Aug 19, 2021Liked by Angelica Oung

What I always say when people say 'Taiwan can't defend itself from a CCP invasion is' a) Taiwan is a mountain island, you can't get more defensive terrain than that, and b) nobody has conquered the entire island through military force ever. Both Japan and the ROC took control of Taiwan primarily through diplomacy, not military force.

This is extremely anecdotal, but in my experience, the PRC citizens most open to the idea of Taiwan being independent of China were from Fujian (maybe they are better informed, or they are more sympathetic due to cultural/linguistic/etc ties, or maybe they are scared of what war with Taiwan would do to them). Any attempts by Taiwanese people to win over ordinary Chinese people might be especially effective there.

Though I don't want to suggest anyone in Taiwan is as awful as the Taliban... they offer a different kind of lesson. The Taliban were able to outlast the American occupation, despite the firepower of the U.S. military, because Afghanistan is their home, they're motivated, they're patient, and they were more willing to make sacrifices. Even if the CCP initially succeed in a takeover, that doesn't mean they would control Taiwan long-term, just as the United States was unable to defeat the Taliban in the long run.

Thanks for the thoughtful post!

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Dear Angelica, I am glad to have discovered your site. The "bed-wetting" reference was as good as it gets: Pundits are quick to print anything for click-bait. It is the reality of your observations that saddens me. I am at a loss as to what it would take for for the good people, who live in one of the most comfortable counties I have known, to wake up and see the light. I guess "cvomplacency" says it all. With regards from DelMarVa, Tom

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Aug 19, 2021Liked by Angelica Oung

You'll be very familiar with the ideological meme coming from the second amendment in the US, that the right to bear arms is "necessary to the security of a free State". It's interesting Taiwan does not have a liberal gun control regime; it's relatively strict there as far as I'm aware. More in line with other liberal democracies; but most of them don't have the sword of Damocles hanging over them! If the Americans are right, the "porcupine nation" stance might be to have every adult citizen who would like to be armed, be armed, and well-trained, and ready to fight as much as they're willing.

There's a debate to have about whether the costs are too high, or maybe the [conservative] American position is simply wrong. But I'd be curious to hear if you think well-armed citizenry in Taiwan would be a positive move, and why Taiwan hasn't already taken this position.

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Aug 19, 2021Liked by Angelica Oung

You rock. Great column. I hope your advice and sense of direction are heeded.

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Aug 20, 2021Liked by Angelica Oung

Hello Angelica! Great site and articles! Sorry in advance for my somewhat substandard English. I have three remarks because it is always more fun to talk about things we may disagree with - though I totally agree with the main lines of your demonstration. First, what do you mean by "Taiwan is probably much safer with China given a nation-building project on its northwestern flank"? China will certainly not engage itself in a nation-building project in Afghanistan, esp after the enormous, tragic - insert hyperbole here - US 20 years of failure. And USSR, and good ole Victorian England. I would even say that a Taliban regime may, in the short run because no one know how the Taliban will behave, be good for China. Western countries are leaving, Russia and China are staying. Top Chinese diplomats have been talking with the Talib for at least a good year - I guess they will give them enough money for keeping the Jihad at bay. Hard to say if they will collaborate (would be strange but not the strangest thing ever in history), who knows? And perhaps it is even better than a US-friendly regime, after all, Pakistan is also "sort of" a China friend.

2/ I don't think the Israeli solution is possible. Taiwan in the early 1950s was an extremely militarized society, then gradually, less and less. Then the democracy brought a major fallout between the army and the local society, which is unfortunate because deep-green youth should understand that ultimately, army matters...but also the army leadership did show sometimes a rather weak willingness to fight China (euphemism, you know what I am talking about). Presidents Chen and Ma were either unable or unwilling to face the issue, and now the situation is extremely precarious. So the issue is twofold, and very hard to see the Taiwanese society doing yet another 360e turn on itself and being ready to embrace a degree of militarism comparable to Israel. It would take at least one or two generations, the problem is, it is too long. But yes to asymmetric warfare, yes to more money to the army, and so forth so on. But Taiwan, a new Israel? Sorry but it would require changes that totally the general evolution of the Taiwanese society since 1987 (remember your article on "cute power").

3/I don't think the US would allow Taiwan to go nuclear. North Korea and Pakistan got the nukes without the US approval, problem is, Taiwan is extremely dependent on the US for almost everything, so...that s the sad reality of being a non-state client. If Washington sneezes, Taipei get pneumonia.

The real issue, as you pointed out and even before tactical consideration such as the switch to asymmetrical warfare (I have been hearing that for years, can't even remember when was the first time) is the willingness to fight. A very old issue as you know, and the weird thing is that it remains surprisingly low considering the number of people who "love Taiwan". I will finish my already heavy post (and agree with you about the importance soft power within the Chinese world although your comparison with the USSR during the last stage of the Cold War seems not-too-accurate) with a quote " Both polls (and earlier surveys) found that a plurality (almost 45 percent) plan to “leave the country,” “unhappily accept the situation,” “hide” or “choose to surrender” if there is war. Furthermore, each poll shows that 23 percent “don’t know” how they might respond. Interestingly, a majority believes most Taiwanese will resist an attack. But the polls also indicate that 70 percent think the military cannot win a war." That s a real problem, and also illustrates the gap between Taiwan and Israel.


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Thank you Angelica for this fascinating piece! It's accessible, engaging, and a great overview of some key considerations. I imagine you weren't intending to pen full-blown policy memo, but I'd still love to pick your brain on a few sections in this piece and engage you on some musings from a longtime curious observer from abroad.

On Israeli mindset, you'd probably agree that the fervent theological devotion to safeguarding Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people is a unique attribute that is not so easily transplanted onto Taiwan. The motivation for protecting Taiwan, or the Taiwanese identity at large, still seem to suffer from a generational chasm that is often exploited and further divided by opportunistic, inept Taiwanese legislators and 政客. I understand the point here is conscription, but a big reason for mandatory military training isn't just adding a few marginally more mobile warm targets for future killer drones, but strengthening conviction in a viable future for Taiwan and the need to protect this cause. With such shaky narratives, it's challenging to envision what an Israeli mindset, let alone a South Korean mindset, would look like in Taiwan. Given the current divisive landscape, and the enormous historical baggage, what in your view would be a compelling Taiwan mindset?

On finding more friends, I think it's important to underscore that these friendships are not new, and they have ebbed and flown over the decades. These friends are ultimately pragmatists (or realists if we want to cite our undergrad IR classes), and their bilateral / multilateral relations are ultimately designed to serve their populus. China's economic importance to these allies is hard to understate (Note RCEP), even in light of recent dramatic rise in confrontations with China (US, Japan, Australia etc.). I'd love to hear what your thoughts on what finding more friends entail, as Taiwan faces similar, if not worse, challenges as it did in 1970s, when its many friends abandoned Taiwan in favour of political/economic self-interest. Given these contexts, what kind of friendships do you think Taiwan should seek? Is democracy really compelling enough for these allies to support, let along protect, Taiwan? note: https://fam.ag/3mlphGQ

On unconventional weapons, Taiwan seems to be completely outmatched on capacity to spend on military R&D and procuring advanced weaponry. I would hope that there is a lot more classified planning and procurement underway, but I haven't come across any releases that instil confidence in unconventional weapons that may serve as effective or sufficient military deterrent. What are your thoughts on the mismatch in military spending and the rapidly widening gap in technological capacity, which underpin a lot of the pessimism you observed?

On being more cosmopolitan, this is an alluring thought, and there seems to be no shortage of aspirational models (e.g. Dubai, Silicon Valley) for Taiwan over the years. From previous visits, Taiwan still seems to be a long way from reaching these ideals (e.g. multilingual, ethnic diversity across social, economic and political classes). In terms of other countries coming to Taiwan's defence to protect its nationals, recent memories from Afghanistan offers a grim outlook for that scenario. What are some features or recent developments in Taiwan that you think point to the possibility of Taiwan becoming a truly cosmopolitan society, especially with continued suppression from PRC?

On going nuclear, the Chang Hsien-yi incident offers a gripping account for why a renewed nuclear pursuit would be largely untenable https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-39252502. We often focus on Chinese espionage in Taiwan, but US also has a significant intelligence network in Taiwan that hem-strung these types of moonshot deterrence. Although Trump administration has greatly reversed non-proliferation policies and efforts, it still seems highly unlikely that US would tacitly consent to a Taiwan nuclear program. The pursuit would also likely provoke such fierce backlash that the risks far out-weight the gain. The current priority seems to be procuring THAAD, if anything. What in your view would be a viable path for Taiwan to becoming a nuclear state? I

On soft power to the Chinese people, the narrative of better life in Taiwan seems to have dramatically lost its appeal since the 1990s, after the standard of living in China dramatically improved. Given Hong Kong and many other recent flash points, the Mainlanders seem to unambiguously confirmed that they are happy to live in a surveillance, authoritarian state as long as they are granted relative prosperity and stability. In these times of fierce cross-strait animosity, completely agree that it is important to find and reiterate common grounds, but the political landscape in Taiwan seems so toxic that any empathy for the Chinese people would immediately grant you a label of being mainland sellout or, worse, a KMT supporter. What room for good-faith dialogue do you see in current discourse, and which issues or topics of common interest do you feel are most worth highlighting?

Thanks in advance for your time!

Fully understand of course that it's hard to distill distinct views and perspectives in an island of 23 million brawling enthusiasts :).

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Taiwan Diaspora in Australia are pretty quiet, yet many Australians (with no particular Taiwan connection) would like our country to add more support. There is more that could be done here (Australia) especially if recently arrived Hong Kongers can get motivated to help out. They are pretty fired up, but still finding their feet.

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great article, I really hope the Taiwan government takes the advise, maybe not so much on the go nuclear option, but the rest, all great points

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"The goal is never to somehow defeat the Chinese. But to make them think, each and every day, that war with Taiwan is just not worth it yet." You talk as if "the Chinese" have a say in this...

"Because the CCP is despicable and they have propagandize the Chinese people into being good little CCP cheerleaders, it’s tempting to say well, we’re nothing like them." Again, ordinary Chinese don't really have a say and constant face the possibility of being punished simply for expressing their disagreement. Just because a few "pinks" being loud nationalists online doesn't mean the majority of the Chinese think that way. The biggest difference is that the Chinese don't really have a choice.

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