Taiwan can consider itself fairly lucky. Its economic modernization was relatively pain-free and it is able to cope with the socio-economic changes brought on by such development, its political transition from authoritarian one-party state to a stable democracy was more or less peaceful and it has a strong and flourishing civil society that helps ensure the stability and vitality of its democracy.
What Taiwan might be most blessed with, however, is its geographical position, which has enabled it to serve US geopolitical interests for the past six decades. Early on in the Cold War, Taiwan was a useful link in the chain of countries along the Western Pacific stretching from Japan to Indonesia, serving as a bulwark against what the US deemed the “communist threat” to the “free” world. Then-president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) opposition to the Chinese Communist Party meant Taiwan was crucial to Washington’s attempts at containing Beijing’s propagation of revolution in Asia from the Korean War onward.
Today, the Cold War is no more, but to foreign policy and security hawks in Washington, China’s rising power is viewed as a threat to US supremacy in the Asia-Pacific region. Even the administration of US President Barack Obama, a “dove” by US standards, recently announced it would refocus its attention on the Asia-Pacific, not just to continue in areas of cooperation with Beijing, but, more importantly, to counter Chinese power by strengthening its political and security ties with countries in the region who view China’s increasingly aggressive posture with concern.
Once again, Taipei’s usefulness to the US will be renewed. Despite increasing calls by academics for the US to abandon Taiwan in the name of avoiding conflict with China, the US Congress would never allow this to happen. US lawmakers would dismiss such calls, saying that Washington should not appease an authoritarian regime by willfully selling out a democratic nation.
However, such claims by the US establishment that a democratic country should and would never be sold out must not be taken at face value by Taiwanese. It has never, nor will it ever, be Taiwan’s democracy and human rights that Washington comes to defend in the event of a conflict with China. It will solely be to maintain US dominance in this part of the world, for which Taiwan’s location in the Western Pacific allows. It was this strategic position, after all, that kept Chiang’s autocratic regime propped up for decades and maintained the gross fallacy that it represented a “free” China, not to mention undemocratic regimes in South Korea, the Philippines and Indonesia during that time.
So while the US Congress and right-wing think tanks, as of now, might have Taiwan’s back, it is important to keep in mind that their support will only last until something better suited to their strategic interests comes up.
When it comes to geopolitics, there is no such thing as a “true friend,” only strategic alliances.
Despite its advantageous location, Taiwan is caught between Beijing and Washington’s tug of war for supremacy in East Asia, which only reinforces the fact that Taipei has no genuine friends. Thus, it is all the more crucial for Taiwan to be united from within in the face of external challenges.