Bernardo Cervellera

The new frontier of war

Tension grows in the South China Sea under pressure from Beijing. There is concern in Taiwan. Will it come to arms? But there too, small prophetic gestures are possible. A missionary in Taipei reacts to the CL flyer on peace.
Bernardo Cervellera

Taiwan – and the islands of the South China Sea – are perhaps the new frontier of a future Third World War. Pope Francis has often pointed out that we are in a situation of a "world war in pieces," with outbreaks here and there, and with countries fanning the flames, pushing factions to war, but shying away from direct involvement. A "waged" war is when all powers intervene. And the South China Sea, one of the world's most navigable maritime areas is of interest to China, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, the United States, and Australia. All these countries claim the right to freedom of navigation, but instead of dialogue with everyone, to guarantee it to all, China seeks to put the world before fait accompli. That is why it is conquering and occupying several island atolls (which belong to the Philippines or Vietnam), ignoring the judgments of the International Court, which has ruled that its ideas of sovereignty over those atolls are just claims with no legal basis.

The claim on Taiwan is justified by the fact that the island was formerly under the Qing Empire. The point is that it was then ceded to Japan until the end of World War II. It was the “intention” of the victor (the U.S.) to return Taiwan to the Republic of China, but there was never an actual cession treaty. Thus Taiwan finds itself in an ambiguous situation: on the one hand, by embracing the world and liberal economics, it has become a democracy in its own right, open to the rest of the world and somewhat autonomous, if not independent; on the other hand, China, which while enjoying the economic investment of wealthy Taiwanese, is demanding reunification with the motherland and submission to it. In recent months, this fact has been justified by saying that "Taiwan belongs to China because Chinese food is eaten there." But that would mean that all Chinese restaurants around the globe may sooner or later fall under Beijing's sovereignty!

Of course, as Pope Francis says, overcoming this stalemate requires dialogue without preconditions and with love for historical truth. But for now, on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, nationalist slogans are being launched, military power is being increased, and – as happened last August – hundreds of Chinese fighter jets are flying over the island, naval ships are training near the Taiwanese coast, launching missiles that fall close to Taiwan's shores. People try not to think about a possible war and work to earn money and perhaps emigrate. But there are also Taiwanese who have family and relations with the people on mainland China, and these, where possible, are strengthened. The Taiwanese Church, which has been helping the Chinese Church for decades, also continues its work of evangelization and pastoral aid to mainland communities. This is a small prophetic sign: coexistence and mutual respect is possible. For us foreign missionaries – often unwanted by the Chinese government – prayer remains on both sides of the Strait.

*PIME Missionary - Taipei