AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis
“The conquerors are kings, the defeated are bandits,” one ancient Chinese proverb teaches. For most of recorded history, China has been the conqueror in Southeast Asia, with the notable exceptions of colonial rule in the 19th and 20th centuries and the Japanese invasion in World War II. But following Xi Jinping’s acts of aggression toward Taiwan in recent weeks, China may soon become the “bandit” of Asia, as the rest of the world unifies against the Chinese threat.
Ahead of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s planned visit to Taiwan earlier this month, China had warned the United States that its military “would not sit idly by” should Pelosi follow through with the trip. Making good on that promise, the Chinese military launched nearly a dozen ballistic missiles into the waters around Taiwan following the visit – including five that landed in Japanese waters, and a few that flew directly over the Taiwanese capital of Taipei. Following the missile barrage, the Chinese navy remained active off Taiwan’s east and west coasts in an attempt to re-assert China’s claim to the island, which has been self-governing since 1950.
At the same time, Chinese diplomats overseas hewed to the Chinese Communist Party line, decrying Pelosi’s visit as a violation of Chinese sovereignty. When Chinese Ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian, was asked whether the 23 million Taiwanese should determine their own mode of government, Qian responded that 1.4 billion Chinese citizens would decide.
Mr. Xiao also rejected the recent Taiwan Foundation for Democracy polls that indicated 72 percent of Taiwanese were ready to take a stand against coerced unification with China and 62 percent were ready to fight. In a similar poll, National Chengchi University’s Election Study Center revealed that 85.6 percent of Taiwanese rejected the “one country two systems concept” favored by the CCP.
But through its repeated acts of aggression – not just toward Taiwan but every Southeast Asian nation – China is pushing its neighbors closer to the United States and the West, creating a budding alliance that it may soon be unable to overcome.
The unified and decisive response of these countries in the Indo-Pacific region to China’s military exercises in the Taiwan Strait was anger, not fear. Many nations undoubtedly see in China’s bullying of Taiwan the CCP’s treatment of their own country.
In 2021, for instance, the Chinese air force violated Malaysia’s airspace in the eastern part of the country, leading to Malaysia summoning its ambassador from Beijing. In February of this year, a Chinese naval vessel aimed a military-grade laser at an Australian P8 Poseidon aircraft while sailing through Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone, potentially risking the lives of up to 10 Australian military personnel. In June, over international waters, a Chinese jet flew near another Australian air force surveillance plane, releasing “small pieces of aluminum” into the air, posing a safety threat to the crew. Just a few days later, Chinese jets harassed Canadian air force pilots policing North Korean airspace to prevent violation of the sanctions imposed by the United Nations.
Japan has also been on the receiving end of Chinese aggression, including the Chinese ballistic missiles that fell into Japanese waters on August 4. According to Japanese media outlets, China’s ambassador in Tokyo did not apologize to Japan for violating their territory, even as fears mount within the country that China could attempt to annex Japan’s Ryukyu islands, which host a U.S. military base on Okinawa.
Together, the “Quad” nations of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States are hardening their resistance to China, and other countries in the region are taking note. The Philippines and Singapore recently issued their own statements of solidarity with Taiwan, and other Asian leaders have expressed their concern about Chinese actions in the region.
During a recent meeting of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reportedly stormed out of the Gala Dinner after nearly all members, short of Russia, upheld the need to respect the United Nations Convention for Law of the Seas in a clear snub at China’s behavior in the South China Sea. None of the ASEAN countries changed their commitment to the “One China” policy that upheld the 1955 demarcation line, which Beijing has challenged with its latest military drills.
In many ways, this growing solidarity with Taiwan is the realization of the late Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s vision for a “Free and Open Indo Pacific,” which he laid out in his Confluence of the Two Seas speech in August 2007. A key pillar of Abe’s vision for a “broader Asia” was a free and independent Taiwan, something he emphasized throughout the latter years of his life. To Abe, the Taiwan conflict was a Japanese conflict, and by extension a U.S. and Australian conflict. Every nation involved in the Indo-Pacific had an interest in ensuring Taiwan’s independence.
That attitude of strategic solidarity may well prove to be, as Abe predicted, a deterrent to Chinese direct military intervention in Taiwan. By forcing the rest of the world to recognize that preserving Taiwan’s autonomy is necessary to preserving the global political and economic order, China may have sowed the seeds of its own defeat.
Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.
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