Third, in large part due to such determination, Taiwan’s political arrangements and civil society have become extraordinarily resilient. Mearsheimer, to his credit, acknowledges the strong desire of people in Taiwan to remain free, but small societies ultimately do not count for much in his great-power thinking.
Taiwan, however, has been unexpectedly hardy, withstanding great-power machinations. It is often forgotten that it survived Richard Nixon’s abandonment after his historic meeting with Mao Zedong in 1972. Then, Henry Kissinger and other American policymakers assumed a powerful China would inevitably absorb small Taiwan.
It did not work out that way because, among other reasons, Taiwan democratized, creating constituencies around the world in order to garner support for itself. As Gerrit van der Wees remarked to me, “The fact that Taiwan is now a full democracy means that the United States has one more reason to stand by its friend and ally.” In a world of depredation by authoritarian states, people in democracies are beginning to understand the importance of supporting other free societies, and newly inaugurated Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen understands her endangered state must build those relationships in the region and beyond.
Yet Taiwan, with or without the help of others, can stand on its own. It has done so under even more trying circumstances. There is every reason to believe it will be able to maintain its independence indefinitely.
“Goodbye Taiwan” tells us “power is rarely static.” Mearsheimer is right, of course, and trends change all the time. At this moment—and for many moments to come—current trends suggest that Chinese power, having already reached its highpoint, will diminish. Meanwhile, Taiwan and its friends are becoming more powerful together. Soon enough, realists like Mearsheimer may have to say “hello” to Taiwan.
Image: Taipei 101 at twilight. Flickr/Jack Chi