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  • Taiwan is a fascinating experiment

  • in terms of democratization.

  • You've got a relatively liberal society.

  • One way that people have seen that globally

  • is that it's the first place

  • in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.

  • It's an island of less than 24 million people,

  • and yet its economy is close

  • to one of the top 20 in the world today.

  • But this wealthy, democratic island

  • is not considered an independent country by Beijing.

  • China has long viewed Taiwan as its lost territory

  • and threatened to unify with it by force.

  • Under Beijing's pressure,

  • only 15 states in the world recognize Taiwan today,

  • down from 23 in 2016.

  • And one key country is not on that list:

  • the United States.

  • The U.S. is Taiwan's biggest ally.

  • Although there are no formal diplomatic relations

  • between the two.

  • The U.S. is Taiwan's biggest arms supplier,

  • has close economic ties with the island

  • and is likely to defend it.

  • We are going to hold China accountable

  • to follow the rules.

  • So how has Taiwan become

  • the most volatile issue between

  • the world's two greatest powers?

  • Up to the late 19th century,

  • Taiwan, then known as Formosa,

  • passed through the rule of Dutch and Spanish colonizers,

  • its aboriginal peoples and Chinese dynasties.

  • In 1895, the Qing dynasty of China lost Taiwan

  • to Japan after a humiliating military defeat.

  • Taiwan was then ruled by the Japanese

  • for the following 50 years.

  • Japan wanted to make Taiwan into a model colony,

  • using it as an example to persuade other Asian nations

  • to join the Japanese empire.

  • They raised living standards,

  • they improved education,

  • they improved health and built a lot of infrastructure.

  • So that 50 years later,

  • Taiwan was actually one

  • of the more developed parts of the region.

  • After World War II,

  • Taiwan was returned to the control

  • of the Chinese government,

  • at that point, the Republic of China.

  • The Republic of China rapidly lost the Chinese Civil War

  • to the Communist Party of China,

  • and as a result ended up on Taiwan as a regime in exile

  • with very few resources, a lot of refugees,

  • a very poor population struggling to survive.

  • Taiwan relied heavily on U.S. economic aid,

  • but by the middle of the 1960s,

  • most of that aid was phased out as the U.S. wanted Taiwan

  • to develop its own economy.

  • So Taiwan changed its strategy,

  • moving from an import substitution policy,

  • which replaced foreign imports with homemade goods,

  • to an export-oriented economy.

  • And Taiwan moved very, very quickly

  • towards exporting very cheap,

  • mostly consumer goods to the United States.

  • And as a consequence, over the next 20 to 30 years,

  • Taiwan's economy boomed.

  • So beginning of the 1980s,

  • the government in Taiwan started to think

  • how do we take the next step in our economic development?

  • And they identified among many areas semiconductors

  • as a critical technology.

  • So that really took off in the 1990s with the growth

  • of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company

  • that eventually, you know,

  • now today is an absolutely crucial company

  • for any company that's making technology.

  • You know, their chips are in smartphones,

  • they're in tablets, they're in computers,

  • they're in games consoles and they're in cars as well.

  • Anything that you need chips for,

  • largely you're having to come to TSMC.

  • And so this by extension puts Taiwan

  • in a fairly strong position that it is a key node

  • in the tech supply chain globally.

  • And so it is a really, really valuable partner

  • for every single country in the world.

  • Alongside this economic shift,

  • Taiwan's political landscape also changed dramatically.

  • Under the rule of the Chinese Nationalist Party, or KMT,

  • for four decades Taiwan was an authoritarian regime

  • until the end of martial law in the late 1980s.

  • Then Taiwan gradually transitioned to democracy.

  • The first direct presidential elections took place in 1996,

  • followed by several peaceful transfers of power.

  • So the Democratic Progressive Party

  • is the current party that governs Taiwan.

  • They were a party that came out of this movement

  • of activists pushing for more democracy

  • in Taiwan in the 1970s.

  • And their fundamental stance

  • is that Taiwan is already an independent country.

  • But this isn't

  • the same stance held by Beijing.

  • So from the People's Republic of China,

  • the PRC's perspective,

  • Taiwan remains the last piece of an unfinished civil war.

  • It's an illegitimate regime.

  • It's a breakaway territory that needs

  • to be unified with the motherland.

  • The Chiang Kai-shek regime

  • won a reprieve in June 1950 when the Korean War broke out.

  • The United States then stepped in to prevent

  • a final Chinese Communist Party,

  • a CCP-led invasion of the island of Taiwan.

  • The United States has been there ever since

  • as the guarantor of Taiwan's security.

  • Despite this guarantee of security,

  • in 1979, the U.S. broke ties

  • with the Republic of China on Taiwan,

  • and established them with

  • the People's Republic of China in Beijing.

  • Here things get complicated.

  • The United States, in one of our communiques

  • with the People's Republic of China,

  • acknowledged the PRC position that Taiwan was part of China.

  • But the United States also did not accept

  • the PRC claim to Taiwan.

  • That has been our position ever since.

  • And so, in effect,

  • the U.S. views Taiwan's status as undetermined.

  • But even after 1979,

  • they've maintained informal relations with Taiwan

  • and continue to invest here,

  • continue to support the economy

  • and most importantly, continued to sell arms to Taiwan.

  • With the U.S. in the middle,

  • China and Taiwan have avoided war for over seven decades,

  • but tensions between the two sides

  • have risen in recent years.

  • Emerging as a superpower on the world stage,

  • China has become more assertive

  • in its claims of sovereignty over Taiwan.

  • While most of the Taiwanese prefer maintaining

  • the status quo for now,

  • many young people favor overt independence for Taiwan.

  • The young people have really been at the heart

  • of this political transformation we're seeing in Taiwan

  • over the past eight, nine years,

  • when they started pushing back against

  • this economic integration between China and Taiwan

  • that started under former President Ma Ying-jeou.

  • One of the best examples was the

  • Sunflower Movement that broke out in March of 2014.

  • This movement was led mostly by college students

  • opposed to negotiations with Beijing

  • over a free-trade agreement.

  • The movement occupied the Legislative Yuan,

  • Taiwan's parliament,

  • for more than three weeks in order to block that parliament

  • from considering this trade agreement and voting on it.

  • So in effect,

  • the Sunflower Movement protesters blocked

  • further economic integration with mainland China.

  • Taiwanese podcasters Kylie Wang

  • and Ken Young joined some of the rallies and marches,

  • and started their popular news show during the movement.

  • We have mixed feelings towards China.

  • Yeah. Because on one hand,

  • I know that a lot of young people want to explore

  • the big market in China.

  • Because China has just much more opportunity,

  • and sometimes even better salaries nowadays.

  • Yeah,

  • especially for those who just graduated from college.

  • On the other hand,

  • China just keeps on bullying us.

  • We just don't like what they're doing.

  • We want to have economic growth,

  • but we do not want to sacrifice our economic growth

  • with our freedom of speech, with our independence,

  • with our democracy.

  • Since the Sunflower Movement,

  • the China-friendly KMT party has seen

  • its polling numbers decline steeply

  • while the DPP leader, Tsai Ing-wen,

  • won the presidential elections in 2016

  • and was re-elected in 2020.

  • So she has,

  • as her bottom line effectively

  • that Taiwan is an independent sovereign nation.

  • Her stance is that we're willing to talk

  • but only as equals.

  • And that is obviously a position that Beijing

  • is unwilling to accept.

  • China cut official communications

  • with Taiwan in 2016

  • and stopped individual travel permits

  • to the island in 2019.

  • It's also upped the rhetoric on taking control of Taiwan

  • and increased military maneuvers,

  • all of which is a concern for the U.S.

  • Taiwan is by far the most likely issue to draw

  • the United States and China into a direct military conflict.

  • I should say I don't think the likelihood of that

  • is particularly high still,

  • but it overshadows all other potential points

  • of friction in the U.S.-China relationship.

  • If China and Taiwan did eventually go to war,

  • there could be a devastating cost

  • to human life and industry.

  • Even if China manages,

  • they could spend years rebuilding Taiwan

  • and struggle to integrate a hostile population.

  • So it would be an incredibly dangerous,

  • messy affair.

  • The attempt to invade a fortified island

  • is always going to be an incredibly difficult one.

  • So there's a very good reason they have not attempted

  • to take Taiwan by military force.

  • It's because they're not sure they can do so.

  • And so it would be a really disastrous event

  • for everybody involved.

  • And there's a very good chance that other democracies

  • in this region, certainly Japan, maybe Australia,

  • would get drawn in as well.

  • Put quite simply,

  • it's in everybody's best interest right now

  • not to force the issue and to push it off

  • for another few years or maybe even a few decades.

  • But the unification would signal to the world

  • that it's China, not the U.S.,

  • that's the new dominant power in the region.

  • Being able to bring Taiwan into the PRC fold

  • would obviously be a huge achievement

  • for any Chinese leader.

  • And it's largely seen as being as one of his ambitions

  • to achieve before he steps down, whenever that may be.

  • Taiwan's future really depends on

  • if our allies would take China seriously.

  • No, I would say it depends on the attitude

  • of the western countries towards China.

  • Yeah.

  • Because if the Western countries, for example,

  • the U.S. starts to see Taiwan

  • as an important geopolitical ally,

  • then Taiwan could become a beacon of democracy

  • in the Chinese-speaking world.

  • If not, the western countries would like

  • to see China growing over the influence over the world,

  • then...

  • They can just let China be.

  • Yeah,

  • and we will be in real risk.

  • Yeah, Taiwan might be in real risk.

  • The Trump administration showed strong support

  • for Taiwan by providing more weapons,

  • sending high-level officials to visit

  • and changing the law to make interactions