China and Taiwan are the new Russia and Ukraine. There is a boiling cauldron of geopolitics floating in the South China Sea.

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As if Russia and Ukraine hasn’t been a challenging enough conflict to manage, the bubbling political cauldron of Taiwan that China is threatening to knock over. This thorn in China’s side has been a long time in the sharpening. So why now? Is Taiwan pushing the thorn, or is China walking into it?

To understand why this is such big news requires a look at their history.

Taiwan (officially The Republic of China) is an island in the South China Sea some 100 miles off China’s coast. South from this island is a number of other islands friendly to the US, including, eventually, the Philippines. In short, Taiwan is a vital stepping stone for wider influence in the western Pacific region.

China first had control of Taiwan in the 17th century (though it had relative autonomy) before ceding it to Japan in 1895. China retook control in 1945. The Communists took control of China in 1949, and Taiwan has long said it was never part of the modern iterations of China, either after 1911 or as part of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Taiwan has its own constitution and democratically-elected leaders, as well as about 300,000 active troops in its armed forces.

Over the decades, a parallel sort of Cold War has existed between the US and allies, and China, with Taiwan being used as a pawn, or as the chess board. Presently, only 13 countries recognize Taiwan as an independent state. But many Western nations have, for some years, been arming Taiwan, with the island a part of the huge global military-industrial complex.

Earlier this month, the US agreed to sell Taiwan $1.2 billion of weaponry. The UK, in their own political statement, have “specially invited” Taiwan to sign Queen’s condolence book and is phasing out Beijing-backed Chinese teachers to replace them with Taiwanese teachers.

As China’s economy has opened up and as the country has become more global and outward-looking, tensions over Taiwan have been growing.

Over recent months and years, China has been saber-rattling with massive forces around Taiwan. On Sunday, US President Joe Biden said the US would back Taiwan in a potential conflict. Asked by 60 Minutes if “US forces, US men and women, would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion,” Biden answered, “Yes.”

Although the US does not formally support Taiwan’s independence (in what is known as “The One China policy”), Biden did state in the same interview that “Taiwan makes their own judgments about their independence.” Though he continued: “We’re not encouraging their being independent.”

This is the third time Biden has spoken beyond this agreement. Although the US has no official ties with Taiwan, it does, however, have a law that requires it to provide the island with the means to defend itself.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently visited Taiwan and this prompted China to fire missiles into the nearby sea and fly jets toward the island.

The US is treading a fine, delicate line in the region. At a time of Russia melting away before the world’s eyes in terms of real power and influence, becoming almost a vassal state of China, Xi Jinping is fast becoming the new international bogeyman and China the New Cold War adversary. And Taiwan is the potential kingmaker, or indeed kingslayer, that we all need to be watching with very keen eyes.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...