Over my time farming, I’ve worked out that if you have a stroppy bull, the best thing is not to provoke or goad it.
Good chance it would end badly for you and eventually for the bull itself.
The United States House Speaker decided to make a quick visit to Taiwan last week.
Nancy Pelosi was determined to visit to let the Taiwanese know that the US won’t abandon its commitment to Taiwan and is intent on preserving democracy in Taiwan and around the world.
She is the highest-ranking US politician to visit in 25 years.
On the surface, that all seems fine, but obviously it got right up the nose of the Chinese.
She could easily have given the Taiwanese a phone call to deliver the same message but that would have lacked the platform and coverage her visit produced.
This comes at a time when the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a major problem for geopolitics and could still escalate into something even worse.
China has carefully watched the West’s strong response to this invasion and that will be a factor in how far it is prepared to go to claim Taiwan as its own.
A ramping-up in tensions or even some form of eventual conflict between China and the US is not in the interests of New Zealand as a trading nation.
China is our biggest trading partner, the US our third, with Australia, Japan and South Korea rounding out our top five, so we have nothing to gain from aggravation in this part of the Pacific.
To understand why this is such a geopolitical flashpoint, let’s have a foray into history.
Taiwan is officially known as the Republic of China, whereas China is officially the People’s Republic of China.
However, as a compromise with China, the country participates in most international forums and organisations as Chinese Taipei.
Humans have inhabited Taiwan for 30,000 years, and 6000 years ago farmers settled it, likely from southeast China. They became the Indigenous people.
In 1683 China’s Qing Dynasty annexed the island and ruled for the next 212 years until 1895, when the Japanese took control.
With the defeat of Japan in 1945, the Republic of China took control of Taiwan, but the Chinese Civil War resumed as the Nationalists fought with the Chinese Communist Party, who defeated the Republic of China Nationalists in 1949.
The ROC government of Chiang Kai-shek evacuated to Taiwan.
Two million people left mainland China and effectively subjugated the six million already in Taiwan.
With them they took many national treasures and much of China’s gold and foreign currency reserves, which gives some idea why Communist China remains unhappy with them.
The ROC still claims to be the government of all of China, though it has downplayed this historical claim in recent years. The Communist government in China claims Taiwan as a breakaway province that is still part of China.
The Chinese Civil War continued between these two groupings, with armed conflicts right up until 1979 – and still no armistice or peace treaty has been signed.
Chiang’s government had ruled with an iron fist in a period known as the White Terror, and it wasn’t until the late 1980s that reforms and a developing democracy were established.
This has improved to the point that Taiwan now ranks eighth in the world democracy index, behind us at second and the Scandinavian countries, and ahead of the likes of Australia, Canada, the UK and – ironically – well ahead of the US, which sits at 26th and is currently described as a flawed democracy.
Despite this, Taiwan is not recognised as a country by the UN, as China on the Security Council uses its veto to block this.
China runs the line of the One China Policy, where other nations must choose between one or the other.
Only 13 minor nations recognise Taiwan as a country as the rest of us bow to political and trading imperatives with China.
The US might not recognise it as a country, but it maintains a positive relationship and offers the island military assistance and protection.
So, it’s a complicated situation and a potential global flashpoint.
That’s why Pelosi’s visit is akin to goading the bull.
China is not at all happy and had already warned Biden that if the US plays with fire, it might well get burnt.
China immediately leapt into military exercises that have encircled Taiwan and effectively blockaded the island.
It has imposed various sanctions and made it quite clear how angry it is.
Hopefully, this sabre rattling remains just that, and the issue settles down and reverts back to a simmer.