Friday, August 5, 2022

Taiwan on knife’s edge of freedom

     Most souvenirs are garbage. Cheap carvings made around the globe from the place supposedly being commemorated. Decorative spoons. Useless stuff.
     So it’s noteworthy when you have a keepsake that’s actually practical, like the 11-inch cleaver I’m looking at now, produced by Maestro Wu. A single piece of metal, lightweight and balanced. Flick your fingernail against the blade, and it rings for five full seconds. Sharp as a razor.
     I got it on the Taiwanese island of Kinmen, 2,000 yards off the coast of China. I had flown to Taiwan to interview Annette Lu, then vice president, whose route to what she called “soft power” took her through the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Chicago, putting her on the Sun-Times’ radar. She admired how freely people could protest here.
     My accommodating Taiwanese hosts asked, while I was in the neighborhood, if there was anywhere else in the country I’d like to visit beyond the capital of Taipei. I rather boldly asked to visit the island of Kinmen. As a fan of history, I knew that part of the Kennedy-Nixon debates centered on whether the United States would go to war with China over the fate of Quemoy and Matsu — “Quemoy” being what Westerners called Kinmen then.
     I bring it up because the nation is in the news, after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stopped by to visit on her Asian tour. When news of the trip was leaked, there was a disappointing outcry that it shouldn’t happen, that we need to be nice to Communist China so they don’t bully us even more than they already do.
     Some background, for readers unfamiliar: Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China, is a democratic nation of 23 million perched in uncomfortable proximity to the People’s Republic of China and its 1.4 billion population. The communists increasingly insist they own Taiwan because ... well, they want it.
     As to why China, a nation of 3.7 million square miles, needs to absorb Taiwan, not half of 1% the size, well, it’s the same reason Russia needs Ukraine. They don’t. They simply feel entitled, the way any bully feels entitled to your lunch money. Because they think they can take it.

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  1. Superb and informative column, Mr. S.

  2. I remember Quemoy and Matsu. I remember seeing a headline on the front page of the Daily News in the fall of 1958, that screamed: BEECH WARNS: WE'RE NEAR EDGE OF WAR. Beech was Keyes Beech (1913-1990), who had been a combat correspondent in the Pacific Theater in WWII, and then won a Pulitzer for covering the war in Korea. He was the Asian affairs correspondent when he made his prediction. If anyone knew what the score was, he did.

    I wasn't even scared. That would come a few years later...Berlin and Cuba. Nikita K. and JFK. Still too young to fully grasp what an exchange of nukes could do, I envisioned WWIII as being a lot like WWII, which I had just missed, and which seemed exciting and thrilling to a kid of eleven. A kid who wasn't yet old enough to know how much he really didn't know.


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