While the world waits and hopes to see if North Korea follows through on its intent to eliminate its nuclear weapons program and reach a peace accord with South Korea, there are other areas of East Asia where military tensions bubble under the surface.
Relations between Taiwan and China have never been rosy, and the animosity between the two has only grown in recent years. China views Taiwan as an “inalienable part” of its country, while Taiwan sees itself as a self-governed island independent from Beijing.
China has always reserved the right to use military force to bring Taiwan back under Chinese control.
China has ramped up military drills around the island, particularly in the Taiwan Strait, the waterway separating the Chinese mainland from the island.
It has also tried to isolate Taiwan’s economic connections around the world.
In the hopes of bolstering its defense against a possible attack by China, Taiwan’s defense ministry plans to buy 108 U.S.-made M1A2 tanks, according to reports in Taiwan’s United Daily News.
“The Taiwan Strait is very likely to replace the Korean peninsula as the hottest flashpoint in the region,” National Defence Minister Yen Teh-fa told a panel of legislators. “In response to the changing situation, Taiwan’s military has also increased its combat readiness.”
Taiwan split from mainland China amid civil war in 1949. China cut off relations with Taiwan shortly after President Tsai Ing-wen, of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, took office in 2016.
Beijing has used its economic and political clout to lure allies away from Taiwan. The biggest blow of late to Taiwan came Tuesday, when the Dominican Republic established diplomatic ties with China and ended its ties with Taiwan.
“The Dominican Republic has ignored our long-term partnership, the wishes of the people of the Dominican Republic and the years of development assistance provided by Taiwan to accept false promises of investment and aid by China,” Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told reporters.
China refuses to maintain diplomatic relations with any country that recognizes Taiwan. The United States has close but unofficial ties with Taiwan and provides the island with arms under the Taiwan Relations Act.
With the loss of the Dominican Republic, Taiwan now diplomatic relations with just 19 countries, and most are small and poor countries in the Pacific and Caribbean. Taiwan has lost diplomatic relations with four countries since Tsai took office two years ago.
Chinese state media trumpeted the Dominican Republic’s new relationship with China with bulletins on evening newscasts and the front pages of newspapers.
“It shows that no matter how hard the Taiwan authorities try to maintain the island’s ‘international space,’ their efforts to secure recognition of the island as an ‘independent country’ are doomed to failure,” China Daily wrote in its coverage of the story.
Taiwan’s defense strategy calls for making its armed forces more resilient and agile, and therefore better able to respond to enemy surprise attacks. Part of this effort has involved downsizing and moving toward an all-volunteer military.
According to an Op-Ed by Ian Easton in The Diplomat, Taiwan’s military needs to modernize its equipment, and the U.S. will play a key role in that effort.
“The United States has an indispensable role to play,” Easton wrote. “Only the United States can provide Taiwan with access to advanced training and weapons. To keep Taiwanese combat units one step ahead of the would-be aggressor, the Pentagon should give them access to U.S. training ranges in California and invite them to training exercises in Hawaii and Guam. In addition, Washington should restart regular arms sales to Taiwan and lift self-imposed restrictions on ship visits and high-ranking officer visits.”
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