Why Should Americans Care about Taiwan?

May 27, 2020

It's a tiny slip of an island, just 110 miles off the coast of China. But a narrow stretch of water isn't the only thing separating Taiwan from its communist neighbors. There, floating in the Formosa Strait, is a surprising patch of democracy. To most people, the thought is astounding. A boat ride away from one of the most oppressive regimes in human history, 23 million people go about their days free. And China can't stand it.

Most Americans probably don't give a second thought to Taiwan -- except maybe to marvel at how a country with a Florida-sized population managed to stave off the coronavirus so effectively. But otherwise, the average person doesn't pay the area much attention. That, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) argues, is where they're wrong. Taiwan is one of the most important pieces of land in the Pacific -- and if the West wants to teach China a lesson, it had better wrap its head around that -- and fast.

For years, the island nation has been threatened by China with "reunification," which is just a euphemism, former State Department envoy Christian Whiton points out, "for military invasion and conquest." A violent end, he warns, of the 71 years of virtual independence from China. But why should Americans care? Apart from the fact that China is in everyone's doghouse over the coronavirus -- does losing Taiwan to the communists really matter?

Yes, it turns out -- a lot. In the long shadow that China casts over Asia, Taiwan is the one shining rebuke of its "fiction" that totalitarianism is necessary for order and survival, Whiton argues. They've shown the world that "an ethnically Chinese-majority country can achieve stability and prosperity through democracy and the rule of law." It's had three peaceful changes of power since 1996, grown its income to 28th highest in the world, elected its first woman head of state, and shown a surprising respect for religious freedom -- while China, a few hours away, locks millions of Uyghurs behind their concentration camps' barbed wire.

"Every time that Chinese officials rationalize or justify the subservience of law to the whims of the Party, every time they lock someone up for having the wrong views or worshipping the wrong God, every time they run over protesters with tanks in the name of social harmony, every time they threaten their neighbors with military force, Taiwan stands as an example of a different and better way for ethnically Chinese citizens to govern themselves... It represents the future everyone should want for China -- a future that would be marked by collaboration rather than confrontation with America and the rest of the free world."

So when China sends two aircraft carriers dangerously close to Taipei while the entire world is distracted with the pandemic, you'd better believe America cares. "...If Taiwan were to become part of China, as Beijing has insisted it must, China would instantly become a Pacific power." But China needs to be "real careful," Congressman Yoho warns. "They're trying to control the narrative that Taiwan is a part of the [People's Republic of China]. Make no mistake about it: Taiwan has never been a part of the People's Republic of China... It's a distinct culture." So if China wants to overstep its boundaries and test the waters with Taiwan, Yoho explains, "they will pay for [it]."

Nobody wants a conflict, Yoho agreed, but they underestimate our president if they think he won't respond. They think America will back down. Keep in mind," he explained, "that since President Reagan, we have an agreement to sell Taiwan weapons for their defensive... protection. They are our 11th largest trading partner, they're a Western democracy, and they punch way above their weight, as far as a population..." And while China's Xi Jinping wants the world to believe he's in control "of everything," Ted shook his head, "this is a strictly authoritarian power grab."

No American -- including President Trump -- wants to drag America into another foreign conflict, but Taiwan isn't just any other country. It's one of the brightest lights of freedom and prosperity on Asia's shore. If we want to get back at a regime that's caused untold deaths and suffering, the best thing the world can do is lift up Taiwan as an example of what China should be.

In the meantime, Yoho warns, "Chinese leaders need to really understand what they're walking into, because they will have crossed the Rubicon where they can't go back... You know, China talks about reunification, but they never consulted the Taiwanese people. They don't want that [as they proved in their last election]. They have their own military, their own government system. They're a Western democracy. They have their own flag, and we can go on and on and on. They are an independent nation." And it's in everyone's interest -- including ours -- to keep it that way.