Mon, Jul 01, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Ryan Hass On Taiwan: Rightsizing fears about Taiwan’s future

In recent decades, China has been plowing a sizeable share of its growing economic strength into developing advanced military capabilities. As Beijing’s military build-up progresses, concerns naturally mount in Taiwan about its continued security. A certain amount of concern is healthy. It disciplines voters to ask hard questions of their leaders about the appropriate balance of risk in pursuit of objectives. It also instills a sense of urgency to tackle big problems, instead of getting bogged down in petty debates of the day.

Too much anxiety, though, can harm society, by generating a sense of helplessness about Taiwan’s future. This, in turn, can lead the younger generation to pursue opportunities abroad, rather than investing in their futures at home. It can cause multinational companies and overseas investors to go elsewhere in pursuit of opportunities. It can arouse opposition to prudent prioritization of funding for national defense, because, the thinking goes, it’s futile to attempt to match the mainland’s military capabilities. And it can lead to polarization on sovereignty-related questions, with some advocating a strategy of suing for peace and accommodating the mainland, while others throw their backing behind risky gambits to change Taiwan’s status. In other words, Taiwan society daily confronts a difficult balancing act between prudent vigilance against threats, resignation to a future not of its choosing, and impulses toward risk-taking at the expense of centrist support for sustaining the status quo. These are not just academic questions. They have a direct bearing on the confidence, cohesion, and resiliency of Taiwan’s society. In many respects, these are the factors that will be the most decisive for the future of Taiwan.

This is why I am not an enthusiast of putting significant stock in capability counting of military assets on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. While such factors cannot — and should not — be overlooked, they also should not lead to hopelessness about Taiwan’s ability to defend itself. Thinking about a cross-Strait conflict as an arithmetic war of attrition between Taiwan and China is the wrong frame for evaluating risk.

Should Beijing ever initiate military action against Taiwan, it would have to contend with the risk of the United States and others entering the conflict. It would have to factor in the risk of having its energy supply lines cut off, its economy crippled, and its international status tarnished. It also would have to weigh the risk that anything short of quick and absolute surrender by the people of Taiwan could call into question the continued rule of the Chinese Communist Party.

Beijing is keenly aware that it imports roughly half of its energy from the Middle East, and that it does not have the naval capacity to protect its sea lanes of communication along the entire route. It actively is seeking to reduce this vulnerability, but this will be a multi-decade effort. And as astute observers of history, Chinese leaders surely also have examined the lessons of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the role that failed adventurism there played in seeding conditions for the ultimate collapse of the USSR. Even as these factors should offer relief against fears of bolt from the blue military attacks, it would be dangerous for them to lead to complacency. There is much work to be done to strengthen Taiwan’s ability to chart a peaceful future for itself.

This story has been viewed 2622 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top