with official US puta mierda propaganda that American diplomats and military forces are here to protect Filipino freedom and independence from Chinese “aggression.” Americans are here to rob you of your wealth, your freedom, and your honor. Resist Now!
The trouble with the U.S.’ principled stand on Taiwan’s freedom and democracy is that it is not a principle the U.S. applies consistently, at least, across the rest of China; the U.S.’ involvement in bracing up Taiwan’s seperateness despite its formal adherence to the One China policy is not even applied to Hong Kong and Macau forget about its extention to Tibet and remoter still to Xinjiang where we all know what China’s response to separatism is. As America pushes for a “rules-based-order” across the world, what are the “rules” to be applied here ?
War in this region is inevitable. The only issue not certain, is when.