China’s repeated threats to Taiwan bring to mind the Daleks of Dr Who, threatening to ‘exterminate, exterminate’ so frequently that it becomes background noise. No longer. Xi Jinping, China’s leader, has dramatically upped the stakes. Taiwan has moved to the top of his ‘do to’ list. The Taiwan Strait is now a very dangerous place, and the prospect of war, sucking in the United States and its Western allies, is higher than at any time in decades.
Beijing has already launched a grey war – cyber-attacks, disinformation and military intimidation. This is not a ‘family spat’, a hangover from the Chinese civil war, as often portrayed. It is far bigger. China and Taiwan have moved rapidly – in opposite directions, China towards digital totalitarianism, Xi creating a dark and repressive surveillance state that allows no dissent. While Taipei has built one of the world’s most open and vibrant democracies - an alternate model of what China could become. And therein lies the biggest threat to Beijing, and the dilemma for those seeking to defend those values in the face of Chinese belligerence across the globe. The stakes have never been higher. After a relentless military build-up Xi feels he has the strength to take Taiwan and deter American intervention.
For four decades Taiwan has prospered while living a fiction that is no longer sustainable – its cornerstone a ‘one China policy’ under which all supposedly agree there is only one China, but fudge what that means. Taiwan has avoided declaring formal independence while building all the trappings of a sovereign state. The US provides a deliberately ambiguous security guarantee; China promotes a ‘one-country-two-systems’ solution, but this now lies in tatters on the streets of Hong Kong. Meanwhile, Taiwan is a key cog – a potential choke point in the global high tech economy.
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Ian Williams is a journalist by training, with extensive experience living and working in China, and a solid grounding in technology. He wrote about popular science for the Sunday Times, before becoming that newspaper’s business correspondent. He then moved to television, first with Channel 4 News and most recently with NBC News.
For twenty-five years he was a foreign correspondent, based first in Russia and then in the Far East. His more recent assignments have been to bureaus in Hong Kong, Bangkok and Beijing. He has also covered conflicts in the Balkans, the Middle East and Ukrain...
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