Michael Wong is the Vice President of Veterans For Peace, Chapter 69, San Francisco, and a retired social worker with a Master of Social Work degree. He is published in the anthologies, "Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace," edited by Maxine Hong Kingston, and "Waging Peace in Vietnam," edited by Ron Craver, David Cortright, and Barbara Doherty. He also appeared in the documentary "Sir! No Sir!" about the GI resistance to the Vietnam War.
In Tokyo on May 23, 2022, President Joe Biden said that he would be willing to “get involved militarily” in Taiwan “if it came to that,” and compared the situation to Ukraine. This set off alarm bells throughout Asia, as it was the third time Biden made similar statements, and it seemed to signal a critical change in American policy towards a possible direct shooting war with China over Taiwan island. Yet for fifty years, the United States, China, the government of Taiwan, an overwhelming majority of the world’s nations, and the United Nations have all officially agreed that Taiwan island is a province of China, and the issues between them should be settled by the Chinese themselves. This is distinctly different from Ukraine, which from 1991 had been universally recognized as a sovereign country. Taiwan island, however, is a province of China, recognized as such by the United Nations, just like Rhode Island is a state of the United States.
A Very Brief History
From ancient times there have been successive waves of people from mainland China to Taiwan. The earliest settlements on Taiwan island were by neolithic farmers from the Yangtze river basin, esp. (what is now) Fujian, from 10,000-6000 BCE (These people then migrated out to the pacific islands). There were also waves of Han Chinese immigration in the 13th century, and by the 16th Century, Chinese fishermen and traders were common. Starting in 1635, the Dutch pacified the indigenous and aboriginal peoples, eventually imposing a “Pax Hollandica”. They then encouraged young males to immigrate from China’s Fujian province and work for the Dutch, which boosted the Han Chinese (China’s 92% majority ethnic group that we normally think of as being “Chinese”) population by tens of thousands.
The Dutch fought with the Spanish who occupied northern Taiwan. In 1644, the Chinese Ming dynasty loyalist, Koxinga, fought the Dutch and expelled them and used Taiwan island as a base to attack the new Qing dynasty; the Dutch allied with the Qing (pronounced “Ching”) to fight Koxinga. After 1683, the Qing dynasty annexed Taiwan island and different groups/clans of Han (Minnanese vs Hakka vs certain aboriginal tribes) engaged in extensive fighting. The lowland/plains tribes were eventually largely sinicized, however, the Qing dynasty prevented Han from entering the mountains, giving the highland tribes relative autonomy.
Thus, Taiwan island has been officially a province of China since the Qing dynasty, when in 1683 the Qing dynasty formally declared it a province. By comparison, the United States became a country in 1776, almost a century after Taiwan became a province of China.
Han Chinese who had moved into Taiwan province became the majority population. The Native Taiwanese aborigines, who were the original ancient inhabitants of Taiwan but are now a minority in their own land, are actually the only ones with the moral right to call themselves “Taiwanese.” For Han Chinese to call themselves “Taiwanese” is like a White person in America falsely claiming to be Native American.
During the Colonial Period, Japan defeated China and took Taiwan island and other territories from China as it and Western (including the US) powers chopped pieces of China up into colonies.
In 1911 the Qing dynasty was overthrown and replaced by the Republic of China, ruled by the Chinese Nationalist Party (in Chinese, the Kuomintang, or KMT).
Japan held Taiwan island as a colony for fifty years until the end of WW2, when Taiwan island was returned to China.
After WW2, a civil war broke out between the Nationalists and the Communists. The Communists won, and the Nationalists retreated to the island of Taiwan, where the American fleet protected them.
But both governments claim to be the legitimate government of all China. Thus the Chinese civil war, like the Korean War, technically never ended. To this day, the official name of the government on Taiwan island is the “Republic of China.” The official language is Mandarin, their flag is the same flag under which they once ruled all of China, their national airline is China Airlines, and their constitution still claims all of China as their territory. Their national museum houses 700,000 Chinese artifacts, including many from the Forbidden City in Beijing. In the South China Sea, Beijing claims the “Nine dash line” area as their territory, but the government in Taiwan claims the “Eleven dash line,” a larger area, as theirs. They, like Beijing, have had clashes at sea with nations such as Japan and the Philippines over their claims.
When Nixon went to China 50 years ago, they issued the Shanghai Communique, which established the basic foundations of the US – China relationship. Here’s part of what Pivot To Peace (1) said about it:
“While acknowledging that the United States and China have separate and distinct social systems and foreign policies, both countries committed themselves to “…conduct their relations on the principles of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states, non-aggression against other states, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence.” Each side set out its position concerning the outstanding issues between them. Both clearly stated their views on the crucial question of the status of Taiwan. The United States declared that it “…acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves.” This remains the binding obligation of the American government.”
However, during his tenure, President Obama declared the “Pivot To Asia,” with the express purpose of “containing” the peaceful economic rise of China. Obama moved 60% of our naval power to surround China, and further developed our bases and forces in the Pacific. Why? Perhaps Professor John Walsh (3) said it best:
“After World War II when the US colossus looked down at the rest of the world devastated by the conflict, we heard a similar sentiment from the late diplomat and historian George Kennan, considered perhaps the principal architect of postwar US foreign policy. In Volume I of Foreign Relations of the United States, published in 1948, he wrote:
“Furthermore, we have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population. This disparity is particularly great between ourselves and the peoples of Asia.… Our real task in the coming period is to … maintain this position of disparity…. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality.…. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.”
More recently and equally starkly after the end of the Cold War, the Defense Planning Guidance document of 1992, commonly referred to as the Wolfowitz Doctrine was enunciated by Paul Wolfowitz, then undersecretary of defense for public policy under US president George H W Bush. It can be summed up in a single sentence: “We must maintain the mechanism for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.”
Hillary Clinton famously said, “I don’t want my grandchildren to live in a world dominated by the Chinese.” President Trump continued to ratchet up the new Cold War 2 on China with the trade war, aggressive rhetoric and propaganda, and sanctions. President Biden has followed suit. The new Cold War 2 on China is a bipartisan campaign.
But fears of China dominating the world are inconsistent with both current Chinese policies and statements, and all of China’s 5,000 years of history. As I said in my article, “The China Fear Factor” (4):
“China is a 5,000 year old civilization, one that has survived as the ancient empires of the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, colonial era Europeans, and others all came and went. How did China survive for five thousand years, while so many other powers did not?
Historically, China considered the long view and the balance of aspects in all matters including in affairs of state and foreign affairs. Thus when China was strong, it secured its borders and internal affairs, but did not overextend itself by world conquering campaigns such as other empires did. For example, a thousand years ago during the Song dynasty, China developed gunpowder, four hundred years before anyone else, and knew how to use it in war. China was a large nation with an advanced civilization, good natural resources, a large population, and a monopoly on gunpowder. Yet it did not engage in any attempt at world conquest, unlike the West when it developed gunpowder hundreds of years later and went on to conquer much of the world during the colonial period. Why did China not do this? Because it viewed world conquest as a gross overextension that would eventually lead to its own downfall. A thousand years later, the remains of past empires and the failure of many former colonial powers demonstrates the wisdom of the Chinese strategy.
For any single state to dominate the entire world requires an extraordinary effort on the part of that state, which would eventually exhaust its resources and its people. This is, in fact, exactly where the United States finds itself today.”
Today’s Chinese leaders are following the same proven strategy of the ancient past; secure the nation and simply trade with the rest of the world via the Silk Road, today’s “Belt & Road Initiative.” Far flung foreign conquests are ultimately self destructive, as the memory of past Western empires and China’s 5,000 years of survival prove.
New Moves by Biden
Since President Biden came to office, the United States has sailed entire aircraft carrier battle groups through the South China Sea and the Straits of Taiwan, a move clearly intended not as merely “freedom of navigation,” but intimidation and provocation. We have had US government officials including US senators and representatives visit Taiwan, thus openly violating the “one China policy” agreements not to have official contact with Taiwan, we have openly acknowledged that US military personnel have been in Taiwan training Taiwan’s military, we have landed US military planes in Taiwan and taken off from there to patrol China’s coast, we have provided increased military aid, and we have openly worked with South Korea, Japan, Australia, and India to prepare for military confrontation with China. We recently concluded a deal to give Australia nuclear submarines which will be driven with nuclear weapons grade fuel (which can be quickly converted into nuclear weapons), and we are organizing AUKUS, a trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, aimed at China. We are also now advocating for NATO to position itself to fight China as well. In short, the United States is preparing for war with China, and is pushing hard against the red lines of China on Taiwan, step by step eroding the “one China policy” and moving towards the independence of Taiwan from China.
Some Americans may argue that if a majority of the Taiwan population wants to secede from China, they should have the right to do so. But American states do not have a right to secede; indeed the United States fought a bloody civil war – the bloodiest war in its history – over the issue, and settled it with a Union victory. Meanwhile, international law is unclear on the question of the secession of areas within a nation, since it violates the fundamental sovereignty of a country, and may infringe on the democratic wishes of the nation as a whole. As to what people in Taiwan want, opinions have varied over the years. About five years ago, the view was leaning somewhat towards coming closer together with the mainland. Then the US funded and engineered “color revolution” happened in Hong Kong, and opinion shifted. The Nationalist Party, which had been in power and pushed for closer relations with the mainland, lost an election to the DPP, which now claims it is already independent (despite not actually having the electoral votes or the public support to change the constitution to declare itself independent). Recent opinion polls show that a majority of people on Taiwan want to simply maintain the status quo, which for all practical purposes has benefited both sides and maintained peace. Prior to the pandemic, trade and tourism both ways had grown continuously, and both sides gained without having to give up anything.
But of course, the US can’t leave well enough alone. In its determination to dominate the world, the US is trying to push Taiwan province to move towards independence and thus pick a fight with the mainland, a fight which most people on both the mainland and Taiwan island don’t want. But as Professor John Walsh’s article spells out, the US seeks world domination and thus a war which it hopes (against all logic) will break China and allow the US to dominate. If the US gets such a war it will risk escalation, possibly even nuclear escalation, and be dangerous in the extreme. Pentagon war games and RAND studies show that China would likely win such a war, with its coastal defense’s missile and air power capable of sinking American ships – even our aircraft carriers – at sea and striking allied bases in Japan and South Korea should they be used to support the American war effort. Much of Asia could be dragged into the war, and if the US is losing, there has been talk of using tactical nuclear weapons and beginning the climb up the nuclear escalation ladder. Such a climb could be extremely steep and quick, leading to a full out nuclear war that would end the world in hours.
Is America seeking war with China? With our recent defeat in Afghanistan and a war going in Ukraine, would we really seek a two front war in both Europe and Asia simultaneously with two nuclear armed nations? Perhaps I should mention one other thing; the US spends more than the next ten countries combined (including China, Russia, and our allies) on our military; this is a force to be reckoned with. And the Washington establishment has a record of repeatedly engaging in foolish wars abroad that end in disaster. But the record – Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and others – shows that they don’t seem to learn from experience. Winning or losing wars, the military-industrial complex makes big money either way, while human beings suffer and die.
Americans must ask ourselves a simple question: What would the United States do if China, Russia, or any other country tried to obtain independence for a secessionist US State, organized a bloc of nations to fight for this State’s independence from the US, surrounded us with military bases, and were sailing carrier battle groups off our coast?