China’s diplomatic efforts are now countered by a larger diplomatic presence in the region on behalf of the United States and Japan as Foreign Minister Wang Yi walked out of a Phnom Penh gala dinner this week. On Thursday, the communist country reminded Thailand of its commitment to the One China principle by which Bangkok recognises its sovereignty over the renegade island while it engaged in the largest military drill in its history just 20km off Taiwan as it simulated a blockade of the island by sea and air as its forces encircled it at six points.

On Thursday, China’s Embassy in Bangkok described Thailand as a ‘strategic cooperative partner’ as it reminded the country of its 1975 commitment to the One China principle by which it accepted Beijing’s sovereignty over Taiwan. It comes amid unprecedented Chinese military exercises surrounding the island of Taiwan which are to run until at least Sunday. US intelligence and top brass have repeatedly warned of China’s hostile intentions against Taiwan which Beijing has vowed to someday take by force with an Australian expert and academic warning that China may launch its predicted attack on Taiwan before the end of 2024 with an all-out blockade against the renegade province where its superior airpower will be the critical factor in delivering a knockout blow.

China under the leadership of President Xi Jinping (left) has led western countries to have buyer’s remorse after decades of rapprochement with Communist China beginning in the 1970s with acceptance of the One China principle by which China under the United Nations and international law was recognised as having sovereignty over Taiwan a principle accepted by the United States in 1978 and Thailand in 1975. This week, as President Tsai Ing-wen welcomed Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi to Taipei, she did so against the backdrop of intense sabre rattling from Beijing that is now going beyond simply an expression of disapproval into something far more serious, something which US intelligence has been warning about for years and which US policy in Asia is now trying to build a bulwark against, that is naked Chinese aggression which, much the same as Russia, must be contained at all costs. This challenge is facing all countries in the region including Thailand as Taiwan looks like it will be the point of contention.

As China ramps up its military exercises surrounding Taiwan at six points just 20km off the island, with live fire and warnings to commercial aircraft as well as maritime shipping to stay clear, the Communist Party Global Times newspaper in Beijing has said that the country’s armed forces are simulating an aerial and maritime blockade of what China views as a renegade province following the provocative and historic visit of US Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi to Taipei on Wednesday.

The further escalation of what is a growing problem and direct threat to peace and stability in the Asia Pacific as well as the global economy, has its roots in the 1970s era of rapprochement between China, the United States and other western powers which saw virtually the whole world, including Thailand, recognise the One China principle by which China was accorded theoretical sovereignty over the island which the Communist Party has never ruled and which has emerged as one of Asia’s most successful democracies in recent decades.

This week, as President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, welcomed Speaker Pelosi to Taipei and China raged at the visit, many western powers and other countries even in Asia were questioning the thinking of the 1970s and decades of rapprochement with China which remains an authoritarian regime with the current President Xi Jinping seeking an unprecedented third term in power, by playing up his nationalist, strongman credentials to the elite of the Communist Party.

Communist China never held power over Taiwan which held itself out as the Republic of China

Taiwan, formerly known as Formosa, was occupied by Japan in 1895 and only came under the control of mainland China in the aftermath of World War Two when it held itself out as the Republic of China and became a haven for the retreating nationalist forces of key US ally against the Japanese, Chiang Kai-shek at the end of 1949 when The Communist Party swept to power in Beijing.

Even to this day, Taiwan sees itself as the Republic of China and theoretically claims sovereignty over the mainland, a theoretical claim that was been progressively rendered more obsolete by international diplomacy since the 1970s when China was brought in from the cold by the United Nations in 1971 and the United States in 1978, recognising Beijing’s sovereignty over the island.

The problem today, however, is that the western world has developed buyer’s remorse over this diplomatic approach based on the thinking that a prosperous China would lead to a more benign power emerging as a key support to global economic growth and the international order.

Buyer’s remorse from other powers after acquiescing in the 1970s to the One China policy after China’s human rights record and its role in Hong Kong

In the last decade, the world has grown ever more wary about its long-standing rapprochement with China.

This has been acutely aggravated by developments in Hong Kong and grotesque human rights abuses on an industrial scale in the Chinese province of Xinjiang where the large ethnic minority group of Muslim Uighurs have been persecuted in a campaign that has become impossible for western democracies to ignore any longer.

In Hong Kong, it now looks like the British agreement to hand back the once thriving city colony to Beijing in 1997 has killed off the once bright prospects for that city as an international powerhouse with hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers exiting the territory annually, many of them taking up an offer of UK residency to Hong Kong citizens just in the last two years.

In June, the last British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, fully accepted that Beijing had not honoured its agreement under the treaty signed with the United Kingdom and which was the basis for the handover in 1997.

At that time, it aimed to maintain Hong Kong’s unique status and freedoms enjoyed as a colony.

‘They’ve broken their word, as I’m afraid they do regularly’ said the last British Governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten as investors and population take flight

‘They’ve broken their word, as I’m afraid they do regularly’ the former governor who oversaw the then colony from 1992 to 1997 when it was the eighth largest trading centre in the world, was quoted on Radio Free Asia in June.

He described the colony he left behind as the equivalent of a Rolls Royce with stability, effective democracy, a vibrant free press and the rule of law. 

All that was needed, he explained, was Beijing to turn the ignition key and drive the car to continued success.

Today, investors are warned off the city by US authorities, the once vibrant free press has been suppressed with media outlets shuttered as in Russia while respected publishers and journalists are jailed for voicing opinions deemed as a threat to national security by Beijing, all enforced by a government and security service installed and controlled by the Communist Party.

The city’s democracy and its once respected rule of law that flourished in the international territory, famous for its business acumen and dynamism while overseen by Britain up to 1997, has been snuffed out.

US intelligence sources have been sounding the alarm about China’s rapid militarisation for years which is aimed squarely at Taiwan and efforts to take it

At the same time, US intelligence sources have, in the last five years, been urgently highlighting the accelerating militarisation of China with top brass telling Congress that they believe that China is preparing for a military invasion of Taiwan or military operation against the island, something that some senior intelligence sources have predicted will happen in the next ten years despite the reluctance of many long time observers of China in accepting this on the basis of their undoubted rationale that it would lead to huge losses for both China as well as the United States, western powers and indeed all countries in the region if this happened.

They also point to the challenge presented to China, by the invasion of a well-defended island hundreds of kilometres from its shore.

It is still a herculean task even for the strongest of military powers which the Communist country has now become.

However, it is the economic damage caused by a potential outbreak of war in the Asia Pacific and in particular, the Taiwan Strait, that stands out.

Sensitive nature of the Taiwan Strait makes this a global security and economic challenge and comes with erratic Chinese behaviour since the virus crisis

This week, it was revealed by Bloomberg that 50% of all containers shipped worldwide in the first seven months of 2022 sailed through the Taiwan Strait to the west of the island which, at its narrowest, is only 120 km from the Chinese mainland.

However, respected analysts, even as late as early this year, said the same thing about the prospects of Russia launching an all-out invasion against Ukraine up to February 24th 2022.

Analysts should also note that since the virus emergency of 2019, it has not been business as usual for China, a country that now regularly shuts down critically important economic areas, inexplicably cuts off electricity to key production centres and where economic data is now openly questioned and dismissed by respected economists as fabricated.

The ‘factory of the world’ as China had been seen up to recent years is now also in the grip of a deeply concerning property and banking crisis which authorities in the middle kingdom have not been able to come to terms with despite the draconian powers exercised by the Communist Party except for hiring gangs of thugs wearing white shirts who have emerged to shut down protest activities by depositors outside failed banks in the country, in similar actions to those seen in Hong Kong during pro-democracy protests up to last year.

Exodus of western firms from China since the US-China trade war as economies around the world appear to be firmly on road to decoupling from it

These are some of the reasons for the exodus of western firms from China over the last three years since former US president Donald Trump launched a trade war against Beijing.

There are also now reports of barriers being erected by the United States concerning computer chip manufacturing and advanced technology industries as well as an ongoing financial decoupling with US authorities adopting a more hawkish and sceptical stance toward Chinese firms due to both security and regulatory concerns.

There is now a definite momentum worldwide with firms seeking to disconnect their supply chains from China while at the economic level, countries are far warier of engaging with Beijing or its leading firms.

Australian professor believes China will ultimately blockade Taiwan and that air power will be critical

This week’s simulation of a blockade may well be an indicator of what China has in mind for Taiwan according to 51-year-old Professor Clinton Fernandes of the University of New South Wales in Australia.

He has warned that the key to any tussle between the United States and supporting western powers over Taiwan with China, in military terms, if a conflict does open up, will be the battle for air power and superiority while also suggesting that China’s strategy in forcing the island into submission may not be an invasion but a permanent blockade.

Key to a war over Taiwan will be airpower

‘The military centre of gravity is China’s air defence system in the south, it has the ability to deny the United States control of the air. If the United States cannot control the air, it cannot win either at land or at sea,’ he explained in October 2021. ‘The defence of Taiwan is predicated on a Chinese invasion but if China’s main effort is not an invasion but a blockade, then what? Taiwan doesn’t have a Plan B. That’s the big problem.’

Professor Fernandes believes we are already in the danger window for any potential Chinese action.

Beijing’s move expected anytime up to the end of 2024 after the Winter Olympic Games says expert

He predicted last year that it will come before the 2024 US General Election and after the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing which took place earlier this year.

China’s Belt and Road policy in the region, including its plans for Thailand, has seen the communist giant encouraging the use of rail and land transit of goods and exports to foreign markets rather than the use of shipping lanes.

At the same time, the administration of US President Joe Biden through his coordinator for the Asia Pacific, Dr Kurt Campbell, earlier this year, in April, made no secret that US policy on Ukraine was designed to be emphatic and decisive in order to send a clear signal to Beijing about its intents towards Taiwan.

Vicious US sanctions on Russia open the door to a new, more polarised order also in the Asia Pacific, clearly aimed at China as a ‘cautionary’ tale

The US government, it is understood, believes that there is a significant threat of hostile action by China towards Taiwan and has repeated that it sees its goal as the maintenance of peace and stability in the region.

Thailand urged by its experts to stay neutral and take advantage of any potential economic fallout

Reaction to the latest military drills in Bangkok has been predictable with Sompop Manarungsan of the Panyapiwat Institute of Management (PIM) warning on Thursday that more can be expected from Beijing after the visit of the 82-year-old Ms Pelosi in support of democracy and human rights.

‘As a strategic action, the US has started an opening move which will only deepen the polarisation between the US and China,’ he said. His view was supported by Mr Somjai Phagaphasvivat, a respected observer and international analyst who urged Thailand to tread a careful line of strict impartiality between the roiling tensions that are quickly developing between those jockeying for power in the region against a backdrop of US suspicion as to China’s intent.

More business expected from China and Taiwan

Mr Sompop also saw an opportunity for Thailand as tensions over Taiwan begin to encroach on the dynamic island’s economy and its business sector. 

‘More businessmen from mainland China are also expected to come to Thailand as they still maintain good business ties with their Taiwanese counterparts. It is also likely that these Taiwanese businessmen will use Thailand as a base for their exports to mainland China,’ Mr Sompop opined. ‘It’s also important for Thailand to work closely with other ASEAN countries to strengthen regional security.’

Taiwan is one of Thailand’s largest investors and Bangkok recognised Taipei up until 1975 when it accepted the One China principle like other countries

Taiwan is one of Thailand’s largest inward investors with the island state also being a key ally up to 1975 when the kingdom recognised the One China principle and established diplomatic relations with Beijing thereby relegating Taipei.

Up to that point, China and Thailand were enemies with Bangkok viewing the Communist Party in Beijing as a destabilising force in the country over its sponsorship of internal insurgency groups.

Today, after decades of prosperity achieved by working with China and the growth of the country’s affluent Thai Chinese business elite, the situation is utterly changed although Thailand, in the last two years, has been moving back into the orbit of the United States with a renewal of the country’s long-standing military alliance with Washington and Bangkok signing up for the new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, a network of economic relationships designed to strengthen and support US supply chains in the region.

Kingdom moving back into the orbit of the United States while also forging closer ties with Japan, a key part of the developing coalition to counter China

Significantly, Bangkok is developing closer relations with Japan, the country’s largest inward investor, by a longshot, which is seen as playing a critical part in strengthening the US alliance in the region being built to check what is seen as China’s increased belligerence.

A senior spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tanee Sangrat, in Bangkok on Thursday offered Thailand’s unwavering support of the One China policy and said that Thailand does not want to see any further actions which would aggravate matters further at this point.

Mr Tanee echoed the line of ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Phnom Penh Cambodia on Thursday at which China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in attendance, calling for every effort to preserve peace and stability in the region.

That meeting was also attended by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken with signs that ASEAN, while maintaining its neutrality, is in a pivotal position.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi walks out

Japan’s Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa also attended the conference and engineered a pact with ASEAN to work towards maritime security in the region.

The presence of the East Asian power appeared to irk Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi who walked out of a gala dinner event on Thursday suddenly after entering the room without giving any reason for the abrupt change of heart. 

On Wednesday, the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok described Thailand as a ‘strategic cooperative partner’ and called on the kingdom to uphold the principle it committed to when it signed up for the One China policy in 1975.

The statement said that China remained convinced that Thailand, as a friendly neighbour of China, will continue to uphold international justice, support China’s efforts to safeguard state sovereignty and territorial integrity, champion China’s great cause of reunification, and work with China to jointly maintain the peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the region.’

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