All eyes went to Taiwan this week. The Taipei Times shows an uptick in article views. China held no less than three military activities that made headlines in Taiwan’s backyard, and is reported to have broken its promise not to militarize it’s freshly-made islands. In one incident, the Japanese even responded.
The topic of Taiwan’s Independence is not going away anytime soon. The topic was formally debated in Taipei with careful scrutiny over the implications of Nixon’s (1972) and Carter’s (1979) policies involving Taiwan and China. The Taiwanese, reading the tealeaves as it were, suspect that they won’t be able to trust the current political party that just took power, and the new “Power” party is already on the rise with “Independence” as a “crucial” talking point.
China has gone full-swing into testing it’s one-and-only operational aircraft carrier, the diesel-powered, Soviet-made Liaoning. The other carriers are still being assembled in the docks and aren’t scheduled for commission for a few years. But, China already has its own “unsinkable aircraft carriers”, man-made airport islets in the Spratly Islands.
With the Western and Eastern press in full-swing, with military events moving as they are, neither the West nor the East will be lacking, neither in force nor in press nor in public support for what’s been brewing in the South Sea.
With TPP’s immanent floundering in the Pacific, China attempts to step into America’s shoes. But, those are big shoes to fill. As big of a deal as Asia thinks itself to be, any trade deal needs to include the Americas or it really isn’t worth writing headlines about—or even the agreement papers. China’s current proposal to replace TPP with a pure-Asia trade agreement is called “Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)”—again, with an introspective worldview evident in the name, not identifying which “region” is involved because the region is presumed by those in it. RCEP won’t even make a dent in the ocean.
Instead, Trump still dominates the headlines. Japanese President, Shinzo Abe thinks Trump is “trustworthy”. He met with the president elect at Trump Tower.
Other than Trump and trade, the rest of the news reset itself to stories questioning China’s economy. Metal is up for suspicious reasons. Apple isn’t that great and wasn’t going to be that great anyway. And, China is already spying on us through their cell phones. It almost seems that newspapers agree with Trump about having more mobile phones made in the USA.
Chinese President Xi has been hailed with a personality cult akin to support for Chairman Mao, at least in some circles. As if the Xi personality cult wasn’t enough, China also saw a bloodless victory in the Philippines. In an effort to seek their own so-called “independence”, Philippinos’ new choice of a president has thrown-off many ties with the US in exchange for more dependency on China. China still patrols disputed Philippine islands, but fishing boats don’t get harassed any more. It probably makes sense in the Philippines every bit as much as it made sense to France and Italy 80 years ago.
The Pacific resembles pre-WWII Europe with more and more likenesses every week. NPR reported that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will stop swearing as much. That headline probably made sense to NPR, given the situation. As for swearing and the Pacific, Hong Kong, with no military, is putting up the greatest fight against China. Lawmakers “swore” during their swearing-in, contrary to some stipulations that no Hong Kong lawmaker can object to Chinese rule.
The Philippino “switch” was always going to happen. Their desire for “independence from other countries” will eventually drive them to fly China’s flag above their own, just how China’s desire for respect provoked Beijing to provoke the West, just how “America and her interests” drove the US to fly its flag at military posts in countries across the globe thereby frustrating Beijing and Milan.
With Taiwanese public continuing strong objection to Chinese patrol expansionism (75:18%), with Hong Kong (under China) wanting out from China, with the Philippines shifting sides, and with Cambodia cozying up to Beijing, we could see more jersey swapping in the coming months. Japan and South Korea are standing against North Korea on nukes—by cooperating with the US. That coalition could very easily extend to Taiwan, as far as N Korea nukes are concerned. The islanders of Taiwan oppose nuclear “anything”, just like post-Fukushima Japan.
Taiwan also has a close cooperation with the US military, the kind of cooperation the Philippines just renounced. The Pentagon has yet to give an elaborate position on the Philippines’ wave-making. In war, if the Philippines violates any alliance agreements, the Pentagon could declare the Philippines as “rogue” and get the excuse they need to use force. Who knows what would happen then.
China’s “no-objection” policy for HK lawmakers has given Great Britain whatever excuse the Crown needs to anchor the Royal Navy in Hong Kong, much like Queen Victoria did against China via Taiwan. When Southeast Asian Islands start spitting at each other, Hong Kong could could get snatched-up in a Pacific-West coalition. Having no military could be the only reason Hong Kong can court sympathy from the West. Guarded by mountains between the New Territories and Shenzen, Hong Kong would be strategic. The West would then see Hong Kong as the “trump card” while China would come back with the Philippines as the “wild joker”.
The Philippines and Hong Kong don’t seem to have figured out that every island is just another pawn. The Pacific Daily Times Symphony Editorials take no sides, except the side of foresight: It was all predictable.
China, China, China. That’s what we see in headlines and it’s what we see in the Pacific. Japan objects to 230 Chinese vessels swarming disputed islands. Chinese jets swarm over its man-made islands. And none of the actions of China come accidentally. CNBC reports a closed and undisclosed meeting of top Communist Party officials.
Beijing may be unaware that they are setting a precedent for each country in a dispute to send 230 vessels—or maybe not. Maybe Beijing thinks other countries can’t compete with Chinese force. Or, maybe a confrontation is what Beijing wants.
The unreported factor in the Pacific dispute is that each country acts according to a psychology foreign to all others.
The Hague ruling has stirred the waters and the ripples are bouncing. According to the tribunal, China has no basis for its claims concerning the nine-dash line. However, this also affects sovereign waters Taiwan has enjoyed, and it has implications for an islet Japan uses as a basis for a wide reaching aquatic claim.
Taiwan, still at war with China on the books, also rejected Hague’s decision through a legislative vote, based on over-lapping claims with China. Japan’s situation was not brought before the court.
The Chinese people would likely view Taiwan’s independence much the same as Americans might view a Texan succession from the Union. There is a complex mix of feelings and motives. Love knows when to let go; Asians rarely let go in family, let alone business and government.
China pointed out that there were no Asians ruling at the tribunal. Those involved couldn’t possibly understand—or could they? Asians have failed to resolve their disputes while Western nations, as evidenced in the last couple weeks, know how to part ways peacefully.
Some speculate that China and its neighbors will figure out a solution between themselves. However, if that were possible, it would have already happened and there would have been no excuse for the Hague tribunal in the first place. Unfortunately, Asia will likely play out the family feuds to see how many demands which party is too bloody to make, giving America the excuse it needs to continue to interfere. It’s hard to defend any party in the conflict.