Don't Say Goodbye to Taiwan

"Ultimately, the future of Taiwan will be decided by its 23 million people."

Editor’s Note: The following is a “Letter to the Editor” responding to John J. Mearsheimer’s recent article in The National Interest - Say Goodbye to Taiwan.

With regard to John J. Mearsheimer’s essay “Say Goodbye to Taiwan” [March-April 2014], Mr. Mearsheimer presents hypothetical scenarios involving the implications for Taiwan in a future U.S.-Mainland China great power relationship. In his pessimistic assessment, among other things, he ultimately misses the mark by suggesting that time is not on Taiwan’s side. The truth, we believe, is the opposite.

Mr. Mearsheimer seems to dismiss outright Taiwan’s ability to influence Mainland China in any real way, writing “Unfortunately for Taiwan, it has no way of influencing events so that [an economic slowdown or domestic political problems] actually becomes reality.” What he glosses over is the reality of Taiwan’s success as a market-oriented democracy: That Taiwan can, with time, influence Mainland China in a positive way.

Particularly since President Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008, Taiwan and Mainland China have signed 19 cross-Strait agreements, including an Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement; the number of Mainland students studying in Taiwan rose from 823 to over 24,000; and 37 percent of the eight million tourists to visit Taiwan in 2013 were mainland Chinese. As time passes, Taiwan’s success will definitely enlighten and make a positive impact on the general public of the Mainland.

This is why, in his 2012 inauguration address, President Ma Ying-jeou talked about Taiwan’s successes in recent years, including cross-Strait rapprochement that has won broad public support and dramatically reduced tension between Taiwan and Mainland China. President Ma’s most salient point, though, was that “Taiwan’s experience in establishing democracy proves that it is not impossible for democratic institutions from abroad to take root in an ethnically Chinese society.”

This increased interaction is also occurring on an administrative and to some extent political level: Earlier this month, Wang Yu-Chi, minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, and Zhang Zhijun, minister of Mainland China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, met and exchanged opinions on cross-Strait relations, marking the first ministerial meeting between the two governments since 1949.

The essay concludes that even the best case scenario for Taiwan is a Beijing solution. However, the people on Taiwan simply will not accept a Beijing-led resolution, even a so-called “Hong Kong strategy.” Ultimately, the future of Taiwan will be decided by its 23 million people. The two sides of the Taiwan Strait, as President Ma said in his 2011 New Year’s message, “should not quarrel over political power, independence versus reunification, or Taiwan’s breathing room on the international stage. We should instead focus on encouraging and helping each other grow in terms of the core values of freedom, democracy, human rights, and rule of law.”

Thalia Lin serves as an Executive Officer in the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the U.S.

Image: Flickr.