Many Americans remain woefully uninformed about China, despite it being the world’s most populous nations and an up-and-coming superpower.
Take, for example, China’s fixation with Taiwan. To most Americans, it seems inconceivable that Chinese leaders would risk a deadly confrontation with the US over Taiwan, formed in 1949 when the Republic of China retreated to the island from the Chinese mainland after being defeated by the Communists.
Yet, at least one expert believes the reabsorption of Taiwan into a unified China is essential to complete a national recovery from the so-called Century of Humiliation, the period from 1840-1948 when the Western powers and Japan dominated the Celestial Kingdom, albeit at different times.
“There is no overriding strategic reason why the United States should elevate the defense of de facto Taiwanese independence to the level of a core national security objective,” writes Martin Sieff in Shifting Superpowers: The New and Emerging Relationship between the United States, China, and India.
Taiwan has vastly benefitted from US investment and protection for nearly six decades and it’s become an enormously prosperous nation in its own right, Sieff writes, adding that the island nation’s long-term prosperity and security appear best guaranteed by some kind of “one nation, two systems” formula, similar to the arrangement Hong Kong enjoys.
“A Taiwanese commitment to de jure independence that led to it being bombarded by Chinese missiles from the mainland and forcefully occupied by the People’s Liberation Army, with all the suffering such occupations invariably entail, would hardly be in the best interests of its people,” Sieff adds in his 2010 book.
At the end of Shifting Superpowers, Sieff writes that China at the beginning of the 21st century bears some resemblance to the United States at the beginning of the 20th century. The US enjoyed a period of great industrial growth in the decades following the Civil War; China has seen a similar period of peaceful economic expansion over the past few decades. Eventually, though, nationalist fervor swept both nations.
In 1898, the long-time isolationist US not only invaded Cuba, but captured the Philippines, as well. At the time, the move stunned the rest of the world.
As China grows stronger militarily and economically, it will likely become more willing to resort to force if necessary to accomplish long-term goals.
“It would be much easier for Chinese public opinion in the first decades of the 21st century to support a limited war with the United States to reintegrate Taiwan with the mainland than it was for the American public to rally behind a war to liberate Cuba and eventually take control of the Philippines half a world away in 1898,” Sieff writes.