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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