When he became premier in 2009, Taiwanese Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) warned on several occasions about Taiwan’s economic overdependence on the Chinese market and urged that Taiwan expand its trade with virtually every other place in the world. This advice remains valid today.
What should Taiwan do in the face of the threat from China? First, it must realize, as James Mann cogently observes in The China Fantasy, China is not going to democratize in the near future. The powerful CCP has aligned with wealthy people, various security agencies and the military, creating a coalition determined to maintain the political “status quo.” The Chinese Communist regime is not likely to disappear without the intervention of outside forces.
Both Nazi Germany and Fascist Japan literally had to be pulled apart by the war machine of the Allies during World War II before they were defeated.
Second, Taiwan’s leaders must cease their flirtation with the “one China” principle, irrespective of any consensus that may or may not have been reached in 1992. The insistence that other countries adopt a “one China” policy is a holdover from the days of the Chiang Kai-shek government.
Today, China uses it to blockade Taiwan’s international space. Chiang Kai-shek implemented an authoritarian and discriminatory government in which the people of Taiwan had no input. Today, as a democratic nation, Taiwan has no obligation to adhere to the policies of the former dictatorship.
Third, Taiwan must realize that it is not a “small” or “tiny” country. Rather, Taiwan is a “medium size” nation or, to use another term, a “middle power.” Its population, equal to that of Australia, is larger than that of two-thirds of the world’s nations and its area is greater than that of two-fifths of the world’s countries. Furthermore, Taiwan boasts an advanced economy and a functioning democracy. Taiwan clearly is — and should act as — an important world “middle power.”
Fourth, in classical balance-of-power theory, when a nation becomes strong and threatening, other nations coalesce against it to balance world power. In today’s world, with a rising China that is both dictatorial and expansionist, democratic Taiwan must clearly align with the powers that are coalescing against authoritarian China. This means clearly aligning with such countries as the US, Japan and South Korea, as well as with such countries as Vietnam (which is not democratic) and the Philippines.
This suggests, for example, that South Korea should be considered chiefly as an ally rather than as a competitor. It also suggests that when bilateral disputes arise with countries such as Japan and the Philippines, Taiwan — while preserving its interests — should seek to solve these problems peacefully and in the interests of both parties.
In summary, China presents the world, including Taiwan, with an expansionist dictatorship that is unlikely to vanish. This requires considerable caution on the part of Taiwan as well as other nations of the East Asian and Southeast Asian regions. It also requires a clear-sighted vision of the dangers that Taiwan and other nations face.
Bruce Jacobs is a professor of Asian languages and studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. This article revises a keynote address delivered to the 2013 Defense Forum on Regional Security sponsored by the Ministry of National Defense in Taipei early last month.