James W. Pfister
When early Portuguese explorers landed on Taiwan’s north coast in 1590, they called the island “Ilha Formosa”, which means “beautiful island”. On January 22, 2023, his Jerry Chen in New York published a critical response to my January 8, 2023 column “Same Mistake: Vietnam and Taiwan.” Others responded by email. Many of them had ties to Taiwan. They clearly love their “beautiful island” and hope the United States will help protect it from the People’s Republic of China (here China) desire to reintegrate into China. Yes. My thesis in this column was that the United States should look after its own business and obey China’s sovereignty over Taiwan. Had we not intervened, they would probably have already reunited.
Mr. Chen calls Taiwan “a de facto country with a unique Taiwanese way of life.” The United Nations replaced Taiwan’s Republic of China with mainland China. In 1972, the United States launched the One China Policy through a joint communiqué. Unfortunately, in 1979, the year we recognized China, we passed the Taiwan Relations Act, which continues to treat Taiwan as an ally. This contradiction creates ambiguity in relations with China. Most states in the world do not recognize Taiwan as a state (only her 14 states do). A “de facto state” over which a neighboring state is sovereign is not an independent legal entity, no matter how comfortable and democratic it may be.
Regarding history, Chen says Taiwan’s history “…does not begin with the Qing dynasty…” but began in the 17th century. In his e-mail, Paul Ding said the origins of the Taiwanese people go back to before his 17th century. Mr. Ding talks about people who recently immigrated to Taiwan.
Before the 17th century, we may have to surrender to Native American sovereignty. In fact, China ruled Taiwan through treaties with the natives for more than 200 years from the late 17th century until 1895, when the Sino-Japanese War forced it to cede Taiwan to Japan. At the 1943 Cairo Conference, it was understood that Taiwan would be returned to China after World War II. According to government statistics, 95% of Taiwan’s population is Han Chinese, and only 2.3% are Austronesian indigenous peoples of Taiwan.
“All world powers are selfish, and the interests of Taiwan and the United States are aligned in the Taiwan Strait,” Chen said. “The United States wants peace and order in the Indo-Pacific,” he said. If the United States wants peace and order in the region, it should not try to defend Taiwan or interfere in the reunification process. However, the United States could help negotiate solutions such as a shorter-term Hong Kong-style agreement in which the United States would repeal the Taiwan Relations Act and withhold further aid to Taiwan.
A war between China and the US would be inconceivable, even if it didn’t involve a nuclear attack. A Wall Street Journal editorial on January 20, 2023 states: The American people have not seen dozens of ships lost, badly damaged or destroyed, including two U.S. Navy aircraft carriers (crewed by 5,000 people) since World War II…”
There may be reasons for the US interest in Taiwan, such as naval intelligence and semiconductors. But Chen and others seem to cite issues of emotional identity, including pre-17th-century history, the uniqueness of Taiwanese society, ways of life, and love. But these concerns are at odds with the stark security realities of rights in international relations and international law. The United States must focus on building a positive-sum relationship with China and objectively building peace and order in the region through appropriate alliances.
James W. Pfister, JD University of Toledo, Ph.D. University of Michigan (Political Science), Retired after 46 years in Political Science at Eastern Michigan University. He lives in Devils His Lake and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.