Defend Taiwan now or lose it forever

The liberal writer Peter Beinart has argued in this vein that Taiwan is the most glaring example of America’s strategic “insolvency.” In Beinart’s eyes, two factors make the defense of Taiwan an “unsustainable commitment” for U.S. foreign policy. First, “the people of mainland China care far more about Taiwan than Americans do,” considering it fully part of China whereas most Americans would struggle to find it on a map. Second, China’s growing military might dooms any American effort to preserve the sovereignty of Taiwan to failure.

Beinart and others have suggested that the United States should likewise jettison assurances to the sovereignty of disputed islands like Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea (claimed by both China and the Philippines) or the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea (claimed by both China and Japan)—“islands far from the heartlands of both U.S. allies.” Alarmed by the proliferation of U.S. military commitments, these observers would look askance at Washington extending new security obligations in the Chinese sphere.

Whatever the preferences of American decision-makers and commentators, Taiwan seems unlikely to fold to Chinese pressure. A distinct and democratic polity, there is no great hunger in Taiwan for unification with the tyrannical Chinese mainland. President Tsai Ing-wen used her inaugural remarks in May to reject “one country, two systems” for the island. (On this point, she enjoys the support of the vast majority of her fellow citizens who consider this option “unacceptable.”)