How long can Taiwan evade the gigantic clutches of China, a country 60 times bigger and which has claimed the right – with increased belligerence since Xi Jinping assumed power in Beijing in 2012 – to recover the island it lost in 1949? And what would the United States do if China resorted to military force to seize Taiwan?
These questions are not just academic. Last week 28 Chinese warplanes mounted the biggest incursion yet into the island’s air defence zone and Xi has threatened more of the same if Taiwan attempts to build up its defence forces with the help of Nato and neighbouring Asian countries, as encouraged by G7 leaders at their recent meeting in Britain.
Under its 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the US is bound to help defend the island from attack. But the commitment is vaguely worded and talks about providing “articles” and “services” to strengthen the island’s “self-defence.”
One wonders if President Biden would use military force to help Taiwan if the island’s defenders were to land the first blow against China’s intimidation. The Taiwanese military could be provoked into taking some retaliatory action, if only to show that their much-vaunted defence systems are not just a sham.
We may assume that Biden’s foreign policy advisers are already hard at work in Washington preparing optional responses for the President if any form of shooting war begins, even by accident.
It has always been argued that an outright military attack by Xi is unlikely, since his country has strong economic ties with Taiwan, whose factories provide much of the micro-chip capacity that underpins China’s astonishing growth in technology – and that a million Taiwanese live, work or study on the mainland.
Taiwan still calls itself “the Republic of China,” which is a constant provocation to Beijing.
Another provocation is that in 1949, when Chiang-Kai-shek’s Nationalists fled to the island after losing the long civil war against Mao-Tse-Tung’s Communist army, they took with them most of China’s artistic treasures and its foreign financial reserves.
Taiwanese military governments, which ruled the island from 1949 to 1987, proclaimed that recovery of the mainland was their main objective. But these David versus Goliath claims have been muted since a democratic form of government was introduced in the 1990s. Instead, the island paid lip service to the idea that unification with China would happen one day in the future. Taiwanese politics is now divided between pro-independence and pro-unification parties.
This compromise held until Xi came to power. One might have expected him to welcome the withdrawal of Taiwan’s military threat to China and to build peaceful trading relations instead. But Taiwan’s economic “miracle” creates a different and in some ways more potent threat to China: it shows that a country can be hugely successful and also allow people the right to vote and to freedom of expression.
When I was chairman of the London Press Club. I was invited to visit Taiwan with my wife. We enjoyed the mountainous scenery, the lovely parks and (mostly) the food. The exception was when our guide pointed gleefully to a large live fish in a tank and, a short time later, we found it on our table ready to be eaten, even though its tail was still moving.
The guide was always interrupting our schedule with a sudden stop at a restaurant or café – for another breakfast, a mid-morning snack, lunch, then an afternoon snack, an evening meal, and so on. We thought at first this was being done in a genuine spirit of hospitality, then realised that it was to satisfy his own gluttonous appetite.
At the end of our visit the Minister for Tourism gave a delightful lunch for us. Even though my gently probing questions about China were deflected gracefully, the elephant remained in the dining room.
The best game ever
To quote Brian Clough: “If it wasn’t the best game I have ever seen, it is certainly up there in the top one.” Brian Moore, the former England hooker, was right to dig up this old quote for the stunning match between Bristol and Harlequins in last Saturday’s Premiership semi-final.
It was certainly the most exciting game of rugby I have ever seen – and I have been watching for over 60 years. Bristol thumped the Quins in the first half-hour, building up an apparently unassailable lead of 28 points to nil. The Quins hit back after the break with seven tries to win by 43 points to 36.
Scrum-half Danny Care, number eight Alex Dombrandt and grizzled prop Joe Marler were the men who inspired the fightback, in which Leighton Green, the full-back, and wingers Joe Marchant and Lewis Lynagh, son of former Wallaby Michael (though qualified for England) scored some brilliant tries.
Whether the Quins can reproduce this second-half form for Saturday’s final against Exeter, the holders, may be asking too much of them. Rob Baxter’s west country juggernaut has a habit of winning vital matches. I’ll be rooting for the Londoners because the club from the Stoop has always given the impression that, for them, the game is about enjoying yourself and providing entertainment for spectators, rather than winning at all costs.
I was struck by the fact that three players on show in the semi-finals – Dombrandt, Nathan Hughes for Bristol and Sam Simmonds for Exeter – gave the best performances by a number eight I have seen all season. The first hasn’t yet been picked by England coach Eddie Jones (though that must surely happen now) and he has rejected the other two.
I feel sorry for Pat Lam’s Bristol, who led the Premiership table and played some of the best rugby of the season, only to be beaten to the play-off final by the fourth-placed team, Harlequins. There ought to be a separate cup for the league leaders.
Ronaldo’s smart move
A prize for the best move at the Euro 21 football tournament must go to Christiano Ronaldo for the way he brushed a Coca Cola bottle off screen at a press conference, thereby knocking $4billion off the company’s share price.
One wonders if sports stars are getting fed up with being forced to promote consumer items they don’t use and may disapprove of. The Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka decided to drop out of the French Open rather than answer journalists’ inane questions at a press conference just before going on court for a big match.
I’m on the players’ side over this and, like them, I think press conferences are out of date and rarely, if ever, produce an interesting new thought. I share the players’ anger at the hectoring of marketing executives who threaten massive fines if they refuse to do what offends them.