Asians Can Believe for Themselves on Taiwan

Kishore Mahbubani is Differentiated Fellow at the Asia Research Institute of the National University of Singapore and author of “The Asian 21st Century” and “Has China Won?: The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy.” He formerly served as Singapore’s ambassador to the United Nations.


A war over Taiwan would be devastating for Asia. By contrast, it would have only a marginal impact on Europe.

The overall population of the 53 nations that make up the U.N.’s Asia and the Pacific Group concerns about 4.5 billion. By contrast, the overall population of the 27 countries that comprise the European Union concerns around 446 million, less than 10% as much.

So whose voices are making the most noise about Taiwan?

Asian leaders have actually typically had little to state about Taiwan, notwithstanding some recent declarations made collectively with their U.S. equivalents.

European leaders have been far more outspoken about the island. European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen recently commented, “We stand strongly versus any unilateral modification in the status quo, in specific by the use of force.” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock meanwhile declared, “A military escalation in the Taiwan Strait … would be a scary scenario for the whole world.”

French President Emmanuel Macron tried to balance such intriguing declarations by stating the obvious: “The question we need to answer as Europeans is … is it in our interest to accelerate [a crisis] on Taiwan? No. The worst thing would be to think that we Europeans should become fans on this topic and take our cue from the U.S. program and a Chinese overreaction.” However he then was naturally crucifiedby other Western leaders and media.

Why have Asians been comparatively quiet? The simple answer is that Asians understand that Taiwan is a hazardous and complicated issue. They are likewise conscious that the status quo has kept the peace for the decades because then-U.S. National Security consultant Henry Kissinger’s pathbreaking visit to Beijing in 1971. Asians know that it is not smart to rock the status quo.

So who is trying to change the status quo? European politicians suggest that China is attempting to do so, but they are being intellectually deceitful. They do not have the guts to say openly that it is negligent American politicians like previous House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who are trying to do so.

Mike Pompeo, another former U.S. policymaker who may be preparing to run for president, has actually been particularly inflammatory, stating in Taipei, “The United States government must immediately take necessary and long past due actions to do the right and obvious thing: that is, to offer the Republic of China (Taiwan) America’s diplomatic recognition as a complimentary and sovereign nation.”

This is extremely hazardous talk. Any seasoned observer of the Taiwan concern knows that if the island declares self-reliance, China will declare war. There are no ifs or buts here.

Since Taiwan remains the last living sign of China’s “century of humiliation” in between 1842 and 1949, no leader in Beijing can permit the independence of Taiwan or they would be crucified by the Chinese individuals.

This is why it is smart to let sleeping pet dogs rest on the Taiwan problem. To be fair, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has actually attempted to do this. I heard both Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin say in Singapore last year that Washington stays “firmly dedicated to our enduring ‘One China’ policy.”

Under the policy, “The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait preserve there is however one China which Taiwan belongs of China. The United States federal government does not challenge that position. It declares its interest in a tranquil settlement of the Taiwan concern by the Chinese themselves.”

Thankfully, the Taiwanese people are aware that it would be large folly for the island to declare self-reliance. According to a study performed by National Chengchi University in Taipei last year, only 4.6% of the public supports self-reliance “as soon as possible,” while 28% prefers keeping the status quo “indefinitely.”

While President Tsai Ing-wen and a few of her predecessors might have flirted with the idea of self-reliance, they understood that the Taiwanese people were not prepared for it. This discusses why Tsai decided to satisfy U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California last month rather than on Taiwanese soil. The enormous military operation that China launched after Pelosi’s see to Taiwan last August had a salutary effect, advising islanders of a point they clearly understand: War will come if they declare self-reliance.

Many Western politicians claim to be speaking out in assistance of the Taiwanese. To justify her check out, Pelosi revealed “solidarity” with the 23 million people of Taiwan.

However such good friends are putting the Taiwanese individuals in risk and danger inadvertently upsetting the status quo and beginning a war. If war begins, the Taiwanese individuals will need to fight on their own, just as the Ukrainian individuals are doing. Simply as no NATO soldiers are pertaining to the rescue of Ukraine, none will pertain to the rescue of the Taiwanese.

All this describes the relative silence of Asian policymakers on the Taiwan problem. The very best thing for the Taiwanese individuals and for the rest of Asia is to preserve the status quo.

In this status quo, the government in Taipei does not declare to represent an independent state of Taiwan. Instead, it claims to represent the Republic of China.

This is a fiction, but one that is necessary to preserve the concept that both mainland China and Taiwan are part of one country. In this regard, it is excellent that 13 countries continue to recognize the Republic of China. Paradoxically, it is in China’s national interest for this acknowledgment to continue.

Given that the quiet status quo has protected peace throughout the Taiwan Strait for over 50 years, we Asians must join and send out any checking out European policymaker a simple message: By doing nothing, we have preserved peace in Asia. Why do not you stay at home and repair Ukraine?

With our mindful silence, we have protected the status quo. Please do not disrupt our silence with your loud, interfering voice.


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