As late as a few months ago, there were mournful predictions of eventual — and destined — absorption of Taiwan by China. Washington’s geopolitical punditry has since done a 180; now it clamors for an independent Taiwan to anchor the so-called first island chain.
To be specific, it did not spell out Taiwanese independence per se. However, the role it wants Taiwan to play is impossible if Taiwan is either a non-nation or non-independent. It is only “a distinction without a difference.”
This comes at a time when there are signs that Taiwanese’s hopes and aspirations for a formal independent nation is on the wane.
For that, one need not look further than the phenomenal ascendancy of Beijing-leaning Taiwanese political figures in the past couple of years and, more tellingly, the solid trouncing of independence-minded former premier William Lai (賴清德) by “status quo”-adhering President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) presidential primary.
For decades, if not longer, Taiwanese independence has been a dream for millions. It has remained a pie in the sky for a plethora of reasons, not the least of which is the reality of China’s threat of war and Taiwanese’s lack of confidence in surviving a lengthy conflict, much less keeping a war-ravaged republic afloat without concerted support from the West.
As a result, Taiwanese leaders of all stripes have tried to appease Beijing by gradually allowing Taiwan’s economy to become subjugated to China’s, while shying away from any mention of Taiwanese independence.
In other words, if not for some defense deterrence capability thanks to Washington, Taiwan would be pretty much on its way to become Finlandized at the minimum.
Even in terms of military, the writing is on the wall. No one can turn a blind eye to the fact that Taiwan’s high-ranking military personnel regularly make pilgrimages to Beijing after retirement, a phenomenon Washington could not but view as a sign of morale deficiency.
If there is a consensus for Taiwanese independence in the West, what must happen first is Washington’s formal and unconditional commitment to defend Taiwan. It would boost Taiwanese confidence bar none.
Detractors might argue that this would likely put Washington on a trajectory of eventual military confrontation with Beijing, but the odds of war pale in comparison to those of allowing the continuing deterioration of the “status quo” brought on by Beijing’s promulgation of the “Anti-Secession Law” in 2005 and its militarization of the South China Sea over the past few years. Both amount to declarations of war, the former on Taiwan and the latter on the entire region.
Washington’s promise would materially consolidate Taiwan’s resolution against Beijing’s aggression, a potentially powerful war-deterrence factor that has been greatly overlooked in the past by Washington.
If Taiwanese know that they are not fighting a lost cause, a protracted war in case of China’s military invasion of Taiwan would be all but guaranteed, a fact that could weigh heavily against Beijing’s contemplation of waging war on Taiwan.
The argument that the US could avoid a physical war by abandoning the Western Pacific and South China Sea is no more plausible than some Taiwanese people’s fantasy that surrendering to China would spare Taiwanese from the catastrophe of an invasion by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. In all likelihood, they would only lead to an eventual outcome no less devastating than a war.
Taiwanese must prepare to face this head-on.
Huang Jei-hsuan is a Taiwanese-American based in the Los Angeles area.
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