“Don’t worry, we have your back” – think again…

Jan 12, 2024
Flag of the People's Republic of China. Flag of the United States. Taiwan flag.

If the countries in the East Asian region allied to the United States think that the US has their back and therefore they are safe, think again.

While the naive take the promise by the US to have their back as an inviolate commitment, the reality of such a relationship is reflected in President Biden’s recent statement, one that gave the game away.

‘The mantra in Western capitals on supporting Ukraine has been “as long as it takes.” But standing next to Zelensky this month, Biden said the US would support Ukraine “as long as we can.” ‘ (Tim Lister, CNN, 29/12 2023)

In that regard, the Fujian Chinese have an adage which says: “While we may be brothers, each person takes care of himself”. The latest truth dawning scenario for the Ukrainians is this month’s Russian attack on Ukraine described as the biggest air attack on Ukraine since the start of the invasion. This happens at a time when Western support for Ukraine is waning. We have just witnessed the sorry sight of Zelensky going “hat-in-hand” to the US seeking financial and military assistance from a dithering Congress. While Congress debates, Ukrainians are dying. On the European side, the $55 billion dollar support package cobbled together by the EU is presently stymied by Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orban. Perhaps the most revealing of the Russian war strategy lies in Vladimir Putin’s astute remark quoted by Lister: “Ukraine produces almost nothing today, everything is coming from the West, but the free stuff is going to run out some day, and it seems it already is.”

The small economies who feel emboldened by the US promise of having their backs did not seem to have considered the worth of a promise made by a country that is more than 33 trillion dollars in debt. What economic assistance they receive from the US would be money borrowed by the US on the strength of their petro and fiat dollar. It is not commonly known that much of the US aid to its allies stays in the US to benefit the arms manufacturers. The opening paragraph cited in whole from an article by Marc A. Thiessen (29/11/2023) of the Washington Post says it all:

‘Here is the best-kept secret about U.S. military aid to Ukraine: Most of the money is being spent here in the United States. That’s right: Funds that lawmakers approve to arm Ukraine are not going directly to Ukraine but are being used stateside to build new weapons or to replace weapons sent to Kyiv from U.S. stockpiles. Of the $68 billion in military and related assistance Congress has approved since Russia invaded Ukraine, almost 90 percent is going to Americans, one analysis found.’ 

There are currently two potential flashpoints in our region that can spark a war between China and the US: Taiwan and the Philippines. The Taiwanese appear to be the more prudent of the two. With Fujian being a major dialectic group in Taiwan, I am certain that the Fujian adage mentioned above would not have eluded the Taiwanese people. A 2022 poll result released by Taiwanese Public Opinion and reported by Nikkei (Hideaki Ryugen, 27/04/2022) indicate that 53.8 percent of the respondents do not believe that the US would come to their defence if war were to break out with China; up from 28.5 percent six months before. Only 36.3 percent believe that American forces will come to their aid. Much of this loss of trust had been ascribed to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Now, with the lastest turn of events in Ukraine, they have evidence of what the promise of “having one’s back” is really worth.

Of the three presidential candidates for the 13th of January elections: Lai Ching-te of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Hou Yu-ih of the Kuomintang (KMT) and Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), it appears that the Kuomintang candidate, Hou, has the strongest advocacy for greater economic and social engagement with mainland China. He indicated that he would “ … negotiate further advancements to the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), a free trade agreement signed with China in 2010 as soon as possible” (J.Thomson, Taiwan News, 26/12/2023). Furthermore, KMT vice-presidential candidate, Jaw Shaw-kong, indicated that he would support the construction of a bridge between China and Taiwan.  Such a bridge would not just be symbolic of the close ethnic and historical connection between the two states, but would foster greater economic and social interactions, thus ameliorating the long standing conflict between them.  “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” should work better for both sides considering the century long enmity between the Communist Party of China and the Kuomintang.   

China does not trust the DPP candidate Lai Ching-te and considers him a dangerous separatist. The third candidate, Ko Wen-je’s policies appear to fall between the two. He frowns on a confrontational attitude towards China and believes that talking with China will safeguard Taiwan’s present status. All three appear, as expected, are in favour of maintaining Taiwan’s present status quo vis-s-vis China.

Now that a cruel war is raging in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas, another revealing comparison can be made between the conduct of the US and its allies and their enemies, China and Russia. What surprises me in Lister’s account of the latest aerial attack by Russia in which 158 drones and missiles (including hypersonic Kinzais) were fired at Ukraine, is that only about 18 people have been reported killed and scores more were injured. On the 3rd of December 2023, Al Jazeera reported: “At least 700 Palestinians have been killed in the past 24 hours – one of the highest daily death tolls since the war began on October 7.” Granted that Gaza is much more densely populated than Ukraine, the disparity in casualties does lend some credence to Scott Ritter’s (Former UN weapons inspector and US Marine intelligence officer) recent claim on YouTube that Russia does observe the rules of war.

It is also in sharp contrast to the way the Chinese dealt with Filipino vessels in the contested Ren’ai reef. So far, reports indicate that the Chinese coast guard only blasted Filipino vessels with water cannons or ram their ships (e.g. Wall Street Journal, 10/12/2023). Even though the Global Times have accused the Philippines of reckless behaviour instigated by the Americans, China’s restrain is indicative of an effort to avoid violent confrontation.

While it may not be remiss for countries in the East to want a US presence as a hedge against China, what remains unstated is that they do not need a “provocative” US presence.

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