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War with Taiwan? It Would be Our Craziest War Ever.
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America and the West have begun promoting the idea of a war against China over Taiwan. If China invades Taiwan, President Joe Biden has said, the U.S. would go further than it has in Ukraine, sending American ground troops as well as weapons. Thirty-seven percent of American voters agree with Biden. But how do you go to war to defend a country from invading itself?

According to the U.S., the United Nations and most of the world — including Taiwan itself — Taiwan is part of China.

Can the U.S. invade Ohio?

Like many other places, Taiwan is in a tough spot caused by decisions made by U.S. policymakers many years ago.

Until 1945, Taiwan was a Japanese colony. The birth certificate of my former father-in-law, an ethnic Taiwanese, read “Taipei, Japan.” The end of World War II brought a breather. Occupation forces withdrew. The Taiwanese expected independence as part of postwar decolonization. But America had other plans.

Across the Taiwan Strait, the Chinese civil war was drawing to a close. Mao Tse-tung’s Communists were beating the far-right Nationalists (KMT) led by Chiang Kai-shek. The Nationalists, looting everything they could carry including China’s gold reserves, jumped aboard U.S. ships helpfully provided by President Harry Truman and fled to Taiwan. The exiled KMT took over, purged and murdered Taiwanese intellectuals and independence advocates and established a vicious authoritarian dictatorship of the type propped up by the U.S. around the globe during the Cold War. There was a remarkably calm transition to democracy following Chiang’s death.

“When,” my father-in-law would ask me during one of our long political discussions, “will the United States give independence to Taiwan?”

“Whether it’s the U.S. splitting from Britain, or East Timor,” I replied, “independence is taken, not given. You declare independence.” About 1,400 Timorese died after declaring independence from Indonesia.

“We can’t do that,” he’d say. “China will invade. Many people will be killed.”

“Maybe they’d invade,” I’d replied. “Maybe not. But there’s no other way.”

The Taiwanese people are unwilling to die, so Taiwan has never declared independence. Since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, the island of Taiwan — whose legal name is the Republic of China — and mainland China have agreed on the legal fiction that Taiwan and China are part of the same country. Beijing calls Taiwan “a renegade province” it wants back in its fold; Taipei’s government, heir to the defeated Nationalist troops who fled to exile across the Taiwan Strait when the Communists seized power in 1949, officially maintains the ridiculous position that someday it will reconquer the mainland.

Mouse eats cat.

Like Kurdistan, Palestine and Pakistani Kashmir, Taiwan lingers in diplomatic purgatory, its people semi-stateless. It enjoys robust economic growth and de facto independence. But it’s not really a country. It has no seat at the U.N. Only 13 nations, most of them tiny — Belize, Haiti, Vatican City, Honduras, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tuvalu and Guatemala — recognize Taiwan as a country. Even its primary benefactor, the U.S., does not recognize it.

Yet Taiwan is different. Always on the periphery, the Chinese empire’s control of the island waxed and waned in proportion to its political stability and military strength, allowing the Taiwanese as well as the ethnic Han Chinese who migrated there from the mainland, to develop their own arts, food, and political and economic cultures. Seventy years of diplomatic limbo and de facto independence — their own coins, stamps, military — have accelerated those trends and made them feel permanent. They don’t want to be absorbed into the Borg, like Hong Kong.

It isn’t hard to see why Taiwan’s people embrace the strategic ambiguity of diplomatic limbo. Life is good and getting better, money is rolling in, and — bluster aside — China seems unwilling to risk the chaos and economic cost of reclaiming an island it hasn’t had under direct control since the 19th century. Why fix the unbroken?

Except it is a broken situation. You can’t have national pride until you’re a nation. You can’t demand respect unless your people demonstrate courage. Most of all, there’s the question of what the future holds: President Xi Jinping seems smart enough not to try to put the band back together again, at least not via hard (military) power. What about his successor or his successor’s successor?

Every now and then some Taiwanese political theorist gins up a farfetched workaround that promises to deliver independence without the risk of Chinese tanks rolling through Taipei. The 51 Club, founded in 1994 with 51 members, is a Taiwanese organization dedicated to the goal of turning the island into the 51st state of the United States. Presto! War with Taiwan is war against the United States — something the Chinese would never want.

The idea hasn’t exactly caught fire. “All the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) has to do is lob a few missiles over, and people will be swarming to us,” founder David Choi predicted in 1994. No missiles yet.

Annette Lu, former vice president of Taiwan under the KMT, promotes One Zhonghua, a scheme under which Taiwan and China would form an economic commonwealth like the European Union, with economic integration and political independence. Neither the Chinese nor the Taiwanese are on board.


There’s also a theory that the U.S. is, under international law, has been — and still is — the administrator of Taiwan since World War II. In 1945, the U.S. appointed Chiang’s Republic of China (KMT) to administer Taiwan — think of it like a sublet. The San Francisco Peace Treaty didn’t go into effect until seven years later, in 1952. “The treaty never mentioned who would receive Taiwan. Japan surrendered its former colony, but it never said to whom,” writes The Taipei Times. So who gets it? “Regarding Taiwan, the official U.S. position was, is and continues to be that it is ‘undecided.'” Biden may be hanging his hat on this bit of unfinished business.

From a domestic U.S. political perspective, however, whatever enthusiasm Americans have for defending Taiwan would vanish as soon as they learn that we would be risking World War III over a “country” that isn’t even a country — and doesn’t claim to be. The United States has gotten itself into a lot of stupid wars, but this would be the craziest one ever.

Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the left-vs-right DMZ America podcast with fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: China, China/America, Taiwan 
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  1. dearieme says:

    Chinese people didn’t start colonising Taiwan in substantial numbers until the time of Dutch rule.
    (So I have recently learnt – open to correction.)

    This means that any implication of its being ancient Chinese territory is hooey. Does that matter? Probably not. One lie is as good as another in politics.

    One thing puzzles me. Why do the sort of Americans who bang on about the indigenous people of North America never speak up for the indigenous people of Taiwan? Shouldn’t they be noisily advocating the expulsion of all the Han from Taiwan?

    • Agree: Carlton Meyer
    • Thanks: houston 1992
    • Replies: @d dan
    , @showmethereal
  2. Eventually, the leadership of Taiwan will simply request to be reunited with China. It would be bad for business otherwise. Chinese are practical, not full of haughty ideals.

  3. Notsofast says:

    let’s hope the taiwanese people vote for peaceful reunification with the mainland. if this does not happen and taiwan keeps courting disaster, the chinese should take taiwan to protect the rights of the native formosan people and simply put them in charge of this special economic zone, as reparations for the suffering imposed upon them by cash my-check and his fascist followers. any taiwanese han that don’t like it, can return to the mainland.

  4. Rahan says:

    Russia and Belarus became cojoined but separate.

    Thus far, that is. A slow, very easy-does it drift toward a merger, which has been quietly taking place for decades already.

    • Thanks: showmethereal
  5. The reason for the USA not to go to war with China over Taiwan is simple: we’ll get our asses kicked. How many of our carrier groups are we willing to get nuked? How many of our cities? How many more failed futile wars have to blow up in our faces before we stop this shit?

    • Agree: Carlton Meyer
    • Replies: @Cortes
    , @SafeNow
    , @Legba
  6. anon[335] • Disclaimer says:


    According to the U.S., the United Nations and most of the world — including Taiwan itself — Taiwan is part of China.


    Taiwan is the Republic of China. The Communist hellscape is called “The People’s Republic of China” and the “People’s Republic of China” is only a totalitarian gang bent on democide.

    The ROC is not part of the PRC.

  7. Taiwanese attention is riveted on Ukraine. Not the war so much as the parallels they see between how Ukraine is exploited and destroyed to serve the purposes of its US ally. Ukraine’s defeat and American humiliation will play a big role in next year’s elections, as will factors unknown to most of us.

    The Taiwanese know that a single PLAN cruiser can sink three entire USN carrier battle groups without coming in range of the battle group’s weapons – and still have plenty of missiles for a fourth battle group. They know that China’s fleet is much bigger, more modern and more powerfully armed than America’s.

    The Taiwanese also know that China has given them use of its 6,000 miles of inland waterways, a major competitive advantage over rivals ROK and Japan, and the right to establish lucrative franchises in areas like insurance before ‘foreigners’ enter any market.

    The Taiwanese also know that Taiwan wages are falling further behind China’s each year, and the talent drain is hurting. To this dissatisfaction add TSMC’s highly unpopular offshoring and it’s easy to see why the PRC looks better every day.

    Next year, Taiwan will elect Chiang’s grandson President and he will announce that the two Coast Guards will begin combined patrols of the South China Sea as a cost-cutting measure.

    In 2025, following glowing reports of heroic Coast Guard exploits, the two Customs Departments will join forces. This is in fact no big deal. The PRC already clears the majority of Taiwan’s exports anyway.

    Biden is cranking on it because he knows America won’t have Taiwan to kick around much longer.

  8. Cortes says:
    @gutta percha

    Short and sweet. Exactly. Thanks.

  9. SafeNow says:
    @gutta percha

    reason for the USA not to go to war with China over Taiwan is simple: we’ll get our asses kicked. How many of our carrier groups

    You’re probably right but here’s the other side of it. The US suffered 50,000 losses in Vietnam and the government didn’t much care. Two great guys from my high school who were drafted and did not want to be there were killed. Now with the all-volunteer forces, arguably the government would not care about the volunteers the politicians would say they knew the risks when they signed up. And losing some ships and aircraft that would be a “good thing” to them because now they get to spend money building replacements. I am old and I experienced firsthand the insanity, deaths, and upended lives, so I ask myself if it happened then could it not happen again now. I think probably you are right and the US Government and military learned their lesson and would not want it to happen again. But it is possible the lesson has been forgotten.

    • Replies: @Tyrone Shooze
  10. China is Taiwan’s leading trading partner and primary tourist destination. The American empire is still angry that it lost control of China. It has lost control of Taiwan too after it saw Ukraine suckered into fighting a stupid proxy war for the American empire.

  11. @SafeNow

    The US suffered 50,000 losses in Vietnam and the government didn’t much care.

    No, they didn’t care about the dead ones. What they cared about was the political support from the ones still alive.

  12. @anon

    This sort of hairsplitting means as much to us as the difference between Sunni and Shia Islam. It is very important to the vain little people who fret over such trivial matters, but not to the rest of mankind.

  13. tyrone says:

    Can the U.S. invade Ohio?

    …..why invade , just have Norfolk Southern ,EPA and DOT rat-fuck East Palestine with toxic chemicals

  14. tyrone says:

    but this would be the craziest one ever.

    …..No, fighting Russia over the eastern border of Ukraine would be the craziest ever .

  15. The USA has never seen a stupid war it didn’t want to get itself into.

  16. @anon

    Be that as it may, infinitely less is it the Usual Suspects´business to
    protect China from invading itself; or Korea; or Vietnam; or Germany for
    that matter (the pattern is getting old).
    Monroe NOW!!! Kick them back to their stinking island and let them rot there.

  17. The question of Taiwan will be settled when the US collapses and can no longer support its bases around the world. At the rate things are going, this won’t be long. Being a US GI stuck in a hostile foreign country, with money nobody wants, will be extremely unpleasant. I see the day when US GI’s stuck in Okinawa or Korea will be begging the locals for a can of spam or a bowl of rice, their American money worthless. The arrogant smirks on their faces wiped off long ago, the prostitutes who once desired their greenbacks are now spitting at them and their worthless money. The negroes will be the first ones to go crazy, trying to mug the locals, but the police will cut them down like rabid dogs. The whites will be more reasoned, trying to make deals on how they can raise enough money to go back to their impoverished country. The more intelligent and enterprising whites will just realize that the game that was the US is over and will try and make a go of it overseas by setting up a business and trying to make it as expats.

    • Agree: nokangaroos
  18. Why is the article titled “War With Taiwan”? Carelessness or stupidity?

  19. d dan says:

    “Chinese people didn’t start colonising Taiwan in substantial numbers until the time of Dutch rule.”

    According to the official historical records 《三国志·吴书·孙权传》[Ref 1], during the time of the Three Kingdom (220 to 280 AD), the king of Wu (one of the three kingdom) sent his generals 卫温 and 诸葛直 with ten thousand soldiers to Taiwan. Later, the Wu governor 沈莹 wrote (AD 230) a book 《临海水土志》 [Ref 2] to described what he saw (the environment, geography, produce, culture, people, etc) on the island. This was the world earliest recorded words about Taiwan, and shows that China has effective government control of the island about 1,800 years ago. In late 6th century, Su emperor sent emissary to Taiwan three times. From late Tang to Song, large number of Han migrated to Taiwan to escape from the wars in the mainland. During Song (AD 1120), 王象之 wrote a comprehensive 200-chapter books 舆地纪胜 about Song’s geography, which has since been re-compiled and re-published into a 8-volume treaties [Ref 3]. It mentioned that Taiwan and its nearby islands of Penghu had been under the administrative control of Quanzhou Prefecture 福建泉州 of the Fujian province. And then there was also Yuan’s control and Ming’s control and so on (I won’t cite further detail and references). All these pre-date the Dutch, Spanish occupation of the island.

    But, but, but, don’t bother looking up in wikipedia – all the above are not mentioned there, nor in most of the English-sourced “histories” I read.

    Ref 1:
    Ref 2:
    Ref 3:

    “Why do the sort of Americans who bang on about the indigenous people of North America never speak up for the indigenous people of Taiwan? ”

    I don’t know and don’t care about what is said in America (where lying is much more common and tolerated). But Chinese is serious about its history. The indigenous people in Taiwan were just earlier batches of migrants from the mainland China [Ref 4, 5, 6]. There was also fundamental differences with European and Whites invasion and colonizing in South and North America: Han migrants did NOT genocide, exploit nor replace the Taiwanese indigenous people into minority or poverty, because there were of common ancestry. In fact, successive dynastic emperors put very explicit rules to forbid later Hans migrants from intruding into indigenous people territories. They also wanted to ensure there was no conflicts or rebellions in the land they controlled.

    Ref 4:
    The most eminent anthropologist and archaeologist, the Taiwan-born, Harvard-educated US citizen 张光直 believed Austronesian came from Taiwan, which originally migrated from Fujian province, China:

    Ref 5:
    Archaeological finding, DNA tracing, carbon dating, linguistic analysis and other evidences shows the indigenous Taiwan came from mainland China.

    Ref 6:

    • Thanks: showmethereal
    • Replies: @NotAnonymousHere
  20. meamjojo says:

    Why not make Taiwan a new state of the USA? That would put it off limits to China! Easy peasy.

    • Replies: @Legba
  21. @anon

    ROC still claims to be the legitimate government of all of China (and has extra-territorial claims even more extensive than those of the PRC). Few now support them in this fantasy, including the US, who backstabbed them back in the 70s to make up with the PRC. That is what Rall is referring to, and he is correct.

    Because of dishonest and incompetent reporting, few are aware of the bizarre symmetry whereby China claims Taiwan (“Oh my, how outrageous!”), but Taiwan in return claims all of China, and some more (“Meh”).

    • Replies: @showmethereal
  22. @d dan

    There’s a difference between what we call “Taiwanese” who did indeed come from mainland China 中國大陸 Zhōngguódàlù and have as their milk language one variously called Taiwanese, Fujianese, or Amoy Hokkien and the autochthonous, aboriginal (relatively speaking) inhabitants who likely came from points south and/or east but not from the mainland. And they are still there.

    Where the people from the southeast coast of the mainland came from the quote you provided does not address.

  23. TG says:

    An interesting an intelligent piece, and (mostly) interesting and intelligent comments.

    “From a domestic U.S. political perspective, however, whatever enthusiasm Americans have for defending Taiwan would vanish as soon as they learn that we would be risking World War III over a “country” that isn’t even a country — and doesn’t claim to be” – OK here I have to diverge. Who cares what Americans think or whether or not not they have “enthusiasm?” Does a farmer care about whiter the sheep have “enthusiasm” when they are bundled off to the slaughterhouse?

    And finally: the United States is being invaded by the overpopulated third world. It is entirely plausible that the US population will be doubled to about 700 million in just 20 years. This will crush the working class into the dirt. Ultimately I don’t care a fig about Taiwan, one way or the other.

  24. Legba says:
    @gutta percha

    We buy everything from them, how would the war even work?

  25. Legba says:

    Maybe if you make it a state of Ukraine. You may have noticed that American borders are not off-limits to anybody

  26. anon[115] • Disclaimer says:

    As I understand it, Taiwan officially belongs to the Ashkenazim. One possible effective strategy may be for the Ashkenazim to turn Taiwan into a top-tier military power, and then trigger an utterly destructive war between China and Taiwan with the hopes of collapsing China. After China has collapsed, the Ashkenazim can then take it over, like they did with Japan after WWII.


  27. @dearieme

    correct because prior to Europeans showing up – they felt no need to make claims on the island (same as those in the South China Sea)…. But in the end – the indigenous still got to the island from the mainland anyway.

  28. @mackeralsky

    Simple fact – glossed over in this piece is that Japan took Taiwan from China in the late 1800’s. In surrendering in WW2 the Potsdam and Cairo Declarations declare Japan had to return Taiwan to China.
    But to your point they claim China (PRC) is evil for claiming the islands in the South China Sea but skip over the fact that it was Taiwan as the Republic of China government who made the original claims and with the help of the US drew up the 11 dash line. But that’s western propaganda for you…

  29. “It has no seat at the UN”.

    WHY that is needed to be a country I fail to understand. All the western nations would be better off without this useless moribund organization.

    In any case I wouldn’t lose one single soldier for Taiwan.

    • Replies: @nokangaroos
  30. @anonymouseperson

    The UN was the outgrowth (heh) of the Atlantic Charta, the organization of the
    Western Allies, to perpetuate their rule forever (e.g. the Enemy State Clauses
    against Germany and Austria are still in force). i.e. the opposite of what you
    The Bandung Conference 1955 was the first tremor indicating lame foundations
    but by and large it has propped up the “West” way past its prime –
    until the West shattered the illusion of the rule of law.

  31. Regardless of who’s right, who’s wrong, about China’s right to Taiwan or if the U.S. should protect Taiwan out of obligation to the 1979 treaty, or however is going to kick who’s ass…
    You can kiss your cheap electronic devices goodbye. And… the semi’s rolling to keep the Walmart shelves stocked, the tractors on the farms to produce food, your car running etc etc. etc… Taiwan is the largest and in some cases the exclusive producer of some kinds of I.C. chips in the world.
    No chips? No computers, automotive or otherwise. All the semis, and heavy equipment run on computer controlled engine management systems, same as the cars.

    “TSMC; also called Taiwan Semiconductor) is a Taiwanese multinational semiconductor contract manufacturing and design company. It is the world’s most valuable semiconductor company, the world’s largest dedicated independent semiconductor foundry, and one of Taiwan’s largest companies.”

    This fact is never brought up by any talking head, politician, or arm chair general.
    Japans economy will crumble as well.
    Not only does Japan need the semi conductors, they are dependent on Taiwan for the manufacturer in total, of a lot of their consumer grade electronic devices.
    Japan is the U.S.’s biggest ally in the east.
    No chips?
    If China sets up a blockade of Taiwan, or invades, the U.S. govt will respond militarily.
    No chips = No western civilization, and the monied interests aren’t going to go for that.

    The chickens have come home to roost, for the offshoring of U.S. manufacturing.

    • Replies: @NotAnonymousHere
  32. @Vinnyvette

    Uh, yeah sure.

    I believe we invented the atom bomb without chips. Trucks don’t need chips.

    Also invented integrated circuits without chips.

    Chip factories can and should be built.

    It sounds like you’re a few chips sort of a full board.

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