By Fong Yuen
The cover story of The Economist this week featured the headline, “Taiwan, The most dangerous place on earth,” and got a lot of attention.
Is Taiwan the most dangerous place on earth? Of course. Around the world, there is not a single place that is like Taiwan, which is the focal point of the confrontation between two of the world’s most powerful countries. There is also not a place that has embodied the life-and-death duel between democracy and authoritarianism.
The question focuses on two things: first is whether the CCP would attack Taiwan by force, and second is whether the U.S. would assist in defending Taiwan.
The CCP’s intention to reunify Taiwan has never gone away. The reason why it has not yet deployed the military to forcefully take Taiwan is because, in the early years, it lacked strength and needed a peaceful external environment. When the Sino-U.S. relations were in the honeymoon phase, Taiwan’s strategic position was not that important, and the CCP had placed hopes on reunifying with Taiwan through “One Country, Two Systems”. In recent years, the CCP’s strength greatly improved, yet the Sino-U.S. relations deteriorated, Taiwan’s strategic position is more important than ever, and “One Country, Two Systems” has been proven to be a big fat lie.
There is always a thing or two lacking here and there for military reunification. Opportunities were missed, and the situation is increasingly complex. It is hard to be determined, and all the CCP can do is to set a bottom line – when Taiwan declares independence, the CCP will take it by force. Since then, this bottom line has become an absolutely key condition for the status quo to be maintained. As long as Taiwan does not declare independence, the CCP has no legitimate reason to take the island by force.
For the U.S., whether to assist in the defense of Taiwan is not a yes or no question, but how important Taiwan is to the U.S. in terms of strategic value. Should the U.S. lose Taiwan, the severity of the consequences would determine whether or not the U.S. would let Taiwan fall into the hands of the CCP.
The strategic value of Taiwan today is first and foremost in its ideology. Taiwan is a model of Asian democratic countries. If the U.S. loses Taiwan, it would be a huge blow to the overall situation of promoting democratic trends and fighting the expansion of dictatorship. Biden declared that the U.S. must win in the fight between democracy and authoritarianism. Losing Taiwan would be a defeat for the U.S.
Second, Taiwan’s geopolitical value to the U.S. is irreplaceable. Located at the center of the first island chain, if Taiwan is lost, the first island chain breaks, there would be the whole Domino’s effect that will affect the entire U.S.’ grand strategy of CCP besiegement in the Asia-Pacific region.
Third, Taiwan is leading the world’s semiconductor chip production. The U.S. cannot live a day without chips. If Taiwan falls into the hands of the CCP, the CCP would have a solution for its urgent need for chips, and its technological, armament, and economic strength will be greatly improved. This will determine the direction of the long-term confrontation between the U.S. and China.
Lastly, the U.S. allies in Asia are afraid of this evil neighbor called the CCP. With Taiwan down, other allies would be weak from fear, which would create the best moment for the CCP to take advantage of the others. By then, with its allies scattered, Biden’s nightmare would be bound to begin.
The U.S. would not be able to bear the pain of losing Taiwan. If the CCP takes Taiwan by force, the U.S. would most definitely have to assist in its defense. The U.S. knows this, and the CCP does as well. The question remains whether the U.S. would want to make its determination clear.
Recently, the U.S. Intelligence Director went to Congress for inquiries and suggested that the U.S. remain vague, not only to avoid being targeted by the CCP, but also to prevent the rise of Taiwan independence forces. However, does the U.S. still fear being targeted by the CCP? The DPP government has long given up the demand for Taiwan’s independence, and Koo Kwang-ming, a veteran Taiwan independence activist, has recently resigned from his post as Presidential Officer advisor and the DPP, a clear sign that the force behind Taiwan independence is diminishing. Taiwan’s best bet at the moment is to keep the status quo, build its strength, and follow closely behind the U.S.
Weighing the situation, the CCP could not have misjudged the determination of the U.S., but the key lies in whether its own determination is enough to fight that of the U.S. On the other hand, if the U.S. makes it clear its determination to protect Taiwan, it would be of vital importance to allies and Taiwan. For the U.S. allies, the clarity of the U.S.’ determination is the key to their participation in a potential U.S.-Sino confrontation. If your brothers are running alongside you, yet you slip away, how are these brothers to live?
The more clear the U.S. attitude is, the more confidence it will give to the Taiwanese to give it all. Ma Ying-jeou’s “the first battle is the last” theory has gone bust, and there is no audience for pro-CCP force on the island. The clearer the U.S. makes its position, the braver Taiwan will be; the more determined Taiwan is, the more assured the U.S. will be.
The U.S. will go ahead with assisting Taiwan’s defense. If the CCP wants to use force, it must be even more determined. Under normal circumstances, it is very difficult to start a war, but minor conflicts are bound to happen. Whether these would turn into a full-blown war will truly be a test of determination of both parties.
The Taiwan Strait is clouded under a thick air of impending war. Between peace and war, there is a whole world of possibility. It’s all fate from here on. You simply cannot go against destiny.
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