185 Comments
Jan 31, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Taiwanese-American here. My family is Taiwanese Hokkien speaking and has lived on the island since at least the early 1800s, so we strongly identify as Taiwanese. I went to a college with a lot of Chinese exchange students and, as a freshman, was scared of stepping on a political tripwire by calling myself Taiwanese. But I soon found that if I told mainlanders I was Taiwanese, they would usually go on about how much they love Taipei, Taiwanese movies, food, etc. If I called myself Chinese, they would ask where my family is from, I would say Taiwan, and they would proceed to call me Taiwanese and talk about Taiwanese culture.

I'm not trying to insinuate that all Chinese people are secretly pro-Taiwan, but, at least among the upper-class students who will make up CCP leadership in the future, there is an understanding and appreciation that Taiwan is distinct. Because the CCP has tried to create a monolithic Han identity, Taiwan (and Hong Kong in the past) is a huge tourist destination for mainlanders precisely because its culture has deviated. It gives me some hope that the newer generations will figure out a peaceful solution to the situation.

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author

Huh! That's interesting! Thanks!!

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Mainlanders definitely see Taiwanese as different because the cultural and political experiences are just too different. But they see HK'ers as different too and that doesn't mean they would be all cool with (geopolitical) Taiwan independence (or HK independence).

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Jan 31, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Again, not saying mainlanders are pro-Taiwan, just saying that there is a level of respect and appreciation that isn't present when your Jewish and Arab friends go ballistic over West Bank settlements during lunch. The worst I've gotten about Taiwan is "I hope we can find a way to reunify peacefully," which isn't too bad considering the circumstances.

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***Again, not saying mainlanders are pro-Taiwan, just saying that there is a level of respect and appreciation that isn't present when your Jewish and Arab friends go ballistic over West Bank settlements***

So long as Taipei doesn't declare independence, sure.

I know a lot of Chinese (and many, many party members) and in my experience to a man/woman they regard Taiwan as a Chinese province. Full stop. I wish this weren't the case (I think the whole world would be elated if Xi announced tomorrow morning that the PRC was renouncing its territorial claims). But I'm afraid it very much is. Now, as you allude to, nearly all mainland Chinese surely want the reunification to be *peaceful*. I'm simply pointing out that these differing positions -- many/most Taiwanese want independence; most mainlanders want reunification -- is a pretty significant conflict. (My strong sense is ordinary Chinese are far more reasonable on this score, though, than the leadership in Beijing).

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Yes, they see Taiwanese as their blood brothers sharing the same language and culture, maybe having separated after a long time (something more and more Taiwanese do not). But that means it's possible for them to feel betrayed too. Arabs and Israelis don't see each other as kin in anyway, but that also means neither side would feel betrayed if the other side did something. In the US, many Northerners and Southerners were friends and felt closer to each other than to other nationals, but when war broke out, the war was still long, devastating, and bitter.

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This repeated analogy of Taiwan to the Confederacy is awful and needs to stop!

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Jan 31, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

I'm surprised you don't write more about the economy of Taiwan, which is really interesting. For a start, they are among the richest and also among the most equal of rich societies. They have a much lower gini coefficient than China, and are nearly 9 times richer. How this happened is a really interesting story, some of which is told in my wife Isabelle Tsakok's book: Success in Agricultural Transformation (Cambridge U., 2011). One of the stories is the most successful land reform...

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I will write about it in a future post!! Yep, Taiwanese land reform is great, I gave it a brief mention...

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Jan 31, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Here are some of the numbers: Gini coefficient, CIA numbers:

Japan 37.9 (1993)

US 47 (2014)

China 46.5 (2004)

Taiwan 33.8 (2002)

Median adult income

Japan 22,023 (15)

US 35,600 (4)

China 4,728 (41)

Taiwan 32,762 (17)

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Jan 30, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Positioning ourselves to commit to defending Taiwan, as a fellow democratic nation, means disentangling critical supply chains from China, well, that seems like something we should do anyways. The China free trade gambit has clearly failed -- their government is becoming _more_ repressive, not less. It's impossible to listen to the truth about Xinjiang without being completely appalled that we allow the Chinese officials who have power over these policies to circulate freely in the US, buy property and invest, etc.

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Interestingly, the Vietnamese seem to be making out pretty well out of the increasing tensions between the US and China. As companies flee China in case of a fight breaking out, they just move their business a couple hundred miles south into Vietnam and start paying taxes there instead.

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«Vietnamese seem to be making out pretty well out of the increasing tensions between the US and China»

Vietnam is a brutal Communist Party dictatorship that has claimed much more of the South China Sea than China-mainland or China-Taiwan and built many military based on South China Sea islands to threaten China-mainland, China-Taiwan, Japan, south Korea, and most ASEAN countries, and this aggressive Communist Party dictatorship is supported and endorsed by the USA, here D Trump and M Pompeo visiting very happily nasty communist Chairman Nguyen of Vietnam:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/statephotos/47173470062/in/photostream/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/statephotos/40253098873/in/photostream/

Some links on Vietnam's Communist Party takeover of the South China Sea:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:South_China_Sea_claims_map.jpg

https://www.voanews.com/east-asia-pacific/how-vietnam-quietly-built-10-islands-asias-most-disputed-sea

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Territorial_disputes_in_the_South_China_Sea#/media/File:Spratly_with_flags.jpg

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Sure, but that doesn't mean companies aren't setting up in Vietnam as US-China tensions ramp up

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Sure, because Vietnam is like China a place that has effectively outlawed strikes and labor unions, and has cheaper workers too, as well as the geopolitical advantages that you mention.

The additional point I was implicitly making is that the move from China to Vietnam is not motivated by Vietnam being a peaceful democracy vs. China-mainland being a communist devil, but only by opportunism, because Vietnam too is ruled by a Communist Party and it too is doing bad things, more extensive than the chinese (both mainland and Taiwan), in the South China Sea, and yet it is currently on the list of "yuuugest friends" of the USA despite all that.

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I don't know where you got the impression that I was calling Vietnam a peaceful democracy or defending the Communist Party of Vietnam

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As I wrote, it was an "additional point", and that additional point is relevant because this thread started with “defending Taiwan, as a fellow democratic nation, means disentangling critical supply chains from China” and I wanted to point out that whether China-Taiwan, China-mainland, or Vietnam were a “fellow democratic nation” has nothing to do with whether USA businesses are pulling out or the USA is their ally or not, and is purely opportunistic well beyond “increasing tensions between the US and China”.

Indeed the move of business out of China and into Vietnam of Bangladesh or the Philippines etc. began some years ago because chinese-mainland workers have become increasingly "unaffordable".

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Disengaging from China is a much for the survival of western economies, including the US. CCP simply doesn't have the concept of fair play, and definitely no respect for intellectual properties. Never before in human history you have a government at the scale of PRC of putting its resources behind stealing IP of other nations then turnaround and pass the IP to domestic companies to gain competitive advantage.

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«Positioning ourselves to commit to defending Taiwan, as a fellow democratic nation»

That seems just hypocrisy to me, as the USA was as committed while Taiwan was Chiang's dictatorship under martial law.

The real reason why the USA does aggressive military moves against China such as sending carrier groups near the chinese coast, thousands of miles from the USA, on behalf of Taiwan is that Taiwan if the key to the "first island chain" that is part of the USA Navy strategy in case China needs to be blockaded; if Taiwan island reunited with China mainland there would be only the "second island chain" to blockade China, and that is a bit weaker. A simple web search returns this among the first results:

https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2014/april/defend-first-island-chain

“Want to give China an ulcer, a nagging sore that compels Beijing to think twice about aggression? Then look at the map. Geography affords the U.S.-Japan alliance abundant opportunities to make trouble for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), denying China’s military access to the vast maneuver space of the Western Pacific while hampering its movements up and down the Asian seaboard. [...] Islands bristling with antiship and antiair weaponry can cast a long shadow over sea passages, making themselves strongpoints in an offshore barricade while creating overlapping fields of fire. Mines, submarines, and fleet-footed surface craft dispersed around the islands can make things even tougher on PLA forces.”

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"People did something in the past because of real-politik" is a dumb reason to refuse to consider doing that thing now, if evaluation of present circumstances indicates doing that thing would be good. It's not "hypocritical" to evaluate present choices according to the best principles you can establish at the time.

Your stated "argument" here is basically equivalent to, "The US collaborated with France when it was ruled by an absolute monarch, so it would be hypocritical for us to intervene in World War 2 to protect them as a democratic ally."

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I am sorry that I wrote something that was so strangely misunderstood: my point is that what is hypocritical is not defending Taiwan, but saying that the reason to defend the ROC is "as a fellow democratic nation", because the USA defended the ROC also when it was a dictatorship (and actually the USA had a treaty commitment to defend the ROC, which is not the case today), and USA strategists have quite openly stated realpolitik as being the reason for doing that then and now:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_island_chain#Strategic_value

which BTW makes the amazing argument that “The WW2 victory allowed the US to expand its line of defense further east to the coast of Asia, and thus the US controlled the first island chain. [...] the United States Naval Academy assessed that the first island chain is the most effective point to counter any PLA invasion", that is Taiwan island is a first line of defense against a thoroughly imaginary chinese invasion of the USA, a line that is 10,000km away from mainland USA and 8,000 km from Hawaii, but only 100km from mainland China.

Whether Taiwan is governed democratically or not, or even if there were no people on it, the USA would defend it to be able to blockade China, that is realpolitik was the reason 60 years ago and it is still the reason.

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Three (more cool) things (about Taiwan):

- Taiwan's National Bike trail: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiwan_Cycling_Route_No.1#:~:text=1%20(%E7%92%B0%E5%B3%B61%E8%99%9F%E7%B7%9A,the%2Disland%2Dtrip%22.

- You can buy beer with Taipei's transit pass, Easycard: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EasyCard

- You can surf there: https://magicseaweed.com/Taiwan-Surf-Forecast/88/

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author

Very cool!!

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Yeah buddy! Super dope place! Literally was supposed to go on a surf trip there with a buddy the week the country shutdown last March. Complain about it everyday to my unsympathetic girlfriend.

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author

You can always try for the Taiwan Gold Card!

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Jan 30, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Taipei 101 is the best building in the world, in my opinion! It's a really great example of how a supertall skyscraper can have a unique, innovative, instantly recognizable design that doesn't fit into either "big slab" or "overly wavy space-age blob-spire". (Not that buildings in those two categories can't be someone's cup of tea either; tall buildings are good in general and there should be more of them.) It's also the world's largest LEED certified building.

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Jan 30, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

The Taipei 101 Tuned Mass Damper is also one of the most amazing functional works of art in human history.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taipei_101#Structural_design

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author

That is really cool!

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Jan 30, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

It is! I'm pretty sure I first learned about it from David Macaulay's Building Big. (He has a whole bunch of books and TV shows about the history of architecture. The first one I encountered, back when I was maybe a teen, was Castle.) And 99 Percent Invisible had an episode about it: https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/supertall-101/

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Thing looks like Rehoboam from Westworld!

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author

Very cool!!

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Completely agree, Taipei 101 is awesome!

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Feb 3, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Great piece, man.

Really think you should consider making this 'get to know this little known (by us) places better ' a regular feature.

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+1, I enjoyed learning about this lesser-US-known place!

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Thanks, guys! :-)

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Feb 1, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

I honestly think all the "but Taiwanese Hokkien is from China!" (it's a separate language from Mandarin but a dialect of Southern Min), "historically...", "culturally..." (and worst of all, "genetically...") arguments that support Taiwan being annexed to China miss the point. I could rebut every one of them, even the genetic one, but they miss the point.

The points that matter are:

1.) Taiwan is currently not a part of the PRC and never was, it governs itself

2.) Taiwan does not want to be a part of the PRC and probably never will.

3.) Taiwanese do not identify as Chinese, by and large (some do, and they are free to, which is great, but most who do choose both and prioritize Taiwanese identity, almost no one prioritizes or only chooses Chinese identity)

4.) The main reason the "Republic of China" still exists is that if it were changed, China's made it clear that would be seen as a formal declaration of independence, and they might choose to go to war over it. (In fact it's reasonably likely, though not a foregone conclusion, that they would.) There's still some internal debate but not as much as people think. Given the ability to freely choose without the spectre of war, I think the Republic of Taiwan would be ushered in fairly quickly. With some protest, of course, but that's democracy.

All of that points to Taiwan considering itself independent, and wanting to stay that way.

All the cultural, linguistic, historical or genetic (blergh) arguments in the world are not going to change that, and as far as I'm concerned, that Taiwan has made its views clear is the beginning and end of the conversation.

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yep

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To put it another way (because I can't edit), there is no argument in the world that renders it acceptable to annex a self-governed population that does not wish to be unified. Period.

There's a discussion to be had on territories that are not currently independent but wish to be -- I tend to favor independence movements but at least there's a debate there -- but Taiwan doesn't fit that discussion as it is already sovereign.

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yep

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And it has a fantastic museum: the National Palace museum contains the very best of art from China’s imperial palaces.

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Feb 2, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Art that would have been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.

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I am like you a huge fan of Taiwan, I went there last year before pandemic

To complete your paper:

-best taiwainese food is beef noodle

-I am currently reading Branko's latest, capitalism alone, and taiwan has also very little capital income inequality

- there are not only lots of green in taipei but you could do really great hiking just nearby the city in really green areas. I also recommand national parks

-I also recommand this nmovie available on netflix about taiwanese history and taiwan becoming more tolerant after end of martial law

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Your_Name_Engraved_Herein

- Taiwan has also the greatest museum of chinese history, even better than china's ones

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Palace_Museum

Taiwanese economic success is also underreported as well, I wish you could write a blog post more focused on it :)

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Thanks!!!

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«- Taiwan has also the greatest museum of chinese history, even better than china's ones https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Palace_Museum»

It should be added that's because Chiang's fellow gangsters systematically looted the rest of China before retreating to Taiwan, and probably most of the best loot is still in private hands rather than in the museum.

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Well, that's how all the good museums got started.

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Lol

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Better than being destroyed by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution.

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Feb 1, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Taiwan is amazing, I'm a huge admirer. I've vaguely started to follow Taiwanese politics the last couple years after a trip there. Really get the sense that they don't take anything for granted.

Shelley Rigger's Why Taiwan Matters was pretty great and I got a lot out of it: https://www.amazon.com/dp/144220480X.

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author

Thanks!!

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Jan 31, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Great article, I many of yours. I was listening to Ben Thompson (who resides there) say something like “on a map we’re right next to China but most Taiwanese feel like we’re off the coast of Californi”. Hope to visit Taipei one day.

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Jan 31, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Noah - can you say more about your friends that moved to Taiwan? I'm curious what sort of work they're in that would enable them to make a move in the midst of a pandemic!

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IT

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Jan 30, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

you've never been to Taiwan and know this much about it???

as you recommended, the government is already all over increasing tourism from other Asian countries. China cut down on travel a few years ago (the chart you showed was 2016 numbers). https://asiatimes.com/2019/12/taiwans-slow-triumph-through-tourism/

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Taiwan should increase tourism from countries *outside* Asia, like the U.S., India, and European countries! :-)

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they started a bit more in 2019 when they started banning chinese travel -

"As part of efforts to attract more visitors from abroad, the bureau has set up branch offices in Ho Chi Minh City and London, as well as smaller tour service departments in Moscow, Jakarta, Vancouver, Auckland and Sydney. Meetings have also been held with representatives from Japan and South Korea to discuss strategies for increasing bilateral tourism, it added."

https://taiwantoday.tw/news.php?unit=2,6,10,15,18&post=169040

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author

That is very cool! Now just gotta do the U.S....

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gotta get them to stop calling it thailand first

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author

Oof good point

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If you're interested in reading some Taiwanese history, I recommend "Taiwan's Imagined Geography" by Emma Jinhua Teng. It describes how China viewed Taiwan from Ming onward, overall giving me the idea that Taiwan is sort of a Chinese colony (complete with a complicated relationship with the indigenous population they're displacing and the Motherland back home).

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Thanks!

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Jan 31, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Great article!

Your point is that Taiwan is a different culture from PRC. And that is not surprising, since, in fact, the two have diverged, to put it mildly, for more than 100 years.

Unfortunately, any recognition of cultural differences between Taiwan and PRC has become political. ;-(

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Jan 31, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Re #2: What is true about Taipei unfortunately isn't always true for other parts of Taiwan. There's Taipei, and then there's the rest of the country (what some might call the Real Taiwan).

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