Many consider Taiwan “the safest place” in the world following its success in battling the COVID-19 pandemic. But the cover story of the latest edition of The Economist calls Taiwan “the most dangerous place” on Earth, drawing immediate, enormous attention and discussion. The international weekly highlights the potential risk to the stability across the Taiwan Strait when the United States is shifting from ambiguous and peaceful relations to engage in confrontation with China.
The report claims that, if the two nuclear powers go to war over Taiwan, it would be a global catastrophe. Economically, Taiwan is the heart of the semiconductor industry, with TSMC controlling 84% of the advanced chips. It is a decade ahead of its rivals. If the war were to break and force production to stop, the global electronics industry would suffer at incalculable cost.
In fact, before the story was published, a great number of warnings and alerts had been raised over the Taiwan Strait crisis and its consequences. A new assessment by RAND, a California think-tank with close ties to the U.S. military, said “the U.S. efforts in the Taiwan Strait to deter China’s aggression are complex and appear to be weakening.” Australia’s new defense minister made it clear “the international community should not underestimate the possibility of conflicts in the Taiwan Strait. “Thomas L. Friedman, the author of The World Is Flat wrote in an article that “Let’s hope China’s seizure of Taiwan stays only in fiction.”
Stalemate cannot be solved by America’s deterrence
However, these warnings act like bubbles in comparison to the way both superpowers have responded. In his first Congressional address, U.S. President Joe Biden mentioned the relations with China and reiterated his efforts to maintain a military presence in the Indo-Pacific region, just like “NATO does in Europe”, showing no intention of backing down in competition with China. And China’s wolf warrior diplomacy is increasing its pitch of snarling with no substance.
Under the ongoing confrontation between the U.S. and China, what position should Taiwan adopt to get out of “the most dangerous place on Earth”? According to The Economist, Taiwan should deploy strategies and technologies sufficient to frustrate the Chinese invasion. The U.S. should deter China from launching an attack and prepare a battle plan with its allies, including Japan and South Korea. China must abandon its intention to change Taiwan’s status quo by force and receive assurance from Washington that it will not support Taiwan’s independence. The article quoted China’s late leader Deng Xiaoping: “Most disputes are best put to rest. Those that can be resolved only in war can often be put off and left to wiser generations.”
In fact, given Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s iron rule over Hong Kong in the past two years and his failure to keep the promises that “horses will still run, dancers will still dance” , many have questioned whether he is willing to take the advice from Deng Xiaoping with regards to Taiwan issue.
If Taiwan relies completely on the U.S. and expects the U.S. to seek help from its allies (Japan and South Korea) to deter China, it remains difficult to solve the current deadlock, though the approach is in line with the speech Biden made in the Congress and with Taiwanese President Tsai’s pro-U.S. strategy.
Bipartisan dialogue to seek reconciliation and common ground
If Taiwan wants to shed the label of “the most dangerous place on Earth”, cohesion of national will is the key. Some believe that it is time to introduce a new Taiwanese Constitution, while others insist on tilting towards China. Once a war or aggression were to take place, any help from outside could be of no avail if the people on the island were falling apart in a bitter dispute.
Sun Tzu said in the first chapter of The Art of War that five factors determine the survival of a nation, namely, “Way, Heaven, Ground, General, and Law.” Way, which comes on top, is what makes the people have the same thinking as their superiors; they may be given death, or they may be given life, but there is no fear of danger and betrayal. According to Sun Tzu, national will, concerted efforts, no fear of danger and death, and willingness to sacrifice for the country, can help the country survive in times of crisis.
Compared to the purchase and build-up of weapons, uniting the national will is far more obscured. It is also far more difficult than diplomatic maneuvering. President Tsai Ing-wen witnessed the power of people’s will on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic last year. As Taiwan is trying to get out of the Cross-Strait crisis, President Tsai needs to find a way to reconcile, communicate and seek common ground with opposing groups. This is more practical than seeking military and diplomatic support from abroad.
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