The United States and Taiwan: An Impossible Relationship

by Isaac Kan

MARCH 28, 2020

Modern media has painted a terrifying picture of Chinese aggression towards Taiwan. While these stories of Chinese hostility are undoubtedly true, they have been painted with a broad brush, smearing out the intricacies of the geopolitical situation within the area. As the United States government continues to support Taiwan with military and diplomatic aid, it is time for it to reconsider its actions and their ensuing effects.


It is clear from past precedent that supporting Taiwanese independence and democracy creates tensions with China. United States interference within Taiwan clashes with Chinese motives. 


Taiwan has been a point of contention between the United States and China for years. Furthermore, the fact that the United States has supplied Taiwan with hundreds of millions of dollars of weaponry has only continued to increase anxiety. If the United States continues to take additional actions to support Taiwanese autonomy, it could jeopardize international relations by escalating levels of tension and conflict. The impacts could be devastating.


In the status quo, there is one factor which plays a crucial role in the relationship between the United States, China, and Taiwan: the South China Sea.


China holds considerable influence over the South China Sea. A Washington Post article explains that China claims over 80%1 of the South China Sea, and has backed up its claims with aggressive military policy while building artificial islands to serve as military bases. 


This is significant because the South China Sea is crucial to global trade. Three and a half trillion dollars in trade flow through it every year, making up over 20%2 of global commerce. This is a clear indicator of the importance of the South China Sea as a shipping passage to international economics.


This creates a situation where supporting Taiwanese independence risks disrupting the flow of trade in the South China Sea. China has already made it clear that it will take military action if the United States interferes with Taiwan. Initiating a fight with China within the South China Sea over Taiwan would be detrimental for the global economy. Trade routes would be blocked, harming both regional and global economies by disrupting the flow of goods. 


Furthermore, not only does supporting Taiwanese autonomy risk a global recession, it continues to weaken the relationship between the United States and China - a relationship that has already been frayed by the ongoing trade war. If US-China relations continue to deteriorate, the United States will find itself in a difficult diplomatic and economic situation in the years to come.


Ultimately, it is evident that supporting Taiwan is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the United States promotes the democratic values that it holds dear on the international stage. On the other hand, it risks causing a war and a global recession that will end up hurting its own economy and citizens. 


While a majority of people support the notion that international action should focus on maintaining democracy within Taiwan, it would be more sensible to focus on maintaining peace within the South China Sea. Put simply, the type of government a country has does not matter if the country is embroiled in chaos. 


For the foreseeable future, it would be best for the United States to remain disengaged from Taiwan to avoid further increasing conflict. Interfering in regional politics should not and cannot be the intention of our nation. Sometimes, the best moves are the ones you don’t make.