BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

Taiwan is a relatively small island with the size of 13,000 sq. miles, which makes it smaller than Luzon which is approximately 40,000 sq. miles and Mindanao with around 39,000.  However, this small island by global standards has a pivotal role in today’s geopolitics far beyond its size and population. It has already been cited as one of the very few places that could trigger a world war between the world’s superpowers. A recent visit by the US Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi has brought about the worst political confrontation between China and the United States. The situation has never been this critical since the days of Mao Zedong.

While most of the world, including the US, has adopted a One China policy, most countries including the Philippines have a representative office there.  This is principally due to the economic strength of the Taiwanese economy. This country is one of the biggest sources of semiconductors and manufacturer of chips. A shortage in the manufacturing of chips has caused supply chain problems in many industries including automotive, electronics, aerospace and even military equipment.

Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has been a puzzling decision to many observers. She has been known to be a supporter of Taiwan and American commitment to defend this island state. She has also been known to condemn human rights violations in China. There are those, however, who believe that this visit is her swan song, as it is well known that this is her last year as speaker of the house. Her visit to Taiwan and other Asian countries is perceived to be part of the legacy she wants to leave behind.

Xi Jinping has been very vocal about his displeasure over Pelosi’s visit to Taipei, the first in 25 years of a Speaker of the US House of Representatives. For many geopolitical observers, the visit was supposed to demonstrate support for Taiwan in the face of what many in the rest of the world believe to be a growing threat of a Chinese invasion. The Chinese response was more massive than had been expected. Taiwan now is in virtual blockade by air and by sea. Beijing seems to be demonstrating now its capacity for military coercion. In fact, Taiwan now has become more exposed to the growing and expanding rivalry between the two superpowers.

According to Kathrin Hille of the Financial Times:  “Analysts say Beijing wants to use the military exercises to shake Taiwan’s confidence in the sources of its economic and political survival.  The potential for an effective blockade threatens the air and shipping routes that support its central role in global technology supply chains.  China also wants to raise questions about the will and capability of the US to help defend the island against Chinese aggression.”

In view of this growing rivalry, there are now questions about American commitment to the One China policy.

A brief review of Taiwanese history will show that despite China’s claim that Taiwan is merely a province, its history shows that it has been either semi-independent or even independent of China throughout its history.  During the 18th and 19th century, Western powers assumed a major role in the affairs of Taiwan. It was not until 1683 that the Manchu rulers of China invaded and took over the island.  However, Taiwan was governed as part of the Fujian province. These officials did not regard their assignment highly. According to historians, Taiwan was considered “beyond the pale of Chinese civilization.”  During the period of Chinese governance, there were frequent rebellions followed by severe punishments. One historian even narrated that the native inhabitants of Taiwan were not happy with the rule of the Chinese.

Finally in 1895, Japan took over the island and treated it as a colony. This rule lasted from 1895 to 1945. With the surrender of the Japanese, the island was transferred to the Chinese government which, at that time, was dominated by the Kuomintang Party with Chiang Kai-shek at the head. When the communists launched a successful revolution in China, the nationalists moved to Taiwan and used that as a base. Their idea was that someday, they would take over China again.

After five decades of Kuomintang rule, Chen Shui-Bian, the leader of the pro-independence Democratic  Progressive Party (DPP), won the 2000 presidential election. It has remained in power since then.

The Kuomintang Party has dropped its claim to be the sole government of both mainland China and Taiwan.  In 2016, the DPP again won the presidential election against the Kuomintang, which was considered as a pro-China party.

The Taiwanese people now pride themselves in their own identity, separate from the Chinese people. It should be noted that they form the majority of the population of Taiwan. The ethnic Chinese who migrated to Taiwan from China are estimated to compose 10-15 percent of the total population of Taiwan.

One interesting fact for the Philippines is that the original settlers of the island of Taiwan are considered to be indigenous Malayo-Polynesian people, which make them racially and ethnically related to the Filipino people. The rest of the population, who are essentially the Chinese immigrants and the Taiwanese, are descendants of the Han Chinese people. It has been observed that the culture of the Chinese indigenous tribe is very similar to that of the people in the Cordilleras.

This increasing tension between China and the US over Taiwan will be the primary determinant of whether there will be peace or war in this part of the world.

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Young Writers’ Hangout on Aug. 27 with returning author-facilitator Mica Magsanoc, 2-3 p.m. Mica was once a young writer with us too!

Contact  [email protected].  0945.2273216

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