March 10, 2021 at 12:00 am
"Tensions between China and Taiwan are escalating."
Between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China is a narrow strip of the sea called the Taiwan Strait. It separates Fujian in the mainland from the island of Taiwan, with small islands in between, such as the Pescadores or Penghu, closer to Taiwan, and Kinmen and Matsu, close enough to the mainland. Kinmen, formerly called Quemoy, can be seen by the naked eye from Gulangyu in Fujian.
The majority of our Chinoys trace their ancestry from forefathers who came to the Philippines from Fujian. Surnames like Tan, Lim, Uy, Go, Co, Sy and Ty or their later combinations such as Tantoco, Limkachiong, Uytengsu, Gokongwei, Cojuangco, and many more are several generations descended from their pioneering ancestors who left Fujian for better opportunities in the Philippines, just as the Cantonese and Hakka, who predominate in the Asean mainland of Indo-China.
Just 180 kilometers of the waters of the South China Sea separate the mainland from Taiwan, and a maritime border or median line was drawn in 1955 by the United States whose Pacific and China Sea forces were dominant, with Subic and Clark in our country still their military bases.
These days, however, incursions into the ADIZ or the air defense identification zone beyond that median line have been occurring with almost daily frequency by the PROC air force, with Taiwan scrambling its own aircraft to challenge the transgressions.
The Taiwan Strait is geopolitically getting narrower and narrower, as tensions escalate between the PROC which insists that Taiwan is part of its territory and the government of Taiwan which proclaims sovereignty under democratic rule.
Of late, the two closest People’s Liberation Army Air Force bases in Fujian, one in Longtian and the other in Huitan, are being massively expanded. PLA aircraft can reach Taipei from these bases within seven minutes.
Satellite images show that the runways are being enlarged and renovated, raising founded speculations that China is preparing to re-position more aircraft closer to Taiwan.
Apart from the incursions on its ADIZ, Taiwan is increasingly getting pressures on the economic “battlefield” from a mainland whose economy has grown by leaps and bounds, partly with investments coming from Taiwan big business which invested heavily in economic zones opened by Deng Xiao Ping after the demise of Mao Zedong.
The most recent example is what we described last week as the “war of the pineapples” where China’s customs authority unilaterally banned the entry of sweet and delicious Formosa pineapples over allegations of “harmful organisms,” a big blow to Taiwan farmers.
Responding quickly, the domestic market rose to the challenge, and bought pineapples heavily. Taiwan’s former colonizer, now its staunchest ally, Japan, also pre-ordered 6.2 million kilos of the fruit, shattering all previous import records.
The result --- an entire year’s production was pre-purchased in just four days of commitments to buy. The loss of the China market was effectively offset.
But the saga of the narrowing Taiwan Strait, not physically but due to geopolitical and security developments, heightens once more with the re-assertion of America’s democratic alliances by the new POTUS, Joseph Biden.
In unveiling his national security strategic guidance, Pres. Biden vowed to reinvigorate and modernize US alliances and partnerships around the world, particularly with India in South Asia, Japan and South Korea in East Asia, Australia in the South Pacific and its ANZUS alliance with New Zealand, as well as its ASEAN allies in the Southeast.
Biden particularly mentioned Singapore and Vietnam in citing the strong alliance with ASEAN member states, but unlike his proximate predecessors in office, omits mention of the Philippines with which it has a Mutual Defense pact.
Our friend Charmaine Deogracias, writing for Vera Files, did research on the security alliance pronouncements of previous American presidents from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush, to Barack Obama and even the transactional Donald Trump, which always mentioned the Philippines, and at times Thailand too, among its historic and staunchest allies in the region.
Rather unusual, because such major pronouncements are carefully crafted, unless there is a purposive message in the omission.
Meanwhile, in a departure from protocol, the US Charge d’Affaires in Japan welcomed Taiwan’s resident representative Frank Hsieh at the US ambassador’s official residence last March 2. In his Twitter post, America’s Joseph Young stated that he discussed “our shared priorities across a wide range of topics, including our vision for regional stability, economic prosperity and stronger people-to-people ties.”
While Taiwanese diplomats have met their US counterparts informally, this was the first time its top representative or de facto ambassador was able to visit the US ambassador’s residence, something that Beijing might view as an affront to the pronounced One-China policy.
The visit comes almost two weeks before Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are scheduled to visit Japan and South Korea this month. It would be the first international trip by the most important Biden cabinet officials since they took office, further underscoring the significance of our region in the new American government’s security and geopolitical agenda.
Merely looking at the map of our region, and juxtaposing the Biden national security strategic guidance upon it, one cannot help but ask why the Philippines, which along with Taiwan are in the strategic heart of possible conflict, does not seem to attract the attention of the new POTUS at this time.