UNDERSTANDING THE HEIGHTENED TENSIONS IN TAIWAN--CHINA RELATIONS AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR ESWATINI
The world is markedly different from what it was five years ago. The international political landscape, national politics, and international relations have all undergone significant transformation.
While it is true that certain ideas as regards global state of affairs have remained unchanged, the reality is that there are certain obtaining conditions that have shocked the world and gone a long way to teach us all a very important lesson about “foregone conclusions” so-called, vis-à-vis the consequences of state behaviour on the global stage. No one could have predicted that in the international drive to lend some dignity to the experiences of refugees and human displacement, the United Kingdom would move to send refugees and asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing.
This is not to suggest that being placed in Rwanda is undignified, the point is that such an arrangement would have been dismissed as preposterous five years ago. The global pandemic that devastated economies and reshaped human behaviour was also a global occurrence that could not have been predicted with a great degree of precision. It also became highly politicised given the preferential treatment afforded certain countries in terms of vaccine access, travel, and of course the issue of accountability for “causing” the pandemic.
We also witnessed Rwanda play a pivotal – and one might even say “decisive” – role in the security threat that grappled Mozambique. Of course the Southern African Development Community (“SADC”) under the dominant albeit lethargic influence of South Africa was ineffective – as it is with many regional security issues. Thus, Rwanda achieved what was unthinkable until it actually happened. Similarly, the Russia/Ukraine war was always a looming security threat in that region but there were uncertainties as to when (or if) it would happen. We all remember how our Foreign Affairs Ministry downplayed the looming war, citing ‘consultations’ with Russian officials and Ukrainian universities.
In all fairness, it would have been folly to expect any better from the Ministry – but this is a story for another day. The point is that when Russia proceeded to engage in warfare with Ukraine, the world was shocked especially by the United States (“US”) government response. President Biden made it clear that the US would not be directly involved in the hostilities, even making the call for all American citizens to leave Ukraine because the US would not conduct any rescue and recovery during the course of the war. The Russia/Ukraine war as the latest significant security issue in global politics, has had quite the effect on how the world is inclined to perceive global and regional power dynamics.
As the French saying goes, everyone sees noon at his doorstep (“Chacun voit midi à sa porte”). One particularly interesting development is that Taiwan has had to evaluate what the Russia/Ukraine war means for its relationship with China going forward – especially taking into account the US response to the hostilities. Similarly, Beijing has also had to evaluate what takeaways are there from the conflict. As a point of departure, security analysts are unanimous in the conclusion that Taiwan is nowhere near militarily capable of holding off China by itself. Over the last couple of decades China has made grand strides in improving and modernising its army, of course it is not at the scale of Russia – but next to Taiwan, China comes up significantly stronger.
Taipei is also aware of this, and much has been written in international news media about the fact that Taiwan is preparing itself for potential Chinese invasion given what happened with Ukraine and Russia. Of course, the situation is significantly complex and there are some important/key differences. The most prominent being the US response to what it refers to as Chinese aggression. President Biden has been very clear that the US would fashion a military response if China attacked Taiwan. The White House has also been clear that the US policy on Taiwan remains unchanged. What that policy is in defined terms depends on who you consult, but what is certain is that the US considers Taiwan an important and strategic ally in Asia.
Now, the last point must not be taken to mean an attack on Taiwan by China would be a simple matter of an exchange of fire between the US and Taiwan against China, because Beijing also has some powerful and willing allies in Russia and North Korea. The United States also has allies, but there is some uncertainty as to how they might decide in a matter where there is war between China with whom they have established diplomatic relations, and Taiwan whose statehood is recognised by a handful of countries in the international community. Still, it remains currently that a US military response cannot be excluded as was the case in the Ukraine/Russia conflict.
One interesting perspective that has been reported in the UK’s Financial Times is from a Taiwanese official who is quoted in the publication as saying “The danger comes from Xi Jinping and the fact that he will begin a third term later this year. Under China’s previous process where they would have a new leader every 10 years, their ‘historic mission’ of unifying Taiwan could be passed on to the next leader. But when a national mission becomes one man’s mission, the danger rises.” This is a chilling perspective on how staying in power for too long can cause issues in trying to separate national and personal goals. So now there is a question as to whether Taiwan is readying itself for Xi Jinping or China. Just like there is a question as to whether Ukraine is fighting Russia or Putin.
A dim view of course, is that Russia is Putin and China is Xi Jinping. It is worth mentioning that while Taiwan is preparing for an attack from China, quite a number of experts are in agreement that an attack is unlikely to occur in the next couple of months. It seems that prediction is that real moves by China to attack Taiwan will be seen between 2024 and 2027. War is an unfortunate and costly finality that most states will go to great lengths to avoid, even citizens of powerful states generally do not support wanton warring when pacific solutions have not been exhausted. We keep a close eye on developments, but what is certain is that it is extremely difficult to say with certainty what will happen as tensions between China and the US are central to the security issues faced by Taiwan.