As a famous US professor once told an up-and-coming Taiwanese academic, there is something about Taiwan that makes even the best and the brightest of minds stop thinking.
Time and again, otherwise intelligent academics, journalists, writers and government officials have managed to get it all wrong when it comes to Taiwan. The fact that a country whose 23 million people would make it the ninth-largest country in Europe by population size, and whose economy is among the 20 largest economies globally, is so regularly misunderstood is predominantly the result of Chinese propaganda and the willingness of other countries to allow Beijing to get away with its lies.
Not only is Taiwan misrepresented, but the biases that are stacked against it prevent its 23 million people from deciding their own future. So entrenched has this handicap become that Taiwan, not China, is often regarded as the troublemaker, even though it is Beijing, not Taipei, that threatens war — against Taiwan, Japan and the US — over the question of its sovereignty. It is as if Czechoslovakia or Poland, not Nazi Germany, were the true instigators of World War II in Europe.
Even though relations across the Taiwan Strait have in some ways improved since 2008, Taiwan continues to be denied the choices that a democratic nation should be allowed to make about its destiny. As if this were not enough, academics continue to regard it as an uncontrollable wildcard and the likeliest source of conflict — perhaps even nuclear conflict — between China and the US.
Such fallacies were again present in a major report issued last week on nuclear weapons and the future of US-China relations.
Released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, the report says that Taiwan “is the contingency in which nuclear weapons would most likely become a major factor.”
Quoting defense analyst Richard Betts, the report states: “Neither great power can fully control developments that might ignite a crisis. This is a classic recipe for surprise, miscalculation and uncontrolled escalation.”
Once again, Taiwan stands accused of endangering the peace because of its desire for self-determination, as enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Taiwan is the uncontrollable variable that must be controlled, even if this goes against the wishes of 23 million souls, to avoid nuclear war, when in reality, it is the two great powers, pace Betts, that have full control of the developments that might ignite a crisis. The decision to use force and to escalate over Taiwan — and thereby risk miscalculation leading to nuclear war with the US — lies fully in Beijing’s camp, which controls the People’s Liberation Army, its nuclear arsenal and the Second Artillery Corps.
Nobody in his right mind would blame Prague or Warsaw today for creating the uncontrollable uncertainties that led to Berlin’s decision to invade, which was followed by European, and eventually US, declarations of war against Germany. The decision to escalate lay fully in the Reichstag (and also with Moscow, with regard to Poland), not among the peaceful peoples of European countries whose only wish was to be left alone.
Even if the conclusions were reached inadvertently by the authors of the CSIS report, they nevertheless contribute to added pressure on Taiwanese to forsake their right to self-determination. It tells them that they, ultimately, would be responsible for potentially sparking a devastating nuclear war between two superpowers should they choose to behave irresponsibly by seeking to exercise their right as human beings.