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That New York Times op-ed

I guess if you’re reading this blog, you’ll have probably seen it by now. If you haven’t, feel free to take a minute out from reading this post to check it out. If my Twitter feed is anything to go by, it has really touched a nerve. But that might be because the people I follow are rather more knowledgeable about Taiwan’s situation than the author, Paul V. Kane, a former Marine and Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government. The title alone, “To Save Our Economy, Ditch Taiwan”, was enough to give my followees palpitations. It is unfortunate that, as Paul Mozur (WSJ’s Taiwan correspondent) put it on Twitter, “everyone ignores Taiwan for months, then a particularly stupid editorial comes out and everyone reads it”.

I agree with Mozur’s sentiment, but the implication that we should ignore this op-ed because it is myopic and uninformed is wrong. The very fact that it reached the pages of the NYT is reason enough to take it seriously. The NYT is not in the habit of giving column space to madmen-from which I infer that there is sufficient sentiment in the US that the prevailing relationship with Taiwan should be re-calibrated, although perhaps not to the extent that Kane describes. It is not implausible that, if framed in Kane’s stark terms, a war weary American public and opportunistic politicians could support the notion that America’s self-interest (in Kane’s terms, writing off the debt that China holds and avoiding a potentially devastating war over Taiwan) is best served by sacrificing its obligation to defend Taiwan. That is, in my opinion, wrong on many levels, but it is not implausible.

If you’re still reading at this point, thank you. Now let’s count the ways in which Kane’s op-ed goes off the rails. First, the notion that “America has little strategic interest in Taiwan” is astonishingly naive. Second, the idea that Taiwan is going to declare independence is literally incredible. Third, if “absorption” is “inevitable” then why worry that “the cautious men in Beijing” will lose patience and try to “take Taiwan by force”? Fourth, Taiwan is a bone of contention in US-China relations, but its not the only one. After “giving up Taiwan” do you not think China will move on to the next bones of contention on its (increasingly long) list? What next, quit Japan, Central Asia, global financial institutions? Fifth, “a Taiwan deal could pressure Beijing to end its political and economic support for pariah states like Iran, North Korea and Syria”. Why would it? Sixth, “Congress should see a deal with China as an opportunity to make itself credible again”. Are you serious, Mr Kane? Finally, the thing that’s getting a lot of peoples’ goat, invoking the future of America’s children-what about Taiwan’s children?

There is so much more to write on this, but I just wanted to get my initial thoughts up. I will leave you in the capable hands of Nancy Tucker and Bonnie S Glaser (whom I’m delighted to say will post here very soon) and their article “Should the US abandon Taiwan?” For those of you with Kane-induced fear of following the link, the answer is a resounding “no”.

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Published inInternational PoliticsTaiwan 2012


  1. Gerd Gerd

    Moreover Kane simply ignores the wishes of the vast majority of Taiwanese, who want to keep the status quo. And he would be willing to sell a democracy!
    Still unbelievable that his piece got printed.

  2. Jonathan Sullivan Jonathan Sullivan

    Thanks for your comment, Gerd. It is a shocker, but as Tucker and Glaser observe, the sentiment does exist “in some circles”. It doesn’t mean to say that such a view will gain traction (it is an idea that has been around for a long time after all) but its out there (in more ways than one).

    • Using phrases like “in some circles” can misleading when the writer doesn’t tell readers exactly which “circles.” People with lots of RMB in their bank accounts, perhaps?

      Phrasing the question as “Should the United States Abandon Taiwan?” or “Would it be a good idea?” as Tucker and Glaser do adds credibility to the argument.

      Is it *so* difficult for people to take a stand that they end up supporting the wrong side? Unless they actively support abandoning Taiwan, they should have titled their piece “Here’s why we *shouldn’t* abandon Taiwan” and argued it that way.

      Even in the concluding sentence of that piece, they could only sum up the “courage” to write: “The United States should not abandon its principled dedication to freedom of choice, but should strengthen it.” That’s way too wishy-washy for me.

      Instead of titling one section of their piece “What Would Sacrificing Taiwan Gain?” Tucker and Glaser could have more directly said, “Sacrificing Taiwan Will Gain Nothing—In Fact, It Will Lead to More Kowtowing.” Again: namby-pamby.

      “Taiwan” isn’t going to “spark war between the [US] and the [PRC],” as Tucker and Glaser put it. “Taiwan” is just the excuse. Beijing *chooses* to be “provoked” and—like a spoiled baby—continually uses it as a tactic to get what they want. Here, they see things from Beijing’s POV. Their thoughts—and Kane’s—seem to have been “censored” by Beijing’s repeated infantile behavior.

  3. J B J B

    The thing that scares me is how many people just don’t care that Taiwan is a democracy. If you believe morals should play any role whatsoever in international relations, supporting Taiwan should be a no-brainer- if you can’t manage that, then there is nothing left to your human rights policy than empty words. Just the fact that supporting a democratic country’s right to decide its own future is so rarely offered as a refutation to these “ditch Taiwan” arguments- usually after “it earns money for US arms makers”- disturbs me.

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