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China is once again in the news, as is increasingly the case. It is time for the Dragon to take the world stage for good. Modern China, Communist China, has lived somewhat in the shadows since its birth in 1949. During the Cold War, it lived in the shadow of the Soviet Union, its cumbersome neighbour and the true leader of world communism. After the fall of the USSR and the end of the Cold War, it lived in the shadow of the United States of America, the world’s only Superpower in the new unipolar system. However, China, a country with a history stretching back thousands of years and which has always been accustomed to being first in the world in the arts, philosophy, science and military strategy, has never accepted the position of ‘second’.
The Chinese civil war, won by the communists led by Mao Zedong against the nationalist Kuomintang forces of Chiang Kai-shek’s Republic of China, handed control of the vast continental territory that is now the People’s Republic of China to the communists. The nationalist government, recognised by western UN member states led by the United States as the sole and legitimate representative of the Chinese people, was forced into exile on the island of Formosa – or Taiwan. The fundamental turning point in China’s international relations came on the 25th of October 1971. On that day, the UN General Assembly decided to recognise the People’s Republic of China with Resolution 2758, mainly due to the change of attitude by the US. The PRC was thus assigned a permanent seat on the Security Council, previously occupied by the Republic of Taiwan. Today Taiwan is recognised as a State only by 14 UN member states and the Holy See. The PRC considers itself the real China and has always seen Taiwan as a part of its national territory in the hands of secessionists to be reunited at all costs. However, the PRC has never had the strength to conquer the island militarily.
During October, the PRC seems to have gained strength and confidence in its military means. Provocations have become much more frequent than in the recent past. The first of October is a day of great celebration because it commemorates the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Since then, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force has sent dozens and dozens of aircraft to the east to fly over the sea. Over just three days, 156 aircraft, including fighter planes and bombers, flew over Taiwan’s air defence identification zone. A country’s air defence identification zone is the space within which every aircraft must identify itself in order not to be considered hostile, or else be shot down by the air defence forces.
This flyover, however innocuous it may seem, is a real show of strength. The People’s Republic of China is telling the whole world, particularly Taiwan and the United States, that it is ready to take its island. Or that at least will be ready very soon. It is militarily saying this, flexing its muscles, showing what it has and is prepared to use. In words, through the mouths of its presidents, it has always promised that the conquest of the island was only a matter of time. President Xi Jinping’s announcement a few days ago goes further in this direction. Xi called Taiwan an “internal matter” of the PRC and stressed that “the complete unification of the country will take place”, threatening, not too lightly, all those who try to oppose it.
The impressive economic growth of the People’s Republic of China over the past three decades and the consequent and equally impressive growth of its military machine, the People’s Liberation Army, allow Xi Jinping to speak with good reason. China has had nuclear weapons since 1964 and, alongside Russia and the United States, it is one of only three countries in the world with a nuclear triad. Plans for military modernisation, research and development mainly concern the navy, already the largest in the world but aiming to be the strongest by overtaking the almost omnipotent US Navy.
How the situation will evolve is far from clear. The PRC may invade Taiwan very soon: by the year 2025, according to the prediction of a Taiwanese politician and former general. The United States, Communist China’s only rival in the world today, will certainly be involved, especially in the light of the very recent agreement with Australia to supply nuclear-powered submarines that has caused such an international stir. A handful of special troops and US Marines are present on the island to train its armed forces to respond to a Chinese attack. However, should the feared invasion take place, it is unlikely that the US would be content to provide such poor support to the Pacific island. Taiwan is holding back Communist China from becoming the world’s leading power in military terms, given its geographical location, but not only. The very existence of a pseudo-state in Taiwan is a constant thorn in the side of the PRC, unable to complete the longed-for territorial unity.
We believe that it will be war, and it will be an open war between the giant power of Communist China and the small but tenacious Taiwan. The US will take Taiwan’s side, and whether it decides to get involved in an open conflict or to sit back and watch events unfold in the East from the comfort of its nuclear aircraft carriers, the China-Taiwan clash will reshape the East Asian region and the entire international order.