Can Taiwan avoid the fate of Ukraine?

With Russian armies attacking into Ukraine, many have assumed Taiwan faces a similar threat from Mainland China.

Similarities exist. Over Ukraine, Moscow mainly attacked because the Kiev government refused to honour the promise to grant autonomy to pro-Russian districts.

Over Taiwan, Beijing has threatened to use force because the government in Taipei refuses to accept that it is supposed eventually to reunify with China.

Beijing has already been waiting over 70 years for the promised reunification (before the Korean War the US said it would not support an independent Taiwan). Until recently it looked very much as if it would have to wait a lot longer.

The younger generation in Taiwan prefers independence from China. The island is ruled by a new woman-power party, the DPP, which despises the old fogeys in Beijing.  And the US seems more than ready to back Taiwan in any military confrontation with Beijing.

But suddenly all this has changed and from a very unlikely direction.

When China’s former ruler Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan in 1949 with the remnants his KMT political party, he set up a revenge-hungry dictatorship.

But gradually KMT nostalgia for the Mainland replaced unreal hopes for a military return.  Independence-minded politicians in Taiwan combined to form the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Under its current, anti-Beijing leader, Tsai Ing-wen, it was able to challenge and defeat the entrenched KMT.

But now we find the DPP is in trouble. In recent mayoral elections it was badly defeated by KMT candidates. Some blamed Tsai for bringing the threat of war to Taiwan. Others blamed her dictatorial hold on the DPP (she has now resigned leadership).

Meanwhile a much changed KMT says it now only wants separation from Mainland China within a One China framework. And One China is increasingly becoming the reality.

Much of south China has provided a home for Taiwanese investment in labour intensive industry; some two million Taiwanese are now said to live and work there. Mandarin Chinese is now the lingua franca of both Taiwan and the Mainland.

Until the current DPP confrontation with Beijing, Mainland groups contributed much to Taiwan’s tourist industry.

In the recent elections Chiang Kai-shek’s great grandson, the attractively pragmatic 43 year old, US educated, Chiang Wan-an, emerged as the new KMT-backed mayor of the Taipei capital.

He also carries the aura of his grand-father, the popular former president, Chiang Ching-kuo, who sought closer relations with Beijing.

Wan-an’s supporters say he has an all-Taiwan support base over 40 percent – double that of the KMT. Many are coming to see him as a future Taiwan leader.

Just possibly, and to the frustration of our Anglo military-industrial complex perhaps, Taiwan seems on the way to avoiding the fate of Ukraine.

*Gregory Clark speaks both Chinese and Russian