The worsening struggle around Taiwan, engaging the leading players in the current stage of the “Great World Game,” provides further confirmation of the well-known thesis that the popular media distort real life, which is replaced by simulacra of varying quality. The consequence of this is that what really matters is not what is actually happening at the global gaming table, but what is shown on television and discussed in a high-pitched tone on popular shows.
Nevertheless, we should note that the Taiwan issue, as well as events in the neighboring region of Southeast Asia, were overshadowed by the recent events in Afghanistan. However, they did not stop playing a key role in the comprehensive competition between the two leading world powers, the US and the China. Other significant players are also gradually getting involved.
Meanwhile, within the media narrative of the world’s problems in the second half of August, people (not more than ten in total) would repeatedly fell from airplanes taking off, get killed (a total of about two hundred people) in terrorist attacks, and some individual women get stoned all over. Near the airport, thousands of frightened people of both sexes and different ages crowded together in unsanitary conditions.
But over the same period of time, for various reasons (wars, diseases, accidents, etc.) millions have died in the rest of the world, and billions continue to live (without any hope of positive change) in conditions not much different from those observed at Kabul airport. The area of a few square kilometers, where the media situated the “hell on earth,” eclipsed millions of square kilometers of zones of catastrophic disasters of different nature.
The televised interpretation of a relatively local event in global politics served as the occasion for “fundamental” predictions about the future (most often pitiable) fate of the leading world power. Which, we note, is not impossible, but mostly for long-standing internal reasons.
Meanwhile, in the second half of August 2021, the world’s foremost player just carried out (apparently, rather “sloppily”) the final phase of a multi-year process of military withdrawal from the country, where the motives of its deployment are to this day unclear to even itself. Moreover, during the entire 20-year period of the Afghan adventure, not only ordinary Americans, but several US presidents as well, were perplexed by the question “What are we even doing there?” This was the reason for launching the process of withdrawal from that country, the cost of which fell on the shoulders of the last of these presidents.
In a substantial way, this process was also a consequence of a rethinking of the US place and role in the world, which was the point of an intense discussion (or rather, an uncompromising pique) among American intellectuals in the 2000s. By that time, the position of “neoisolationists” with their original thesis of “the need to return to American origins” had sharply strengthened. Which, of course, comprises the image of the “City upon a Hill,” but does not provide for its “forceful” spread throughout the world. Rather, it is a commodity in the market of concepts of socio-political structure of the state: “Don’t like it? Take a stroll, check out what others peddle; you’ll come back to me in the end.”
Note, by the way, that the relatively brief history of the United States has produced a very curious socio-political (as well as artistic) culture that deserves attention and serious study. In this regard, the occasional gloating giggle over some of the circumstances of the military withdrawal from Afghanistan by one of the world’s leading powers is most unfortunate.
This operation, to reiterate, fits into a longstanding strategy to reduce the presence of the US abroad, as an element of the generalized concept of “offshore balancing”. As for the successes of the Taliban (banned in Russia), they are the result of Washington’s implementation of the mentioned strategy in general, as well as the parties’ agreements, in particular.
However, as we all know, it is simple to get into a war, but not so much so to get out of it. In this case, it implies a global war for “democratic values”, imposed by the American “Trotskyist neo-cons”, the irreconcilable opponents of the “neo-isolationists”. Afghanistan has never had anything to do with “democracy” in its “Western” interpretation (which is, truthfully, rather vague). Therefore, it is relatively easy to dismiss it as “hopelessly incurable”.
But what about Taiwan, whose structure fits the category of “democracy” in every sense of the word? The price of this issue increases sharply due to the fact that the island occupies an extremely important strategic position in the global confrontation between the two leading world powers, the US and China. The second of them considers Taiwan to be an integral part of their national territory.
The NEO comments more or less regularly on the most significant events accompanying the development of the Taiwan problem. Since about 2016, when there was a change of party leadership in Taiwan, the creeping process of acquiring full-fledged statehood and establishing the island as a normal subject of international relations has been at the center of this problem. Which, to reiterate, is categorically unacceptable to China and which (potentially) could lead to a real (rather than virtual, fabricated by media) hell on earth.
Meanwhile, a notable event in the aforementioned process occurred on August 31, which was the international online conference called Ketagalan Forum-2021 Asia Security Dialogue. We should point out right away that it was not officially representative of the government. Otherwise, by now the discussion of the Taiwan problem would be in the language of munitions. Possibly even the nuclear kind.
Nevertheless, the forum participants included such prominent figures as former Undersecretary of State Richard Shriver (one of the architects of US policy in the Indo-Pacific region) and the recent American representative to the UN, Kelly Craft. Both are proponents of developing that very creeping process. Speaking at the forum, Craft, in particular, said that with the loss of Taiwan, the US will lose the entire Indo-Pacific region.
Its other participants came from Japan, India, Australia, and, attention, Taiwan. For the first time in the evolution of the Taiwan problem, the name of the island was mentioned together with the names of the four countries participating in the main anti-Chinese Quad project. However, under the plausible pretext of a joint struggle with the Covid-19, which (again, formally) was also at the center of the first (video) summit of the Quad in March of this year.
Let us also note the first word in the title of the forum, which denotes the now lost language of the “native Taiwanese”. In this regard, we should note that a significant place in this creeping process is occupied by the topic of Taiwanese self-identification as an autonomous nation from the “mainland”.
As for the other (so far mostly indirect-potential) participants in the Taiwan problem, let us mention the August 30 (video) meeting of the French and Australian foreign ministers (that is, in the so-called “2+2” format). The resulting Joint Statement on the Taiwan issue includes three provisions that refer to the “importance” of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, the peaceful resolution of problems “between its shores” and the participation of the island in international organizations. One can easily imagine the looks on the faces of the Chinese Foreign Ministry officials reading these paragraphs.
But apparently what concerned Beijing the most was the third remarkable event, which was the (first) Japan-Taiwan meeting on the generalized topic of “security” held in late August by representatives of the ruling parties (the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Progressive Party, respectively). And the reason for this concern is clear. After all, the US and France are located very far from the region in question and can (in theory) afford to ignore some “trouble” that suddenly happens ten thousand kilometers from their territories. In Australia, a year from now, judging by the latest electorate sentiment polls, the loss of power by the current (in no small part masochistic) government is a very real possibility.
But Japan is not going anywhere. Only a hundred kilometers away from Taiwan is the closest island of the Ryukyu archipelago, a property of Japan. The political component of Japan-China relations appears (to put it mildly) “complicated“. Pro-Japanese sentiment is strong in Taiwan. Japan itself is bound by a full-fledged military-political alliance with the United States and a quasi-alliance with Australia.
So once again we have to admit that there is hardly any light shining in the thick clouds hanging over the Taiwan problem, and we can only hope that the situation will change in the future. The next general election in Taiwan, which will probably take place in early 2024, could be a good opportunity for this.
Finally, we should note that the (invisible) director of the world political drama employs relatively marginal mises en scène, and occasionally brings out clowns of varying degrees of “independence” from behind the scenes. So that the popcorn chewers in the auditorium would not pay attention to the main action (for the time being), which could bring about the most severe consequences for them.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.