Today, the international community shuns Taiwan. It is not a member of the United Nations. Multilateral institutions will not admit the island republic. Only a handful of nations—none of them great powers—recognize it as a sovereign state. Taiwan participates, if at all, in international events under humiliating names such as “Chinese Taipei.”
Supporters of Taiwan's self-determination are discouraged, especially with the current Taiwan government continuing to roll back hard-won freedoms while trying to reach a political deal with Beijing.
If events continued along straight lines, Taiwan undoubtedly would be doomed in “China’s century.” Fortunately, the “century” belonging to China is just about over. History is about to fall off a cliff.
A global economic downturn is on the horizon at a time when there could be conflict in the Middle East, but the one unanticipated development is the fraying of China. As that country enters an historic leadership transition, its economy is faltering; the Communist Party is splintering; the authority of the central government is eroding; the military is breaking free of civilian control; and the Chinese people, from one end of their country to the other, are taking to the streets, often in violent protest.
The wheels are coming off China. And it is not only its internal developments that are of concern. Troubling events inside the country are probably linked—or at least they are accompanying—a substantially more assertive and hostile Chinese government external policy. Beijing is pushing its preposterous claims in the South China Sea, it is seeking control of territory administered by Japan and South Korea, it is trying to push the U.S. Navy out of Asia, and it is issuing belligerent statements against the United States.
China has been going on a nationalist bender. Up to now, the United States and other countries have tried to “engage” the Chinese government, to enmesh it in the international system. After four decades of America’s generous policies, however, Beijing has nonetheless embarked on a path of high-profile force projection that threatens stability in the region, especially to China’s south and east.
Beijing’s growing hostility is triggering reassessments of China policies from India in the south to South Korea in the north—and in Washington. And as the Chinese government continues to push out from the country’s borders, it’s time for policymakers around the world to realize the importance of Taiwan in the defense of East Asia. For one thing, its strategic location blocks the Chinese navy from the open sea. Moreover, Washington’s Asia policy is anchored on defending Japan. As a quick glance of a map will reveal, Taiwan and its various outlying islands protect the southern approaches to America’s ally, Japan.
Yet Taiwan is more than just a well-placed island. It is foremost a vibrant democracy of 23 million people and an inspiration in an era threatened by authoritarianism. And in what Beijing sees as a global war of ideas, Taiwan will be the international community’s critical ally, not only in Asia, but in the world as well.