Return of an old friend

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Return of an old friend

The author is the head of the international news team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“Even if you make new friends, it is right not to abandon old friends,” said former President Roh Tae-woo when he endeavored to establish diplomatic relations with China, according to a memoir published in March. The Republic of China — now Taiwan — was once called “Free China” while the People's Republic of China was called “Communist China.”

After Korea rushed to engage in northern diplomacy as the Cold War system was falling apart, Taiwan was concerned that Korea would cut ties due to the “One China” principle. After many ups and downs, Taiwan felt deeply betrayed and ended the official relations with Korea.

Taiwan’s presence hasn’t been significant in the past 30 years though Seoul and Taipei have maintained close relations through informal and civilian diplomacy. Then, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi drew attention to Taiwan with her “provocative visit.” China launched ballistic missiles over Taiwan and banned imports from the neighbor. America moved its nuclear-powered supercarrier USS Ronald Reagan near the Taiwan Strait. The U.S. cannot condone China’s challenge over its Indo-Pacific dominance, while for China, the “cross-strait reunification” is far distant if it does not cut the close U.S.-Taiwan relations.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine confirmed the reality that great powers are not hesitant to engage in an all-out war to annex territories and coerce national sovereignty. Based on its analysis of China’s military strength, the Taiwanese Defense Ministry predicts that China’s armed invasion would happen in 2025. While no one knows if that will happen, Taiwan is clearly the “most dangerous place on Earth,” according to The Economist. If such concern becomes reality, allies will be demanded to get involved. If the Chip 4 alliance the U.S. wants to build with Korea, Taiwan and Japan gets more traction, their cohesion will be strengthened further.

In fact, Taiwan was not just an “old friend” to Korea three decades ago. During the Japanese occupation, Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang helped the Korean Provisional Government in China. Taiwan was also the first country to establish diplomatic ties after the Republic of Korea was founded in 1948. Korea chose China as the partner of the new era instead of Taiwan based on Korea’s national interests during the turbulent dissolution of the Cold War system. Thirty years later, our old friend Taiwan is approaching again to test the “value alliance” led by America. The tightrope walk of national interests — harder than ever — has begun.
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