An island under threat

Should the West support Taiwan as it does Ukraine?

As the bloody conflict in Ukraine rages on and the death toll relentlessly climbs, the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, has warned that the war could last for years. Speaking to the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag Mr Stoltenberg said the West must continue to arm Ukraine against Russian aggression. “We must not let up in supporting Ukraine,” he said. “Even if the costs are high, not only for military support, also because of rising energy and food prices.” Western leaders, including Boris Johnson, have almost unanimously voiced similar opinions, with the Prime Minister writing in the Sunday Times that the West must ensure Ukraine has “the strategic endurance to survive and eventually prevail.” He accused Russia’s President Vladimir Putin of resorting to a “campaign of attrition” and “trying to grind down Ukraine by sheer brutality.” Johnson wrote: “I’m afraid we need to steel ourselves for a long war. Time is the vital factor. Everything will depend on whether Ukraine can strengthen its ability to defend its soil faster than Russia can renew its capacity to attack.”

In simple terms, these comments mean money, and Ukraine’s allies, including the UK, continuing to pour cash into the conflict, mainly in the form of sophisticated weapons and other military hardware. Billions have been spent so far, and though cynics may say that some of the enthusiasm to support Ukraine correlates to the wheat and energy reliance Britain and the EU countries have on the besieged nation, there have been relatively few dissenting voices.

However, there is another smouldering, possible conflict that could also threaten world order, and the similarities between China’s threat to neighbouring Taiwan and Russia’s attitude towards Ukraine are stark and concerning. The island of Taiwan was once part of China, as Ukraine was part of the USSR. China sees Taiwan as a breakaway province that will eventually be part of the country again. Uttering bellicose threats and warnings, China’s President Xi Jinping says “reunification” with Taiwan “must be fulfilled,” and does not rule out the use of force to achieve this.

While the US is concerned that a Chinese takeover of Taiwan could potentially threaten its own military bases as far away as Guam and Hawaii, China insists that its intentions are purely peaceful. The world has heard that one before, of course. There is a major difference, though, between Taiwan and Ukraine, in that only fourteen nations across the globe currently recognise Taiwan as a sovereign country. But 59 more, including the US and the UK, as well as the European Union, have established unofficial diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

Despite a longstanding policy of “strategic ambiguity” on intervening militarily in the event of a Chinese attack on Taiwan, President Joe Biden has said he would use force to defend the island. And where would that leave the UK? Ready to come to the aid of another nation invaded by its bigger neighbour? Or would it be a case of “not in my backyard?”

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