'We don’t need a made-up war with a great and ancient nation. Humanity has real battles to fight'

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By Mick Le Moignan

WISE nations, like wise individuals, choose their battlegrounds with care. I am not convinced that Taiwan is the hill on which Western civilisation and democracy should make our final stand.

I wrote in my last column about the extraordinary report, Red Alert, jointly published by Australia’s two leading, moderate newspapers, in which they invited five prominent hawks to make their case for doubling our defence budget.

Claiming their aim was deterrence, they proposed a number of offensive innovations, including nuclear-powered submarines, rearmament with long-range strike missiles and explosive drones and (almost unbelievably) ‘compulsory national service’ for all ages.

The report, published with extensive commentary, filling dozens of broadsheet pages over three days, was probably the most extreme piece of pro-military propaganda published here in almost a century.

Ex-PM Paul Keating called it ‘the most egregious and provocative news presentation… I have witnessed in over 50 years of active public life’.

Speaking at the National Press Club, the day after the three current leaders, Biden, Sunak and Albanese, announced in San Diego that the US and UK would help Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines (at vast expense), Keating warned the AUKUS pact could have ‘deadly consequences… I believe it is incumbent on any former prime minister, particularly now, a Labor one, to alert the country to the dangerous and unnecessary journey on which the government is now embarking’.

He described Anthony Albanese as a ‘prime minister with an American sword to rattle at the neighbourhood to impress upon it the United States’ esteemed view of its untrammelled destiny’. He said people were still talking about China as though it was in the Soviet Union instead of a nation in the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation:

‘It is not the old Soviet Union… Xi Jinping at Davos five years ago [was] talking in favour of globalisation. I mean, this is not a state which wishes to overturn the West… There’s a whole lot of difference between not wishing to overturn the West and copping the nonsense from the Americans that the Chinese should live forever under their strategic command…

‘China is a lonely state. That’s the truth of it. They would fall over themselves having a proper relationship with us. Fall over themselves. We supply their iron ore which keeps their industrial base going. And there’s nowhere else but us to get it.’

Seeing Taiwan, properly the Republic of China (ROC), as the last bastion of democratic freedom is a very new concept. The Kuomintang, led by Chiang Kai-shek, retreated there from the mainland in 1949, after losing the final battles of the Chinese civil war with Mao Zedong’s Communists.

He appropriated 700,000 of China’s most precious treasures and artworks, a truly dazzling collection representing 8,000 years of the flowering of Chinese civilisation, which is still on display in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. He maintained a brutal dictatorship in Taiwan until his death in 1975, a year before Mao. The regime hung on till 1987.

The UN had voted in 1971 (with the required two-thirds majority) to withdraw the ROC’s national recognition and China’s permanent seat on the Security Council, awarding them to the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Both PRC and ROC maintain that China is undivided: each government claims mainland China and the islands of Taiwan as their rightful territory. A popular view is that the Chinese civil war has not yet ended.

No Taiwanese government has ever declared independence from China, nor has there ever been a popular majority of Taiwanese in favour of independence, until a narrow margin in one opinion poll taken last year. If the Taiwanese don’t want independence, what gives us the right to impose it on them?

Neither side in this proposed World War Three has a squeaky-clean reputation. Both have used their powers ruthlessly and indiscriminately.

The PRC has demonstrated bad faith and violent repression of the freedoms we regard as essential, on its own population, in Tibet, among the Uighurs and most recently in Hong Kong.

Within living memory, the Western alliance has tried unsuccessfully to impose democracy by force in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. What on earth makes anyone think we’ll do better in China?

The one tactic that has been studiously ignored by the strategists playing these dangerous war games is the oldest one of all – using our ability to communicate with each other, rather than blindly resorting to threatening catastrophic force.

What is wrong with the UN, acting as honest broker, calling a conference of the parties, so that we can all learn more about the desires and beliefs of both PRC and ROC – and maybe, if PRC and ROC agree, inviting the views of other nations who may believe this dispute concerns them?

To draw a local analogy, Taiwan (Formosa) is a large island, 160km off the Chinese mainland – roughly the distance from Jersey to Weymouth. 24 million people live there – about 1.6% of the PRC’s 1,433 billion, the same ratio as Jersey to the UK.

How would Jersey people feel if a rabid UK government proposed to ‘reunify’ us with the mainland? Would we like, say, Japan, Germany and Argentina to threaten to bomb Britain in our defence? Or would we prefer to sit down and discuss the problem with the Brexiteers to the north, deranged as they may well be?

Taiwan is not ‘plucky little Poland’ in 1939, desperate for the ‘free’ world to come to its aid, no matter what the bloodshed and devastation. Nor is it courageous Ukraine, fighting desperately for its existence, whose inspiring leader told Joe Biden he didn’t want a ride, but ammunition.

The people of Taiwan deserve our help and concern – but they wouldn’t want us to make human life extinct on their account.

We have enough real battles to fight, the existential threat of the climate emergency, the danger of more severe pandemics, widespread famines, poverty and environmental destruction. And we need to nurture and educate coming generations, so they avoid our mistakes.

We don’t need a made-up war with a great, ancient nation. We may have fundamental political differences, but any regime in China should be our staunch ally in the urgent, common causes of humanity.

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