The Taiwan Clock.

            For much of the Thirties, some foreign observers of Germany posited that “Nazis” could be best understood as an umbrella term under which gathered “radicals” and “moderates.” Adolf Hitler arbitrated their differences while keeping a wary eye on what traditional elites would tolerate.  Eventually, it became apparent that Hitler utterly dominated German policy.[1]  It seems apparent that Xi Jinping utterly dominates Chinese policy.  Moreover, he intends to continue doing so for the foreseeable future. 

            Taiwan now garners close attention.  The island had long been a province of historical China.  In 1895, a Westernizing Japan had seized the island as a prize of war with the decaying Qing dynasty.  Japan held Taiwan until its own defeat in 1945.  Then China, in the form of the Kuomintang (KMT) government of the Republic of China, regained possession.  Having regained the island province, the KMT then lost the mainland to the Communists by 1949.  Taiwan became the “last ditch” of the KMT.  The Korean War (1950-1953) brought the United States squarely in opposition to the Communist Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) and in support of the defeated KMT.  The Americans built a chain of strong societies around their chief Asian enemy.  Over time, these American allies became prosperous and democratized their governments.  Then, the Nixon Administration’s opening to China compelled all parties to live with a situation of “strategic ambiguity.”  China maintained its claim to Taiwan, but did nothing to make good on it.  The United States acknowledged China’s claim on Taiwan, so long as Beijing did nothing to make good on it.  Taiwan asserted its independence while trying hard not to provoke China.  In short, all agreed to kick the can down the road.[2] 

            The PRC has never–formally or informally–accepted the weakening of central authority over peripheral areas or the loss of traditional Chinese territory to foreign imperialists.  Hence, both Tibet and Xinjiang have been heavily repressed.  Hence, China has been determined to recover Hong Kong and Macao.  Taiwan hits both those buttons. 

            These efforts have greatly intensified under Xi Jinping.[3]  Under his direction, China asserted its claims over the seaways and airways of the South and East China Seas.  Under his direction, China ruptured its agreement with Britain on the special status of Hong Kong. 

China’s support for Russia during its attack on the once-Russian Ukraine shows where Xi’s intentions lie.  The Russo-Ukraine War may have created an opportunity to speed up the pace of recovering Taiwan for China.  In June 2022, Xi denounced the very idea of the Taiwan Strait as an international waterway.  China’s harassing air and naval operations led President Joe Biden to state that the United States will defend Taiwan if it is attacked. 

Nothing daunted, Xi seized upon the visit to Taiwan by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to order military operations around Taiwan.  These operations threaten not only Taiwan, but also the United States and its other Asian allies.  Is the clock ticking down? 


[1] The tedious historical novel by Robert Harris, Munich (2017) nevertheless asks the fascinating question “What would Western leaders have done at Munich in 1938 if they had known about the Hossbach Memorandum of 1937?”  That record of a conference of Nazi leaders made it clear first, that Hitler had a profound grasp of European politics and, second, that he was bent on war in the near future, if not immediately. 

[2] Mostly.  In the mid-1990s, President Bill Clinton ordered a show of naval force to cool Chinese assertiveness. 

[3] Tiffany May and Mike Ivey, “A Drumbeat of Pressure on Taiwan, Explained,” NYT, 9 August 2022. 

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