Biden Again Indicates that US Will Defend Taiwan ‘Militarily’ – Does This Constitute a Change in Policy?

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Yves here. This post provides a attempting to be even-handed-but-really-not depiction of the state of play among China, Taiwan, and the US. The article does say that the US could carry off its policy of strategic ambiguity towards Taiwan much more readily that it does now. But it omits key facts like even though Trump tried giving China a big shiner via tariffs, the Biden administration has been eyepoking on a frequent basis, starting with open hostility at the early summit in Alaska. It also presents the reportedly stronger Taiwan desire for independence as organic. I have no way of judging the veracity of the counterclaims, but Brian Berletic of the New Atlas (who also voices a very strong anti-globalist position) has had Taiwanese guests who contend that the view of Taiwan as distinct from China has been instilled, particularly through education since the early 2000s and with considerable US backing. This does not sound implausible given that the survival of the Nazi Banderites after World War II was due in considerable measure to CIA support, since we saw them as a tool for destabilizing the USSR.

Similarly, the post skips over the fact that until recently, China only had at most a vague aspiration to integrate Taiwan by 2049. To put it mildly, a lot could have happened between now and then. But the US challenging China over Taiwan, particularly Biden refusing to stop Pelosi’s visit and acting as if he couldn’t was an insult to intelligence as well as to Xi. We’ve cited a Supreme Court ruling that shows Biden has the authority, plus there were arguments about her safety, plus Congress does not conduct foreign policy. The reality is Biden thought avoiding an intramural conflict was more important than an uncontrolled escalation of the conflict with China….which had the side effect of further solidifying its relationship with Russia.

Taiwan and its sympathizers are ignoring Henry Kissinger’s warning: “It may be dangerous to be America’s enemy, but to be America’s friend is fatal.”

Taiwan has, or at least had, autonomy before the US got unduly interested. Taiwan would like have been left to continue more or less as now until 2040 if it had not allowed the US to escalate the issue of Taiwan’s position relative to China. Curiously, Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen said nothing about the Pelosi visit when it was a live controversy, as if Taiwan had no agency. So it’s not hard to argue that the US putting pressure on the issue of Taiwan’s independence will curtail or end it much sooner than if Taiwan had been left to its own devices.

By Meredith Oyen, Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies, University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Originally published at The Conversation

President Joe Biden has – not for the first time – suggested that the U.S. would intervene “militarily” should China attempt an invasion of Taiwan._

In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” on Sept. 18, 2022, Biden vowed to protect the island in the face of any attack. Pressed if that meant the U.S. getting “involved militarily,” the president replied: “Yes.”

The comments appear to deviate from the official U.S. line on Taiwan, in place for decades. But White House officials said the remarks did not represent any change in Taiwan policy.

Meredith Oyen, an expert on U.S.-China relations at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, helps explain the background to Biden’s comments and untangles what should be read into his remarks – and what shouldn’t.

What Did Biden Say and Why Was It Significant?

In an exchange on “60 Minutes,” Biden was asked directly if the U.S. would “come to Taiwan’s defense” if it were attacked by China. He replied: “Yes, we have a commitment to do that.” He also confirmed that U.S. intervention would be military.

By my count, this is the fourth time Biden as president has suggested that the U.S. will come to Taiwan’s aid militarily if the island is attacked. In 2021 he made similar remarks in an interview with ABC News and then again while taking part in a CNN town hall event. And earlier this year he said something similar while in Japan, marking the first time he has made the assertion while in Asia.

On each occasion he has made such a comment, it has been followed quite quickly by the White House’s walking back the remarks, by issuing statements along the lines of “what the president actually means is …” and stressing that this isn’t a shift away from the official U.S. policy on China or Taiwan.

But I think that with each incident it is harder to prevaricate about Biden’s comments being an accident, or suggest that he in some way misspoke. I think it is clear at this point that Biden’s interpretation of the Taiwan Relations Act – which since 1979 has set out the parameters of U.S. policy on the island – is that it allows for a U.S. military response should China invade. And despite White House claims to the contrary, I believe that does represent a departure from the long-standing policy of “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan.

What Does ‘Strategic Ambiguity’ Mean?

Strategic ambiguity has long been the U.S. policy toward Taiwan – really since the 1950s, but certainly from 1979 onward. While it does not explicitly commit the U.S. to defending Taiwan in every circumstance, it does leave open the option of American defensive support to Taiwan in the event of an unprovoked attack by China.

Crucially, the U.S. hasn’t really said what it will do – so does this support mean economic aid, supply of weapons or U.S. boots on the ground? China and Taiwan are left guessing if – and to what extent – the U.S. will be involved in any China-Taiwan conflict.

By leaving the answer to that question ambiguous, the U.S. holds a threat over China: Invade Taiwan and find out if you face the U.S. as well.

Traditionally, this has been a useful policy for the U.S., but things have changed since it was first rolled out. It was certainly effective when the U.S. was in a much stronger position militarily compared with China. But it might be less effective as a threat now that China’s military is catching up with the U.S.

Leading voices from U.S. allies in Asia, such as Japan, believe that “strategic clarity” might be a better option now – with the U.S. stating outright that it would defend Taiwan if the island were attacked.

What Is the History of US Relations with Taiwan?

After the victory of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949, the defeated Republic of China government withdrew to the island of Taiwan, located just 100 miles off the shore of Fujian province. And until the 1970s, the U.S. recognized only this exiled Republic of China on Taiwan as the government of China.

But in 1971, the United Nations shifted recognition to the People’s Republic of China on the mainland. In 1972, President Richard Nixon made a now-famous trip to China to announce a rapprochement and sign the Shanghai Communique, a joint statement from Communist China and the U.S. signaling a commitment to pursue formal diplomatic relations. A critical section of that document stated: “The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position.”

The wording was crucial: The U.S. was not formally committing to a position on whether Taiwan was part of the China nation. Instead, it was acknowledging what the governments of either territory asserted – that there is “one China.”

Where Does US Commitment of Military Support for Taiwan Come From?

After establishing formal diplomatic relations with China in 1979, the U.S. built an informal relationship with the ROC on Taiwan. In part to push back against President Jimmy Carter’s decision to recognize Communist China, U.S. lawmakers passed the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979. That act outlined a plan to maintain close ties between the U.S. and Taiwan and included provisions for the U.S. to sell military items to help the island maintain its defense – setting the path for the policy of strategic ambiguity.

What Has Changed Recently?

China has long maintained its desire for an eventual peaceful reunification of its country with the island it considers a rogue province. But the commitment to the principle of “one China” has become increasingly one-sided. It is an absolute for Beijing. In Taiwan, however, resistance to the idea of reunification has grown amid a surge of support for moving the island toward independence.

Beijing has become more aggressive of late in asserting that Taiwan must be “returned to China.” Domestic politics plays a role in this. At times of internal instability in China, Beijing has sounded a more belligerent tone on relations between the two entities separated by the Taiwan Strait. We have seen this over the past year with Beijing sending military aircraft into Taiwan’s Air Defense Zone.

Meanwhile, Chinese assertion of increased authority over Hong Kong has damaged the argument for “one country, two systems” as a means of peaceful reunification with Taiwan.

How Has the US Position Shifted in the Face of Beijing’s Stance?

Biden has definitely been more openly supportive of Taiwan than previous presidents. He officially invited a representative from Taiwan to his inauguration – a first for an incoming president – and has repeatedly made it clear that he views Taiwan as an ally.

He also didn’t overturn the Taiwan Travel Act passed under the the previous administration of Donald Trump. This legislation allows U.S. officials to visit Taiwan in an official capacity.

In August 2022, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, making her the highest-profile U.S. politician to go to the island in decades.

Meanwhile, for the second time, Biden in his “60 Minutes” interview indicated a belief that it was up to Taiwan to decide its future, departing slightly from the usual line that the U.S. doesn’t support changes to the status quo. However, Biden has also said he does not support a unilateral declaration of independence from Taiwan.

So there has been a shift to a degree. But the White House is keen not to overstate any change. At heart, there is a desire by the U.S. to not stray from the Shanghai Communique.

So Is an Invasion of Taiwan Likely?

The current rhetoric from the U.S. and response from China do raise the risk of conflict, but I don’t think we are at that point yet. Any invasion across the Taiwan Strait would be militarily complex. It also comes with risks of backlash from the international community. Taiwan would receive support from not only the U.S. – in an unclear capacity, given Biden’s remarks – but also Japan and likely other countries in the region.

Meanwhile, China maintains that it wants to see reintegration through peaceful means. As long as Taiwan doesn’t force the issue and declare independence unilaterally, I think there is tolerance in Beijing to wait it out. And despite some commentary to the contrary, I don’t think the invasion of Ukraine has raised the prospects of a similar move on Taiwan. In fact, given that Russia is now bogged down in a monthslong conflict that has hit its military credibility and economy, the Ukraine invasion may actually serve as a warning to Beijing.

This is an update to an article that was originally published on May 24, 2022.

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  1. Questa Nota

    Joe from Scranton, calling up that reserve army of the undocumented to join the un- and under-employed.
    The real questions remain how he will means test and take a cut.
    Meanwhile, his aides want to cut the show title by 10% to 54 Minutes.

    1. Tom Stone

      Scranton Joe is trying to pick fights with everyone he can no matter what the risks are.
      Russia, China, the 74 Million who voted for Trump..
      I suspect that his dementia plays a role in this,that different factions are taking advantage of his cognitive decline to pursue their own agendas “Joe, they dissed you, you can’t let them get away with that”.
      No sane, responsible person would be acting the way Joe Biden is, the actions of his administration are objectively insane.

  2. The Rev Kev

    I think that Washington is going to try to force the issue of Taiwan with China in order to put sanctions on China that would rival those put on China. But sanctions that do not have that great an effect on the US so they will not sanction medicines. What China does is another matter. Seeing what is happening with the Ukraine should be proof enough that it does not pay to be set up as a proxy opponent against a great power. Washington will always abandon you when you have served your purpose. Just ask the people of Afghanistan. I suppose the big trigger even for China will be when Taiwan announces that they will be seeking nukes and guided long-range missiles to keep themselves safe. That was the final straw for Russia with the Ukraine that.

  3. HH

    The Taiwan situation is a decisive test of power in the United States. Those who view the capitalist plutocracy as the prime mover of American foreign policy cannot explain the steady march toward military conflict with China, since this would greatly disrupt profitable trade relationships for such giants as Apple, Walmart, and Amazon. It now appears that the Neocon ideologues have the upper hand, and their toxic brew of American exceptionalism and militarism is going to send us into a war that will severely damage the US economy. Unchecked militarism wrecked Japan and Germany in the last century. It seems to be our turn now.

  4. PlutoniumKun

    It also presents the reportedly stronger Taiwan desire for independence as organic. I have no way of judging the veracity of the counterclaims, but Brian Berletic of the New Atlas (who also voices a very strong anti-globalist position) has had Taiwanese guests who contend that the view of Taiwan as distinct from China has been instilled, particularly through education since the early 2000s and with considerable US backing.

    I don’t want to sound harsh on Berletic, who has an excellent channel, but this is absolute nonsense and shows no knowledge whatever of Taiwanese (or Chinese) history and culture. There was an extremely violent and intense suppression of Taiwanese Hokkien and other Taiwanese minority identities in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s by the incoming (and unwelcome) KMT which continued well into the 1980’s. Thousands of pro-democracy Taiwanese were executed or murdered by Han incomers. These Taiwanese never saw themselves as Chinese, even if their actual long term political objectives were often hazy and ambiguous.

    The resurgence of an independence movement began in the 1990’s after a long domestic struggle led to democracy and the growth of opposition to the KMT, which became increasingly focused on links with Beijing (the democracy, leftist and independence movements being more or less interchangeable). The increasing belligerence of the left-leaning independence movement in Taiwan is down to one primary reason – the Taiwanese people have voted it into power. If anything, the US govt has always been more pro-KMT as the KMT had, and still has, a somewhat outsized influence in Washington. US attempts to rile up the pro-independence movement in Taiwan is very recent – arguably something unique to Biden.

    1. Ignacio

      Unfortunately, at some point, when you become a chess piece in a geopolitical game, as it very much looks like, the claim for independence doesn’t mean anything in such grand game. The recourse to a superpower may seem attractive at some point but almost certainly a recipe for disaster in this case. With the participation of Pelosi this looks very much the recourse of some posh and bored ex-Taiwanese millionaires living in San Francisco wanting to play chess game from their supposedly safe place.

    2. Joey B

      This is an eccentric definition of “Han” as essentially “native Mandarin speakers.” Hardly anyone, including the 100s of millions of non-Mandarin speaking Han Chinese (including tens of millions of Hokkien-speakers), uses it. Furthermore, your Wikipedia link actually contradicts your argument, as the words “Hokkien,” “Han,” “Separatist,” and “minority” get zero mentions. Two mentions of “independence” refer to independence groups that were persecuted because they were alleged Communists. The KMT wasn’t picky and probably swept up some groups that weren’t sympathetic to the PRC, but it seems clear that this was an ideological power struggle, and there is no evidence that there was an ethnic component in the 40s and 50s based on this link. This article also mentions that mainlanders who soured on the KMT were also targeted, again undermining the idea that the KMT dictatorship was driven by “Han” chauvinism against “Hokkien” natives. It seems clear from your link that this was about the KMT targeting suspected Communists due to fears that they were friendly to the PRC, and any attempt to make that about ethnic identity is at best filtering the past through a modern perspective.

  5. spud

    “Neoliberal politicians like Bill Clinton presented globalization as “the economic equivalent of a force of nature, like wind or water” that it would be stupid to try to reverse.”

    “Barack Obama in 2016 framed it in similar terms as “a fact of nature.” Politics was presented as the management of the necessity of globalization, with economic decisions limited to those acceptable to international investors, with some sections of the moderate and soft left broadly accepting these ideological premises.”

    now that the free trading democrats like gene sperling, bill clinton, robert reich and others said no one wants to upset the apple cart under free trade, they have successfully free traded away our technology, factories, machines, skilled labor, wealth and standard of living, they now are willing to go to war using our sovereignty(military) to protect the sovereignty of another nation to protect the wealth they so gleefully free traded away.

    1. H. Alexander Ivey

      globalization. .“a fact of nature.”

      And the big joke is the REAL fact of nature – the change in the local climate – is totally ignored.

  6. Michael Hudson

    Here’s the neocon logic: China is growing faster than the West, and hence is becoming an increasingly attractive magnet for Taiwan. I’ve spoken to Taiwanese officials and businessmen who look to develop most of their future business with the mainland. (They already play a major role in its rare earth mining.)
    Seeing this, the US wants to do everything it can to block this closer integration.
    China has no need to have a military response to a Taiwanese pro-U.S. buildup. All China needs to do is to move against Taiwanese investments in the mainland, until Taiwan “clarifies” its intentions for following U.S. pressures and alliances.
    This will force the issue now: what will benefit Taiwan’s economy and businesses most: joining the US/NATO West (at the cost of losing the mainland market), or China and the SCO (and being excluded from the Western market)?
    The Taiwanese know that for now, given their excellent computer-chip technology and related technology, the West is in no position to impose meaningful sanctions on them.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Does the ChinaGov see it through this unemotional lense of rational analysis?

      Or does the ChinaGov ( its ruling personnel) see this through the emotional self-pity-nostalgia lens of ” a Century of Humiliation” and “avenging what the West did to us?”

      Perhaps the psychometric personality-analysis model-makers at CIA and elsewhere in the American Deep PermaGov think they can manipulate the emotions of China’s rulers. Perhaps they are merely arming Taiwan and promising to defend it personally with American soldiers in order to goad the Chinese fish ( Leadership) into biting the Taiwan hook in order to get their desired war and sanctions going.

      If that is the DC FedRegime plan and goal, are the ChinaGov ruling personnel dispassionate enough to avoid falling for the baited hook while slowly starving/pressuring the worm (Taiwan) into choosing whether to stay on the hook or jump off the hook?

  7. Sara K.

    Having lived in Taiwan for three years, and as someone who understand Mandarin, I can say that the desire for independence is organic.

    I haven’t seen/heard Brian Berletic’s Taiwanese guests, but did they mention that prior to the 1990s open support of Taiwanese independence was censored in Taiwan? By ‘censored’ I mean that people who stated that position risked jail time. During the martial law era the KMT-run education system attempted to instill the idea that they should want unification with China (under KMT rule, not Communist rule) yet despite this once the Taiwanese people gained much more freedom of speech after the end of martial law this didn’t hold, especially among the younger generations who didn’t go through the martial law education system.

    It’s true that Chen Shuibian’s administration did run a Taiwanization campaign in the early 2000s and that some (perhaps many) Taiwanese felt it went overboard, but that was on more surface level issues such as renaming the post office, not on questions of rule. It’s also worth noting that Chen Shuibian is the only Hoklo who has been president (so far) despite the Hoklo being a majority of Taiwan’s population.

    In all my years in Taiwan, I only met one Taiwanese person who thought rule by the People’s Republic of China would be a good idea. Many wanted full de jure independence if it could be achieved peacefully, some older people would’ve liked unification of China under KMT (not Communist) rule, and the ‘status quo’ of de facto independence was extremely popular.

    There’s also the division of the ‘waishengren’ (the people who fled China in the 1940s and their descendants) and the Hoklo and Hakka who were present during Japanese rule and earlier. The Hoklo are a majority of Taiwan’s population. During martial law, the waishengren elite oppressed everyone else (such as favoritism in jobs and positions of power). They also suppressed languages other than Mandarin, most notably Hokkien, the language of the Hoklo (yes, Hoklo is a ‘dialect’ of Chinese but it’s not mutually intelligible with Mandarin, they are at least as different as Spanish and French). There’s a fear among older non-Hoklo people that Taiwanese independence might cause Hoklo domination, but over the years that fear has calmed because a) even though Hoklo are a majority of voters they haven’t formed a voting bloc united enough to overwhelm everyone else and b) because of the high rate of intermarriage among different groups, younger generations are mixed and don’t see the distinctions between waishengren, Hoklo, Hakka, etc. as being so important. Historically, Hakka and other minorities have aligned with waishengren partially to counter the Hoklo majority.

    It’s no coincidence that President Tsai Ingwen is Hakka. Her political party, the DPP, is strongly associated with the Hoklo ethnic group. Because she herself is not Hoklo, some voters who are wary of Hoklo ethnocentrism are willing to vote for her.

    The idea that the US/CIA/etc. instilled the desire for Taiwanese independence is laughable. When I was in Taiwan, the Taiwanese were concerned that the United States was doing too little to protect Taiwan from Chinese invasion, not too much. Taiwan has had an independent political system for generations. Furthermore, starting in the 1990s, it’s a democracy, albeit a flawed one, with some protections for free speech. A takeover by the People’s Republic of China would take away what democracy and civil liberties they have. Taiwanese are aware of what the Chinese government has done to Uyghurs and Tibetans. IIRC, I’ve seen polls that Taiwanese would be much more open to unification with China if China were a democracy.

    “Taiwan would like have been left to continue more or less as now until 2040 if it had not allowed the US to escalate the issue of Taiwan’s position relative to China.” <- I doubt this assertion greatly. Xi Jinping has been making moves for years which suggest that he wants China to annex Taiwan much sooner. If anything, it's probably the opposite: if the PRC government believed that the United States would NOT intervene in Taiwan, they would move to annex much faster. It's been clear for decades that the PRC would annex Taiwan as soon as they believed they could do so at an acceptably low cost.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      With all due respect, living there three years does not give you insight into how values have changed over the last two decades.

      As an American, I can tell you that the change in popular attitudes has changed markedly since 2002 in terms of polarization, open hatred of the working class, discomfort with dissent (even just speaking up) among the young, etc. has been radical and it’s way too easy to ignore or deny what has happened.

      It has also been repeatedly shown that intense propaganda campaigns can shift public opinion on a mass basis in as little as 6 weeks. The idea that our views are really our own, and not influenced by clever messaging, is a fiction many of us entertain. I am almost reflexively contrary, so I run the risk of being overly countersuggestible.

      For instance, contrary to your claim, the Congressional Research Service in 2009 was worried that Taiwan is getting too close to Beijing:

      Taiwan’s current president, Ma Ying-jeou, elected in March 2008, moved quickly to jump start Taiwan-PRC talks that had been stalled since 1998. The talks to date have yielded agreements to establish regular direct charter flights, direct sea transportation, postal links, and food safety mechanisms. Taiwan also has lifted long-standing caps on Taiwan investment in the PRC and lowered the profile of its bids for participation in U.N. agencies. Many welcome these and other initiatives as contributing to greater regional stability. More pessimistic observers believe growing PRC-Taiwan ties are eroding U.S. influence, strengthening PRC leverage and, particularly in the face of expanding economic links, jeopardizing Taiwan autonomy and economic security.

      The changing dynamic between Taiwan and the PRC poses difficult, competing policy challenges for the United States. Along with new challenges—such as what U.S. policy should be if Taiwan continues to move closer to the PRC…

      You simply can’t conclude whether the desire was home grown or not. I am not saying you are necessarily wrong but your frame and people’s confidence that their view have been consistent over time is not a sound enough basis for reaching your conclusions.

      1. Sara K.

        I lived in Taiwan during the Ma Ying-jeou administration. Many Taiwanese voted for him because they believed it would appease the PRC (and one Taiwanese person I know who voted for him regretted it later because she thought he went too far and put Taiwan’s de facto independence at risk, had she known how he would implement his policies she would’ve voted for someone else). Those ‘increased links’ were controversial among the Taiwanese public at the time. Many Taiwanese hoped they would be good for business (they were, for some) whereas many were concerned about becoming too close to the PRC.

        There’s a difference between what the Taiwanese public thinks and what the KMT political elite (Ma Ying-jeou belongs to the KMT) thinks, just as there is a difference between what the American public thinks and what the Democrat and Republican elite think.

        1. Sara K.

          It’s also worth noting that towards the end of the Ma Ying-jeou administration, the economic agreements with China were so unpopular that protestors occupied the Legislative Yuan for weeks during the Sunflower protests:

          I no longer lived in Taiwan at the time, but I visited Taipei during the Sunflower protests and saw the protests at the Legislative Yuan myself.

          1. Michael Hudson

            Certainly there has been a large political campaign for Taiwanese “people” to oppose being drawn into China’s economy with its socialist ideology. The situation you describe of Taiwan being settled by Chinese fleeing Communist rule is much the same as what occurred in Hong Kong. Like Cuban exiles in Florida, they oppose the country they left. That is the attitude that spurred the Hong Kong riots in 2019 when I was teaching there.
            The Taiwanese I know are from my Wall Street days: the families of Chiang Kai-Shek’s generals, their central bankers, etc. They simply want an opportunity to get rich. That has led them to make ideology-free calculations as to how best to do this. They’re very good at using their position to play suitors against each other – the US neocons and Chinese officials.
            Ultimate policy usually is made along self-interested economic lines, with popular attitudes being shaped to serve the evolving opportunism.
            And who “are” the “Taiwanese”? Chiang’s troops invaded Formosa and pushed the native population aside. It remains a multi-layered society and economy.
            I can bet that the US will sponsor “color demonstrations” against China in Taiwan, and play “the mighty Wurlitzer” to shape public opinion – which, as Yves says, is pliable.
            How do you think the wealthiest commercial interests in Taiwan will view this? My experience is that they will look at where their best and also safest economic opportunities lie – and try to hold off committing themselves for as long as it pays.
            I found the same attitude in Japan, by the way, talking to the CEO’s and heads of Nippon Steel and other companies about precisely this US-vs.-China dynamic. I was told that they have Plan B that they could turn on a dime, having everything prepared for an alternative at any given moment. (Drinks were flowing in abundance.)
            The US tends to be very clumsy and bossy in negotiations, aggravating Asians. China is much more subtle – and is especially good at emphasizing the unsaid (not a Western talent).

            1. Sara K.

              I agree that the Chiang Kai-Shek affiliated clique wants money and power and will politically bend to whatever they believe will get them that (though it’s an exaggeration to say they are ‘ideology-free,’ perhaps they are in private, but in public they’re not). I also agree with your view of ‘the wealthiest commercial interests,’ that they will look for the best and safest economic opportunities and avoid commitment as long as possible.

              However, if Taiwan’s public opinion is so pliable, why hasn’t the PRC government done it yet by making them all believe they should come under PRC rule? The PRC has the advantage of language, cultural ties, and to be frank, the PRC government cares more than the US government. Why would the US government be so much more effective in shaping Taiwanese public opinion than the PRC government? The simplest explanation is that a majority of Taiwanese (who are not the same at the wealthiest Taiwanese) believe autonomy is in their best interests based on things other than PRC or US propaganda.

              I’m not sure what you mean by “Chiang’s troops invaded Formosa and pushed the native population aside.” Per the Postdam Declaration, the Allies demanded that Taiwan must cease to be a Japanese territory, and Japan accepted this when it officially surrendered at the end of World War II. The Japanese governor-general of Taiwan signed the instrument of surrender without fighting any battles against Chiang’s troops on Taiwan itself. Furthermore, many Taiwanese people were dissatisfied with Japanese rule and put little resistance to Chiang’s takeover. I wouldn’t describe that as “Chiang’s troops invaded Formosa.” However, after Chiang took over, his government quickly became unpopular, leading up to the 2/28 massacre.

              To answer your question “who “are” the Taiwanese”: the people who spend a large portion of their lives in Taiwan and who think of themselves as Taiwanese. That now includes the waishengren who have been there for generations, as well as the majority of the population who are descended from people who lived in Taiwan prior to 1945. This has a large overlap with the people who have ROC citizenship, though not 100%. For example, the majority of the Kinmen islanders Matsu islanders I’ve met said they were not Taiwanese, though they have ROC citizenship, and according to the ROC government Kinmen and Matsu are officially part of ‘Fukien Province’ not ‘Taiwan Province.’ (The Kinmen and Matsu islanders are strongly in favor of ‘status quo’ since they believe that both a PRC takeover and Taiwan declaring official independence, even if peaceful, would harm their interests, ‘status quo’ is their best-case scenario).

              1. Michael Hudson

                I should have added an important context.
                the US/Western strategy of negotiation is to threaten to hurt countries that do not do what the US neocons want them to do. It’s a zero-sum game.
                China and other countries take the opposite approach: who can offer more gains. It’s a win/win agreement.
                The wild card, of course, is the high stakes that leading politicians have in international crime from the drug trade to money laundering. US “negotiators” can offer non-prosecution or prosecution as they let criminal activities proliferate. So what SEEMS to be national interest or even the interests of many elites does not reflect the actual reality.
                The status quo is always the least risky way. The US is disrupting it. that is what led to the SCO meetings last week. I don’t know what will happen in Taiwan or what offers will be weighed against what threats.

              2. Bill

                “The simplest explanation is that a majority of Taiwanese (who are not the same at the wealthiest Taiwanese) believe autonomy is in their best interests based on things other than PRC or US propaganda.” Then they should be happy with the status quo. Taiwan already has autonomy.

            2. Oh

              It looks like the battle between the really rich ones (10%) vs. the others who’re benefiting from socialistic policies like non looting health care and other neo-liberal policies . What is this freedom that the protesters speak of? It’s probably double speak for these oligarchs. The common folks who get lured into believing them are pawns. They know they won’t find it in the country of the Great Satan but they want a money grab for themselves. These are same oligarchs that benefited richly from charging money to help the US companies move their production to China. Now the gravy train is ending they want their boys in Washington to start a war. Pox on both their houses! Family blog them. Let’s go Brandon!

      2. hk

        I think there are two dimensions here, although this may not be the “polite” point to raise:

        First, if we are talking about US foreign policy, does it actually matter what the Taiwanese actually think? The question is whether the US government should openly support the Taiwanese independence materially and militarily, in contravention of the legal fiction that has been maintained for decades for the benefit of good-to-respectable diplomatic relationship between US and China, but also for regional stability. I don’t think the Taiwanese get a vote on this question.

        Second, how far does the Taiwanese desire for independence go beyond the abstract idea? I don’t think there’s any substantial dispute that the support for the idea of independence in Taiwan enjoys very high degree of popularity. But how does the answer change when the question becomes one of how far the Taiwanese support actually doing anything beyond symbolic about it. The support for increased armaments, for example, as far as I can tell, remains fairly sparse. Very few people say that they will actively support military effort if it is required of them–iirc, the plurality was either “don’t know” or they’ll go abroad. Nobody really supports immediate independence and, as far as I know, there’s a sizable majority that supports maintaining status for at least for the foreseeable future if not indefinitely.

        So this is a very mixed view in Taiwan: so should United States seek an active confrontation with China for what is, at best, a vague idea even if it is widely supported in Taiwan, for a people who say that they’d rather leave “their country” and have “someone else” do the fighting if it is required of them? People who are doing nothing, by choice, to prepare for that fight themselves?

        I think this is a loser proposition from the US perspective. With all due respect to the Taiwanese, independence is not just an idea: it flows from the barrel of a gun, or lots of guns. If the US has to supply all the guns (and the people to shoot them) while 80% of the Taiwanese won’t lift a finger, then the idea that US should fight for Taiwanese “independence” is stupid.

  8. John

    Is there some place in the fantasy world of US foreign policy that finds a strategic rationale for ginning up war with both Russia and China at the same time and at a moment when the US armed forces are ill-prepared to take on such a task as if there ever was a good time for war on two widely separated fronts? You may argue that we are not at war with Russia and that NATO is not at war either, but both are co-belligerents shoveling in weapons and “advising” Ukraine. From the look of the Kherson and Kharkiv “offensives” that advice is not worth much. A glance at a map ought to convince any sane person that defending Taiwan would be a near impossible job and the possibility of conflict “going nuclear” is high. Nuclear war is civilizational suicide. China does not want to invade Taiwan. It does want to bring Taiwan under the rule of Beijing. I have long thought that it might wait until 2049 and happen peacefully. But what do I know.


    Yet another dimension of the new US global policy to stir up as much trouble as possible so what’s left of our reserve currency status can create demand for USD (thus lowering inflation) and effectively exporting inflation to the rest of the world (europe through inflation, developing world through IMF/WTO, china through forced devaluation of currency to offset strong dollar problem to it’s exports, etc.)

    There is a reason all the countries who fell for this the first time (see: South America) are raising their rates through the roof over playing the devalue and run to the USA or it’s global orgs for help game.

  10. anthony

    The thesis that Russia’s military reputation was damaged by the Ukrainian conflict is highly controversial. Indeed, looking at what Russia accomplished with very little means, it does not bode well for NATO if it goes to war. The losses on the Ukrainian side are horrendous but kept silent by Western media. No NATO weapon -and haven’t they tried- has been able to repel Russia…in the “regained” territories the Ukraine army and all its mercenaries are slowly being slaughtered. Already in February we were told that the Russians had run out of high precision missiles: well look at the daily barrage of them, still going strong! Russia hasn’t shot down the NATO AWACS planes or drones that guide the Ukrainian artillery – yet. They easily could. Russia easily could bring down the USA sattelites needed for GPS as well – then NATO crumbles wholly, while the Russian type of army functions very well without such fancy stuff. If anything, the Ukrainian conflict has shown China how weak NATO really is. And of course, that’s why economic cooperation outside NATO countries is blooming now…no one still fears the UK gunboat diplomacy of the Opium Wars or the US B52 equivalent!

  11. Kouros

    “Meanwhile, Chinese assertion of increased authority over Hong Kong has damaged the argument for “one country, two systems” as a means of peaceful reunification with Taiwan.”

    Only after 2019 and the passing of a common National Security Legislation in HK (common with Beijing), one can truly speak of “one country, two systems”. Before that it was two countries two systems. HK was supposed to do that asap after 1997 but procrastinated, allowing it to be US/UK/AU biggest spy hub in Asia.

    Taiwan cannot truly be independent and sovereign. It cannot be because the US will try to pry it and have it as an “ally” against Chinese autocracy and its “desire to be the new hegemon”… Russia didn’t have a problem with an independent and sovereign Ukraine, it had a problem with a Ukraine that was allying with the aggressive and belligerent US led NATO against Russia.

  12. David in Santa Cruz

    Where is Kim Jong Un when we need him? Trump may have been a psychopath, but he was no “dotard.” Biden however continually proves himself to be worthy of that epithet.

    I agree with the author that there does appear to be a neo-con logic in play: beginning with Slick Willie Clinton there was an idea that the U.S. could function as a 21st Century City of London clearing all the globe’s economic activity through Lower Manhattan.

    Ginning-up wars in the former Soviet Union and with China appears to be the by-product of Our Billionaire Overlords’ dawning appreciation that Eurasia can and will skip allowing their economic activity to be skimmed in New York City. Taiwan is slipping from the Wall Street orbit for reasons stated in comments above.

  13. drumlin woodchuckles

    If the DemParty, through its putative Party Leader Biden, has stated its official policy of seeking overt shooting war with China if China invades Taiwan with shooting troops, would the Republican Party, through its competing would-be Party Leaders Trump, DeSantis, Cotton, etc. overtly state that if China invades Taiwan with shooting troops, a Republican President would NOT send American shooting troops to wage overt counter-war against the Chinese shooters waging shooting war on Taiwan?

    If the Republican Party were to instruct all its Great Leader wannabes to make that overt statement before God and CSPAN, then American voters would be offered a genuine actual choice to make between the two parties on one particular issue anyway.

  14. Jeremy Grimm

    Bidden might be willing to support Taiwan militarily but I do not share his willingness. I am too old to serve, but I would do everything in my power to move my son and daughter to other shores to escape a new draft to protect Taiwan. I have little power to stop the MIC, but I would exert whatever limited powers I have to fight a u.s. military involvement with Taiwan.

    For a moment, forget what the u.s. government’s foreign policy machine excreted for our digestion. I will not support u.s intervention to stop a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, and I cannot believe that China would or will need to invade Taiwan to make Taiwan part of China. Proximally, economically, culturally, Taiwan and China are cut from the same cloth.

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