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Opinion

After Ukraine, can Taiwan be far behind?

THIRD EYE - Ramon J. Farolan - The Philippine Star

Tomorrow, the first AFP chief of staff to be appointed by President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. will be installed in simple rites at Camp Gen. Aguinaldo. There will be no military parade considering health protocols.

However, even without the usual ceremonials, this turnover of command will be historic in the sense that the incoming chief of staff, General Bartolome Bacarro, will be the first head of the military organization to have a fixed term of three years as provided by law. RA 11709 provides for a tour of duty of three years for the chief of staff. This tour of duty shall not exceed three years. However, in time of war or other national emergency declared by Congress, the President may extend the term.

Also for the first time, the AFP chief of staff and the secretary of national defense shall be from the same PMA class. Gen. Bartolome and Secretary Faustino both belong to PMA class of 1988.

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For many years, Taiwan, originally known as Formosa, “Beautiful Island,” was ruled by the Qing Dynasty from mainland China. In 1895 by the Treaty of Shimonoseki, the island was ceded to Japan and remained under Japanese control until the end of World War II in 1945 when it was returned to the Republic of China (ROC) under Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek. After the nationalist regime of Chiang was defeated by the communist forces of Mao Zedong, Chiang retreated with some two million of his followers to the island, maintaining itself as the government of the Republic of China with capital in Taipei while Mao set up the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949 with Beijing as the capital. In 1971, the United Nations voted to expel the ROC from the world organization, giving its seat in the General Assembly and in the powerful Security Council to the PRC representative.

Many Filipinos are unaware that Formosa under Japan served as the assembly and staging area for land, air and naval forces used in the invasion of the Philippines at the start of the Pacific War. The enemy planes that caught the Far East Air Force of General Douglas MacArthur on the ground in Iba, Zambales and Clark in Pampanga were based in Formosa. If Adm. Chester Nimitz of the US Navy had the final say in the drive towards the Japanese mainland, the Philippines would have been bypassed by US forces, with Formosa as the next target instead.

Unfortunately for us, Gen. MacArthur’s obsession to fulfill his “I shall return” pledge was upheld by President Franklin Roosevelt and this decision caused us more misery and the destruction of the City of Manila during the Philippine liberation campaign.

After months of attention being focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Taiwan has now taken center stage in our concerns and worries in the region. The visit of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei last week created even more tension, as China vehemently decried her trip as undue interference in China’s internal affairs. Retired General Manuel Oxales wisely noted in his recent article in the Maritime Review, “The flash point is not the West Philippine Sea (WPS) but Taiwan.” By employing a combination of “cabbage and salami-slicing” strategies, she has been able to achieve her objectives in the WPS without arousing too much anger and hostile retaliation from Philippine and US military forces.

The situation of Taiwan is quite similar to that of Ukraine. Russia has defended her actions by citing historical precedents in relation to parts of Ukraine. That is why she was able to recover Crimea, which was part of Ukraine, without a strong pushback from NATO.

Taiwan has always been considered a province of China by virtue of its being a part of the original Republic of China led by Gen. Chiang. Today, China considers Taiwan a renegade province and has vowed to reunify it with the mainland. Although the United States adheres to a “One China” policy, it does not accept China’s sovereignty over Taiwan. It merely acknowledges “that Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain that there is but one China and Taiwan is a part of China.” (This explanation is made by former US defense secretary Mark Esper in his recent book, A Sacred Oath.)

The fact is, Taiwan is a key link in the US’s First Island Defense chain, stretching from South Korea through Japan, Okinawa, Taiwan and the Philippines. If Taiwan falls, the chain is left with a gaping hole right in the middle, opening up the entire Pacific Area to a growing Chinese navy presence that is already the largest in the world.

Taiwan is also home to the world’s biggest chipmaker, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (TSMC). The company supplies much of the world’s semiconductor chips needed in practically all kinds of electronic devices and equipment.

It is no wonder that recently there has been a shift in US policy concerning Taiwan. It no longer pursues one of “strategic ambiguity.” A few days ago, US President Joe Biden came out with a statement clearly saying that US military forces will defend Taiwan if China attacks the island. It is difficult to back track from such a precise announcement. But who knows?

The question for Filipinos: What is our position should China invade Taiwan? Ranking security officials say war is unlikely. That expresses a hope. It does not provide an answer to the question. At some point, we shall have to make a choice.

AFP

TAIWAN

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