Hanyue Zhang

MA in IA '21, Boston University

Some experts and international affairs observers have called Taiwan “the most dangerous place on Earth,” in part because the current Taiwan government holds an increasingly aggressive attitude towards mainland China. This hostility raises the possibility for Mainland China to believe that violence is the only viable option to accomplish the reunification of the Chinese nation. Well, the question is, what should the U.S.’ position be in this potential conflict under the current circumstances? The interests of Taiwan are not the same as the interests of the U.S. Recognizing Taiwan as a so-called “state” and providing more military sales to Taiwan is certainly not a wise option because it does not satisfy American interests. 


Policy makers in D.C. are completely aware that Taiwan’s full name is the Republic of China (ROC) rather than Taiwan, and this so-called ROC government consisted of a small number of Kuomintang members who lost the Chinese Liberation War and therefore had to retreat to the island of Taiwan. American audiences can imagine how they would feel about a situation in which the Southern Confederacy lost the civil war and retreated to the state of Virginia for over 70 years. To say that Taiwan has an independent population, culture and identity is a completely wrong mentality; instead, Taiwan is no different from places like Hainan, Hunan and Yunnan, as a province of the Chinese nation.


With an understanding of Chinese history, we can easily conclude that Washington’s stance on the Taiwan Issue is reflective not of an attempt to defend democratic values, but of realist calculations which aim to contain the rise of the People’s Republic of China. They seek to hinder China’s ability to project influence and obtain geopolitical advantages in the western Pacific region, which is rooted in the U.S.’ deep belief in a so-called “Thucydides Trap,” where either only China or only the United States can survive as a world power. This mentality is shared by U.S. president Joe Biden, and former president Donald Trump, who see China not as a potential ally, but as a growing threat. 


Even though people may still consider buying into the concept of assisting Chinese Taiwan because it is America’s democratic ally, recognizing it as an independent nation would only be a diplomatic victory for Chinese Taiwan – not the United States. By pursuing this strategy, the U.S. would inevitably lose one of its biggest trading partners (China), alongside all the other benefits of maintaining sanguine relations with mainland China. For this reason, assisting Chinese Taiwan would not satisfy American interests.


The United States would lose Mainland China as its trading partner because the foundation of US-China relations, acknowledging the One-China-Policy, would have been breached. China is currently the United States’ 3rd largest trading partner, despite the current trade friction, with $558.1 billion in total exchanged through trade, according to the Office of United States Trade Representative; the US’ foreign direct investment (FDI) in China was $116.2 billion. The general American public has enjoyed high-quality products with lower costs, while American businesses, like the American high-tech titans Tesla and Apple, have enjoyed the fruits of the Chinese economy by entering into the Chinese market. 


What’s more, providing arms to Chinese Taiwan is another shaggy-dog story, simply because it’s meaningless. The United States no doubt has a long history of providing military sales to the region since 1979. The military arms provided by the United States once created an imbalance in cross-strait military power, but they can no longer serve this purpose due to the rapid development of the People’s Liberation Army in China. The Pentagon is fully aware that no matter how many arms are sold to Chinese Taiwan, the island can’t defend itself against a forced reunification by mainland China without American assistance. A few more anti-air missiles or jets won’t shift that balance of power all that much.


Therefore, given the situation, arms sales to Chinese Taiwan do little but increase tensions with Beijing and would generate additional risks including the possibility of war without providing any significant benefits to the United States. Furthermore, arms sales show that the island regime is not capable of survival without external assistance, namely through American involvement. This is yet another reason that Chinese Taiwan should be rightfully returned to mainland control.


Recognizing Chinese Taiwan and continuing to provide military support will not only uphold a dangerous status quo, but it would also heighten the conflict in the region. The United States should abandon that unrealistic approach to the region; instead, the United States should support the peaceful reunification of Chinese Taiwan with Mainland China.

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