Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Question that is Never Asked: What do the Taiwanese Want?

Experts often talk about grand bargains and strategies to resolve the Taiwan issue once and for all. But rarely, if ever, do they bother to ask the Taiwanese what they think 

With about eight months left before the presidential and legislative elections in Taiwan, in which the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is widely regarded as the favorite, political watchers are once again, after an eight-year interregnum, forecasting possible trouble in the Taiwan Strait. Fearing a return to old tensions, some analysts have been proposing creative ways to resolve the “Taiwan question” once and for all, and by so doing prevent the island-nation from dragging the U.S. into a catastrophic conflict with China. Call it appeasement or a “grand bargain,” the theory is that Taiwan is neither defensible nor worth defending, and that longstanding security guarantees should therefore be retracted and Taiwan left to fend for itself. 

In recent weeks, and ostensibly expecting a return to more contentious relations between Taipei and Beijing, academics such as Hugh White and Charles Glaser have articulated the view that helping Taiwan isn’t worth major economic disruptions or the risk of nuclear war with China, and that accommodation is the only solution. Meanwhile Lyle Goldstein, an associate professor in the Strategic Research Department at the U.S. Naval War College, dedicates an entire chapter in his book Meeting China Halfway: How to Defuse the Emerging US-China Rivalry to a step-by-step program to gradually wean Taiwan off U.S. arms sales in return for Beijing abandoning the possibility of using force against the island, with a “peace agreement” and political union as the climax. In Goldstein’s somewhat rosy view, Taiwanese have nothing to worry about because China’s “allegedly heavy-handed approach to the former British colony has long been overhyped in the West,” and Taiwan’s democracy could continue to exist “within a confederation between the Mainland and Taiwan.” While admitting that 2016 could complicate matters a little, Goldstein is able to make his projection because of his view that since 2008, “peace is breaking out” across the Taiwan Strait, a view that fails to take several key factors into consideration, to which we shall return later. 

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here. (Photo by the author)

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