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War for Taiwan? It Would Be Our Craziest Conflict Ever

© AP Photo / Chiang Ying-ying Two soldiers fold the national flag during the daily flag ceremony on the Liberty Square of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan, Saturday, July 30, 2022
 Two soldiers fold the national flag during the daily flag ceremony on the Liberty Square of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan, Saturday, July 30, 2022 - Sputnik International, 1920, 16.03.2023
America and the West have begun promoting the idea of a war against China over Taiwan. If China invades Taiwan, President Joe Biden has said the US would go further than it has in Ukraine, sending American ground troops as well as weapons. While some 37% of US voters agree with Biden, how do you go to war to defend a country from invading itself?
According to the US, the UN and most of the world—including Taiwan itself—Taiwan is part of China. Can the US invade Ohio?
Like many other nations places, Taiwan is in a tough spot caused by decisions previously made by US policymakers many years ago.
Until 1945, Taiwan was a Japanese colony. The birth certificate of my former father-in-law, an ethnic Taiwanese, read “Taipei, Japan.” The end of World War II brought a breather. Occupation forces withdrew. The Taiwanese expected independence as part of post-war decolonization, but America had other plans.
Across the Taiwan Strait, the Chinese civil war was drawing to a close. Mao Tse-Tung’s Communists were beating the far-right Nationalists (KMT) led by Chiang Kai-shek. The Nationalists, looting everything they could carry including China’s gold reserves, jumped aboard US ships helpfully provided by former US President Harry Truman and fled to Taiwan.
The exiled KMT took over, purged and murdered Taiwanese intellectuals and independence advocates and established a vicious authoritarian dictatorship of the type propped up by the US around the globe during the Cold War. There was a remarkably calm transition to democracy following Chiang’s death.
“When,” my father-in-law would ask me during one of our long political discussions, “will the United States give independence to Taiwan?”
“Whether it’s the US splitting from Britain, or East Timor,” I replied, “independence is taken, not given. You declare independence.” 1,400 Timorese died after declaring independence from Indonesia.
“We can’t do that,” he’d say. “China will invade. Many people will be killed.”
“Maybe they’d invade,” I’d replied. “Maybe not. But there’s no other way.”
The Taiwanese people are unwilling to die; so, Taiwan has never declared independence.
A security guard stands near a sculpture of the Chinese Communist Party flag at the Museum of the Communist Party of China on May 26, 2022, in Beijing. - Sputnik International, 1920, 05.09.2022
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Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the island of Taiwan­—whose legal name is the Republic of China—and mainland China have agreed on the legal fiction that Taipei and Beijing are part of the same country.
Beijing considers Taiwan a “renegade province” it wants back in its fold; Taipei’s government, heir to the defeated Nationalist troops who fled to exile across the Taiwan Strait when the Communists seized power in 1949, officially maintains the ridiculous position that someday it will reconquer the mainland.
Mouse eats cat.
Like Kurdistan, Palestine and Pakistani Kashmir, Taiwan lingers in diplomatic purgatory, its people semi-stateless. It enjoys robust economic growth and de facto independence. But it’s not really a country.
It has no seat at the UN. Only 13 nations, most of the tiny—Belize, Haiti, Vatican City, Honduras, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tuvalu and Guatemala—recognize Taiwan as a country. Even its primary benefactor, the US, does not recognize it.
Yet Taiwan is different.
Always on the periphery, the Chinese empire’s control of the island waxed and waned in proportion to its political stability and military strength, allowing the Taiwanese as well as the ethnic Han Chinese who migrated there from the mainland, to develop their own arts, food, and political and economic cultures. Seventy years of diplomatic limbo and de facto independence—their own coins, stamps, military—have accelerated those trends and made them feel permanent. They don’t want to be absorbed into the Borg, like Hong Kong.
It isn’t hard to see why Taiwan’s people embrace the strategic ambiguity of diplomatic limbo. Life is good and getting better, money is rolling in, and—bluster aside—China seems unwilling to risk the chaos and economic cost of reclaiming an island it hasn’t had under direct control since the 19th century. Why fix the unbroken?
Except—it is a broken situation. You can’t have national pride until you’re a nation. You can’t demand respect unless your people demonstrate courage. Most of all, there’s the question of what the future holds: Chinese President Xi Jinping seems smart enough not to try to put the band back together again, at least not via hard (military) power. What about his successor or his successor’s successor?
Free Party presidential candidate Xiomara Castro has her hand raised by her running mate Salvador Nasralla after general elections, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021. Castro claimed victory, setting up a showdown with the National Party which said its candidate had won a vote that could end the conservative party's 12 years in power. - Sputnik International, 1920, 15.03.2023
Honduras Sets Eyes on Official Ties With China, Leaving Taiwan With Fewer Allies Worldwide
Every now and then some Taiwanese political theorist gins up a farfetched workaround that promises to deliver independence without the risk of Chinese tanks rolling through Taipei. The 51 Club, founded in 1994 with 51 members, is a Taiwanese organization dedicated to the goal of turning the island into the 51st state of the United States. Presto! War with Taiwan is war against the United States—something the Chinese would never want.
The idea hasn’t exactly caught fire. “All the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] has to do is lob a few missiles over, and people will be swarming to us,” founder David Choi predicted in 1994. No missiles yet.
Annette Lu, former vice president of Taiwan under the KMT, promotes One Zhonghua, a scheme under which Taiwan and China would form an economic commonwealth like the European Union, with economic integration and political independence. Neither the Chinese nor the Taiwanese are on board.
There’s also a theory that the US is, under international law, has been—and still is—the administrator of Taiwan since World War II. In 1945, the US appointed Chiang’s Republic of China (KMT) to administer Taiwan—think of it like a sublet. The San Francisco Peace Treaty didn’t go into effect until seven years later, in 1952.
“The treaty never mentioned who would receive Taiwan. Japan surrendered its former colony, but it never said to whom,” writes The Taipei Times. So who gets it? “Regarding Taiwan, the official US position was, is and continues to be that it is ‘undecided.’”
Biden may be hanging his hat on this bit of unfinished business.
From a domestic US political perspective, however, whatever enthusiasm Americans have for defending Taiwan would vanish as soon as they learn that we would be risking World War III over a “country” that isn’t even a country—and doesn’t claim to be. The United States has gotten itself into a lot of stupid wars, but this would be the craziest one ever.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the left-vs-right DMZ America podcast with fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
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