Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-chang of Taiwan expressed worry that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China would be “fully capable” of attacking Taiwan by 2025.
During a virtual conference titled “Taiwan: is it important to the continuing world order?,” the Minister expressed worry while highlighting sanctions as a tool of deterring violence. a non-profit organisation called The Democracy Forum (TDF), amid the backdrop of escalating hostility and intimidation in the Taiwan Strait.
Before giving the floor to TDF President Lord Bruce, moderator Humphrey Hawksley, a former BBC Asia Correspondent, termed the future of Taiwan “probably the most critical international issue of our time.”
Taiwan’s global significance in terms of trade, technological innovation, and democratic values, as well as the fallout, both regional and global, of a potential Chinese invasion, were among the topics discussed at The Democracy Forum’s virtual seminar on July 26 titled ‘Taiwan: is it key to the continuing world order?’ Taiwan’s defence minister, Chiu Kuo-chang, who was also present at the seminar, stated that his government believes the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will have the “complete capability” to attack Taiwan by 2025, making the current situation “the most dangerous” the minister had seen in his more than 40 years in the military.
The seminar focused on Taiwan’s global significance in terms of trade, technological innovation, and democratic values, as well as its complex relationship with China and the regional and global ramifications of a potential Chinese invasion.
TDF President Lord Bruce cited Admiral (Retired) Phil Davidson, former head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, as saying that a Chinese attack on Taiwan would “manifest in the next six years.”
However, in referring to a recent Japanese government white paper on defence spending that warned of escalating national security threats, “including… China’s intimidation of Taiwan and vulnerable technology supply chains,” Lord Bruce also quoted China’s response, in which Wang Web in, a foreign affairs spokesman, urged the Japanese government to “immediately stop the erroneous practise of exaggerating security threats in its neighbourhood and finding excuses for its actions.”
Lord Bruce noted that, while the threat of military escalation is viewed as marginal by specialist risk managers, the prospect of sanctions imposed as an economic weapon to deter aggression is viewed as much more likely.
In either case, a concerted plan to reduce the vulnerability of Western trade and manufacturing is already in the works in the United States and the European Union, he added. However, despite the inevitable ‘bellicose rhetoric’ that seems to dominate the language of diplomacy at the moment, Lord Bruce concluded by citing China analyst Charles Parton’s longer view: that, despite the CCP’s posturing on the fate of Taiwan, ‘war or forceful unification will not happen in the foreseeable future,’ as the risk – and costs – of failure are simply too great for the CCP to realistically countenance.
Syaru Shirley Lin, Compton Visiting Professor in World Politics at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and Chair of the Center for Asia-Pacific Resilience and Innovation (CAPRI), emphasised the significance of Taiwan’s democratic governance as an alternative for countries with strong economic ties to China, particularly those in the Asia Pacific.
She went on to say that Taiwan is important to the world not only because it produces the most advanced semiconductors, but also because it has the potential to be a leader in innovative public policy. Taiwan’s achievements in promoting economic development and safeguarding public health through democratic governance can serve as a model for other developing societies in the Asia Pacific.
Nonetheless, despite its many achievements, Taiwan faces numerous complex internal threats as well as external threats from China. Lin discussed Taiwan’s global isolation, as well as the ‘five Ps’: population decline, power generation, political polarisation, parochialism, and the pandemic.
These issues are more prominent in Taiwanese people’s minds than the threat of armed conflict with China. Taiwan and other high-income societies in the Asia-Pacific face urgent socioeconomic, environmental, and political challenges that will necessitate innovative and interdisciplinary thinking to address.
Lin and her colleagues recognised this by establishing CAPRI in Taipei, a non-partisan, independent think tank that recognises Taiwan’s role in developing solutions and sharing best practises for addressing these problems, past, present, and future.
Dr. James Lee, a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of California’s Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, answered the seminar’s central question with a resoBecause many countries with a One China policy do not recognise Taiwan as an independent state, China wants us to believe that we must recognise Taiwan as part of China. However, there is a third path, which is taken by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and others: they do not recognise Taiwan as an independent state, nor do they recognise Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan.
Dr. Lee discussed the history of the dispute over Taiwan’s intermediate legal status, including how China’s claim to Taiwan is based on highly contested arguments about what happened after WWII, with a focus on the different positions taken by the United States, China, and Taiwan itself.
Chun-Yi Lee, Associate Professor and Director of the Taiwan Studies Program at the University of Nottingham, focused on digitalization and Taiwan’s democracy. She considered how, despite tensions, the China-Taiwan trade connection is still very strong and integrated, but in terms of production, Taiwan is ‘high end,’ bringing tech skills and research, while China is ‘low end,’ contributing unskilled capital such as factory workers.
She discussed the ‘hardware of digitalisation,’ or Taiwan’s TSMC’s importance to the global semiconductor value chain, as well as the’software of digitalisation,’ or Taiwan’s digital democracy, including a reference to the 2014 ‘Sunflower movement,’ a protest by civic hackers demanding more open government, with policy and information made simpler for ordinary people to understand.
Dr Chun-yi also discussed how Taiwan had constructed a “digital fence” during COVID that was not based on state power censoring civic society, as seen in China. Taiwan will instead invite civic engineers or “hackers” to collaborate with the government in developing digital tools to combat the global pandemic.
Dr Simona Grano, Senior Lecturer at the University of Zurich and Director of the Taiwan Studies Project at UZH, examined key shifts that have led to changing attitudes toward Taiwan in Europe, including the Covid pandemic, China’s increasing attempts to marginalise Taiwan economically and internationally, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
She discussed the pandemic’s impact on mistrust of China, Taiwan’s importance in global supply chains, the impact of the invasion on small EU states, and the increased importance they now place on having like-minded partners. This includes Taiwan, which, aside from economic ties, shares many values with the West, such as a democratic governance system, rule of law, respect for human rights, a market economy, and so on.
Dr. Grano also focused on changes in attitudes toward Taiwan in Italy and Switzerland, her homeland and adopted country, respectively, which she argued are occurring at a European level rather than in a vacuum. Taiwan demonstrates that Chinese values are not incompatible with Western values in the aftermath of Russian aggression in Ukraine and the ideologically charged debate over democracy versus autocracy. Grano concluded that it is critical to communicate to China that the West will not stand by while Beijing attempts to change the status quo.
Dr. Raymond Kuo, a Political Scientist at the Rand Corporation, also brought up the Taiwan-Ukraine parallel. He wondered if a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would elicit the same reaction as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, despite the fact that Taiwan is not officially recognised by most countries.
According to Kuo, there is widespread recognition that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would still be a violation of sovereignty because there are types of sovereignty other than territorial sovereignty. He argued that Taiwan has the advantage of having a much larger economy than Ukraine, of being more integrated into global trade flows, and of being essential to East and Southeast Asian security planning.
Furthermore, because China has already demonstrated a reluctance to abide by international constraints—for example, by engaging in coercion with India—other Asian countries see Taiwan as a litmus test to determine whether China will abide by international laws.
Shelly Rigger, Professor of Political Science at Davidson College, focused on Taiwan’s historical perspective, particularly the link between its identity and democratisation, as well as its relationships with the PRC and the US. She also discussed how the PRC, as well as Chinese nationalism from both within and outside Taiwan, have become impediments to Taiwan’s identity and self-actualization, as well as an enemy of democracy.
In summarising the event, TDF Chair Barry Gardiner MP praised the panellists for their insights, though he was surprised that the issue of Hong Kong was not raised. He reflected that it is difficult to see how a military invasion of Taiwan could succeed; after all, Ukraine fought back fiercely, despite having a greater and more recent entanglement with Russia. So, he concluded, if a union between China and Taiwan does not occur voluntarily, it is unlikely to occur at all. (ANI)