Taiwan is definitely in the Asia-Pacific region, but where is it strategically? Such a question has been again highlighted by the recent flare-up in territorial disputes between China and its neighbors.
Amid rising tensions in the South China Sea, some experts have rightly pointed out that Taiwan, as one of the governments claiming sovereignty over the small islands and waters in the area, has been mostly ignored.
Taipei has never failed to assert its claims over the disputed territories in the South China Sea, but very few of its neighbors have been taking its claims seriously. The world sees it mostly as a row between the ASEAN countries, plus the United States on one side, and China on the other.
It is the same in waters north of Taiwan. The dispute over the Diaoyu Islands, called the Senkaku Islands in Japan, has been mostly seen as a game between China and Japan, though Taiwan has always maintained its claims over the islands.
In the ongoing U.S.-led Pacific Rim joint-exercises, 22 countries, including Russia, are taking part. But two countries in the area are missing: China and Taiwan.
The conspicuous absence of China tells of the underlying tensions in the area. It also demonstrates the changing strategies of many of the countries involved.
During the Cold War era, China and the U.S. teamed up to block the Soviet Union's expansion into the South China Sea. Their major strategic goal was to prevent Vietnam from becoming the region's own “Cuba.”
Times have changed, and so have relationships and global politics. With its rapid rise, China now seems to have picked up the role that the Soviet Union left behind.
Global politics is now of course much different from that during the Cold War, with the threat of war much less likely. But China's neighbors are wary of the giant.
Taiwan is also wary of China, but it is in a much more difficult position than its ASEAN neighbors because of the Chinese communists' sovereignty claims over the island.
Strategically, Taiwan's importance in U.S. defense has changed since Washington switched diplomatic ties to Beijing from Taipei in 1979.
Before that, Taiwan was a military partner of the United States against the communists. But after 1979, the United States has recognized China's claims over Taiwan, although it has insisted that cross-strait issues be handled peacefully.
The only commitment that Washington has made to Taipei is a promise to continue providing Taiwan with defensive weapons, although there has always been speculation that U.S. troops would come to the rescue of Taiwan should cross-strait conflict break out.
Therefore it is not difficult to understand why Taiwan has not been invited to take part in the ongoing U.S.-led exercises.
The tensions in the South China Sea are already high and the United States would not want to create extra tensions by testing China's ultimate bottom line, which is Taiwan.
Of all the territorial and sovereignty issues China is facing, it has a zero-tolerance policy regarding any challenge to its right to Taiwan.
Taiwan, which has improved its ties with China and with an economy that — like those of many other countries in the world — is now relying much on China's huge market, is well aware of its unique situation in relation to China.
Taiwan would not have accepted an invitation to take part in the exercises even if it had been offered one.
Some experts have suggested that Taiwan should voice support for the ASEAN countries' proposal for handling disputes in the South China Sea.
But that means Taiwan would be taking a side — a side opposite to China's — one thing that Taiwan cannot afford to do.
We can foresee that Taiwan will continue asserting its claims over the disputed islands in the area without going any further and without any of the countries involved paying serious attention to such claims.
It will continue to build facilities on some of the islands it controls in the region, but taking sides is the last thing it would do.
Don't expect Taiwan to pick a side in South China Sea row - The China Post