Some Taiwanese politicians have been saying that tensions in the Taiwan Strait are the result of provocations by the US and other Western countries supporting Taiwan and vilifying China.
A democracy guarantees freedom of expression, but it also has the right to protect itself, so here is a reproach to those politicians.
When domestic politics functions normally in a democracy, it is worth paying attention to public opinion polls. It is unlikely that the view of those politicians has entered mainstream public opinion.
However, the nation’s situation is unique, and politicians’ actions and statements often have a significant effect.
My US friends, fellow professors and students are not very sensitive to Taiwanese opinion polls and instead put a lot of weight in what the Taiwanese elite say. The following views are common among them:
First, if China attempts to invade Taiwan and Washington decides to get involved, the US military would need time to mobilize before it can provide assistance. If Taiwan does not fight the Chinese People’s Liberation Army or gives up halfway, the US might also revoke its decision to avoid war.
This scenario assumes that the US decides to intervene, but in contrast to corresponding views in Taiwan, it assumes that the response would not be immediate.
Second, there is a wide variety of opinions among US officials and academics as to whether the US would enter a war to protect Taiwan. Assuming that most US leaders are observing the developments in the Strait, Taiwan’s actions would influence the US’ decision.
In other words, the smallest detail could have a butterfly effect. Small changes in some parameters could potentially prompt the US to make early contingency preparations.
Third, if the US leans toward intervening, its military simulations and political preparations should have already begun. Before preparations are complete, it would organize a show of force by its navy and air force in the Strait and the South China Sea — precisely what is happening now — to deter China.
It would also organize allies — note recent statements of the G7 — to contain China and prepare for war to prevent war.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) leaders often have a diametrically opposed interpretation of these actions — they call them provocations.
I could of course be mistaken and all the knowledge I have gathered through my thorough studies over the years could be wrong.
A universal concept in international relations is that “if you want peace, prepare for war,” although this kind of deterrence is not acceptable to the general public.
Fourth, if the US decides to abandon Taiwan, it should already have started lobbying East and South Asian countries to build acceptance of that decision.
Washington would also have started encouraging Taiwan and China to reconcile to save the US from the difficult dilemma. Is that what the US is doing right now?
The question is whether US actions are more in line with the third or the fourth point. If Taiwan clearly shows that it is afraid of war, the US might grudgingly accept it, retreat and instead focus on protecting the second island chain to prevent an even greater loss.
As to this conclusion, I will not further discuss Taiwan’s irreplaceable position in the first island chain with my overoptimistic Taiwanese friends.
Many US politicians and academics seem to sense that Taiwanese society’s fighting spirit is weakening. This could be a misunderstanding on my part, and they might still hope that there is room to turn things around.
In any case, whether Taiwan wants war or peace (or perhaps surrender?), it must prepare in time. If some Taiwanese politicians want to talk peace with China, they should muster the courage to admit that and publicly lay out a concrete plan.
Much of history depended on tiny factors. These opinions might be thoughts on paper. The final decision rests solely with Taiwanese.
Simon Tang is an adjunct professor at California State University, Fullerton.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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