KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan — My 10th grade social science class in Palo Alto, California, often burst into groans as our teacher, Mrs. Stewart, played back the news she had recorded the previous night. However, on a spring day in 1996, the video of a group of American aircraft carriers heading for the Taiwan Strait drew cheers and cheers from the classroom. My American classmates knew I was from Taiwan, and the “cavalry coming to the rescue” of a friend in need felt really good.
The courier group was ordered by President Bill Clinton because the Chinese government, angered by… a sensational visit from then-Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui to the US had fired salvo after salvo into the waters off Taiwan — a sovereign state that Beijing claims is part of its territory and demands that other countries recognize it as such. Clinton’s deployment of the carriers effectively ended what came to be known as the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis.
Taiwan has been relegated to serving as a testing ground for the insecurities of the Great Power.
Today I’m back home in Kaohsiung after a recent overseas trip to Germany, and my feelings were definitely more mixed than almost three decades ago when I watched a TV screen showing another dramatic development in Taiwan: the image of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plane landing in Taipei versus thinly disguised warnings from the Chinese Communist Party of impending retaliation.
As a university professor of international affairs in Taiwan, I couldn’t have been more enthusiastic. The visit will undoubtedly give rise to new geopolitical developments for my students to debate. These talks will examine the fierce response expected from China, as well as whether Pelosi’s visit is a highlight of pro-Taiwan policies started in the Trump administration signaling a shift in the current American position of “ambiguity” in how it would respond to a Chinese attack on Taiwan to an attack in which the US makes a final commitment to defend us.
But those two dynamics reveal the dilemma in Pelosi’s visit. Yes, it is a strong signal of US support for Taiwan. But whether the symbolism means anything concrete in policy terms is harder to determine, and its benefits may well outweigh the other side of the equation: how China interprets it. Should Beijing see the visit as a sign of US support for changing Taiwan’s ambiguous international status towards formal independence, China could respond aggressively, as by isolate us economically or through provocative displays of military force.
Despite this danger, Taiwanese politicians from across the political spectrum have expressed their support for Pelosi’s visit. Personally, I am more ambivalent. Substantial US support is indeed welcome and appreciated. On the surface, Pelosi’s statement at the landing is that the US is a “Unshakable Commitment to Supporting Taiwan’s Vibrant Democracy” shows solidarity against a common threat. But why should it come when US-China relations are already tense? Could Pelosi’s visit trigger a fourth crisis in the Taiwan Strait?
On my recent trip to Germany, which my friends are concerned about… how they will heat their houses this winter after the gas supply failure from Russia due to the West’s opposition to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, I was repeatedly asked whether people in Taiwan feared that China would invade to claim the island by force – that China would draw inspiration from the Russian president’s attack Vladimir Putin on Ukraine and would take advantage of the fluid situation in Europe to make a move.
While I don’t think a Chinese attack or punitive attack is imminent, Pelosi’s arrival makes me think about the fear and vulnerability that Taiwan, like Ukraine, continues to face.
Taiwan has been relegated to serving as the testing ground for Great power uncertainties. China must show its determination to punish Taiwan in light of this visit, while the US would not back down by canceling the visit just because of Chinese rhetoric. Both sides are pointing the finger and shifting blame for mounting tensions, with Taiwan sitting uncomfortably in between.
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Still, it should be noted that the Taiwanese have had a long history of being close to China without succumbing to its threats. After all, only by knowing your opponent can you reduce the chance of miscalculation. There have been compromises in the past between Taiwan and China, even in tense timesand we have to remember that.
So while China’s threats against Taiwan are real, Taiwan is not Ukraine. Contrary to what some media suggest, Taiwan is not the… most dangerous place on earth. Taiwan’s economy and the relatively free movement of people and goods with China indicate a high degree of interdependence. People in Taiwan do not worry on the threats from China; they are probably more concerned about inflation than a military attack. Unfortunately, false prophecies can fuel our darkest fears — ironically increasing the odds of them coming true.
Ultimately, it is up to the Taiwanese, rather than American politicians, to chart our course with China. Pelosi’s call for solidarity is best realized in the US by passing Congress substantive legislation that would allow Taiwan to thrive while maintaining peace in the Indo-Pacific region, keeping it well armed with credible deterrents, but also to leave flexibility to deal with Beijing. support that improves Taiwan’s reputation allowing it as an independent member of international fora and furthering its economic, technological and managerial capacities is also helpful.
But it is Taiwanese citizens who will pay the price when things get out of hand through calculation or miscalculation. After Pelosi’s delegation leaves, the authoritarian regime of Chinese President Xi Jinping continues.
We in Taiwan have chosen to confront China by our example: maintaining our democracy as a model for defying authoritarianism just a few miles from mainland China is a daily reminder to the communist regime in Beijing that we will not be intimidated. become. This approach has been effective to show that resistance is not futile, and it is something that the Taiwanese themselves must continue.