The Herald on Sunday

‘Most dangerous place on Earth’?

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ONE headline in a foreign affairs magazine recently referred to it as the “Taiwan Temptation”. At its narrowest the strait separating Taiwan from China is only 81 miles, but ever since the two entities separated in 1949 after the Chinese Civil War relations between the two have been rocky.

To say that Beijing covets Taiwan as part of China is something of an understate­ment. Indeed, some Asia analysts have even suggested that perhaps China’s president Xi Jinping has even viewed progress in unifying Taiwan with China as a crucial factor in his quest for a third term in office.

If the uptick in Chinese military activity lately is anything to go by then they could very well be right, terrifying as the implicatio­ns of that are in terms of tensions between Washington and Beijing. On Tuesday of last week, some 28 Chinese military aircraft flew into Taiwan’s air defence zone, the largest reported incursion so far in what has been a growing pattern.

According to sources in Taipei, the Chinese mission included 14 J-16, six J-11 fighters, four nuclear capable H-6 bombers as well as antisubmar­ine, electronic warfare and early warning aircraft. The Chinese operation came barely two days after the G7 group issued a communique following its UK summit in which it highlighte­d “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” and called for a peaceful resolution of issues between China and Taiwan.

The Chinese air force activity also came on the heels of a warning by Nato leaders in Brussels over China’s military threat, calling its behaviour a “systemic challenge”.

As if that were not enough to give some of us nightmares, all this coincided with reports that Taiwan has just signed a weapons contract with the US worth $1.75 billion.

But if all this sounds a bit scary then you can at least take heart in the assessment of America’s most senior general Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

“I think China has a way to go to develop the actual, no-kidding capability to conduct military operations to seize, through military means, the entire island of Taiwan, if they wanted to do that,” Milley told a Senate appropriat­ions committee hearing a few days ago. While the US is not treaty-bound to defend Taiwan, few doubt the seriousnes­s any Chinese assault would pose in testing America’s political and military resolve.

Perhaps for good reason, then, Taiwan deserves the title some give it as “the most dangerous place on Earth”.

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