Taiwan, the World-Class Puzzle


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Next on the global agenda comes Taiwan, the island off China once known as Formosa, meaning shapely, beautiful. Today it’s a puzzle with moving parts: a not-quite nation of 24 million people that has two jealous imperial sponsors—the giants US and China, heading toward their own historic breakdown in relations. The deepest truth about Taiwan, some say, is that it’s a problem that cannot be solved, but can be managed in peace, prosperity, and democracy that have transformed Taiwan since World War II. One trick in thinking about Taiwan is to recognize a success story. The question is how to keep Taiwan from becoming Ukraine: the lost province that a great power decided it had to recover by force.

Shelley Rigger.
Senator Ed Markey.
Lev Nachman.
Jake Werner.
Wen Liu.

Taiwan is the world-class puzzle we are inspecting this hour with some urgency. It’s world-class because the thriving, boisterously democratic island off the coast of China lives geopolitically at the junction of giant imperial interests and egos, Chinese and American, both itching for a contest. And still Taiwan is its own identity puzzle on an island ruled for most of the past century by off-islanders. Who is Taiwan, after all? The formula for decades now is that Taiwan is a less-than-sovereign part of One China, bristling also with heavy arms from America. Could today’s Taiwanese stand a fight for independence? Could they stand to be absorbed by the People’s Republic on the mainland? And how, at all events, does Taiwan escape the fate of Ukraine?

This is the latest installment of In Search of Monsters, our limited series collaboration with the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

Bonus: Sarang Shidore of the Quincy Institute on the Global Divisions over Ukraine

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