Home NEWS EDITORIAL: US skepticism and national identity

EDITORIAL: US skepticism and national identity

EDITORIAL: US skepticism and national identity


Small states with powerful, larger neighbors in international relations face a challenging reality.

Counting on bilateral trade for their domestic prosperity, they must grow economic ties while ensuring they do not develop a trade dependency that would undermine their independence.

To safeguard their security, they must decide whether to develop closer diplomatic ties with their larger neighbor, offering assurances and trust-building mechanisms, or to seek an external alliance with other nations in a coalition, protecting themselves and keeping threatening neighbors at bay.

For Taiwan, it is even more complex. Within its borders, a vocal minority identify with the history and culture of their larger neighbor.

Unlike smaller states in Europe that are part of NATO — which the US has committed to helping if its members are attacked — Taiwan has no such security.

Instead, the US has a policy of “strategic ambiguity,” neither committing to Taiwan’s defense, nor walking away.

Along with the US’ chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 and wavering support for Ukraine, it is not surprising that many in Taiwan have “US skepticism.” However, this skepticism and the policies that flow from it — that Taiwan make accommodations for China and move further away from the US — tend not to be about the US or even hard-nosed geopolitical calculations.

For a certain segment of the Taiwanese population, this becomes tied up with questions of national identity, perturbed by the development of a societal consensus that Taiwan is separate from China.

With this, US skepticism and Taiwan’s foreign policy becomes less about national interest and more about national identity.

To prevent the nation from moving away from China, US skeptics say that Taiwan and China share the same culture and that “close neighbors are better than distant relatives,” implying that common cultural roots and geographical proximity should determine a nation’s foreign policy.

If this is the case, South Korea and Japan should also seek to accommodate China.

It goes without saying that basing foreign policy on identity is a recipe for a bad strategy.

As former British prime minister Henry John Temple said: “We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”

In other words, it would be a folly to base a nation’s foreign policy on the idea of “common culture.”

It is normal for smaller powers that depend on an external security provider to be nervous about its commitment. US skepticism is not limited to Taiwan.

Just look at the debate in Australia about hitching its long-term security to the US with the signing of the Trilateral Security Partnership Between Australia, UK and US; or the apprehension in South Korea about the US’ resolve to use its extended nuclear deterrent should there be a North Korean nuclear attack.

These debates are filled with skepticism about the US’ long-term dependability.

When it comes to national strategy, it is Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) who has made the decision for them: The alternative to the US is an accommodation of Xi’s China.

That is out of the question for those who want to maintain an independent foreign policy.

However, these nations do not have a sizeable minority that identifies with Chinese culture and views the nation’s China-related policies through the prism of identity.

US skepticism dresses itself up in the language of realism, but as with many controversies in the nation, it is more about national identity, China and an inability to come to terms with a changing Taiwan.

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