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The defense of a little island’s liberty

Mark Tooley | Backing Taiwan against its Chinese aggressor


Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen waves to an audience during National Day celebrations in Taipei on Oct. 10. Associated Press/Photo by Chiang Ying-ying

The defense of a little island’s liberty
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American Christians should support strong American backing for Taiwan amid growing threats by China for moral, spiritual, and strategic reasons. Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen recently explained in Foreign Affairs why her country has broader importance:

Authoritarian regimes are more convinced than ever that their model of governance is better adapted than democracy to the requirements of the twenty-first century. This has fueled a contest of ideologies, and Taiwan lies at the intersection of contending systems. Vibrantly democratic and Western, yet influenced by a Chinese civilization and shaped by Asian traditions, Taiwan, by virtue of both its very existence and its continued prosperity, represents at once an affront to the narrative and an impediment to the regional ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party.

Unlike China’s communist chieftain, Tsai was elected by her people. Taiwan is democratic, while China is authoritarian, under the complete control of the Communist Party. Taiwan protects human rights and religious freedom, but China persecutes both Muslims and Christians—anyone who would dare defy the regime and its ultimacy.

In Taiwan, free speech is protected, whereas China’s one-party state shuts down all opposition. China is even trying to crack down on Chinese-language press outside of China.

Taiwan is miniscule compared to the mainland, with just two percent of China’s population size and under five percent of its GDP. (Individually, Taiwanese are three times as wealthy as Chinese, thanks partly to its many decades of free-market capitalism.) Its independence amid Chinese threats signifies that small nations can survive and thrive against much more powerful aggressors. But such nations require bravery—which Taiwan’s president has—and outside support. That’s where America comes in.

The free world’s security in the Pacific calls for supporting a free Taiwan, which sits astride the sea lanes connecting Japan and South Korea with the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia. Its security and independence are crucial to containing Chinese influence in the western Pacific. Moreover, a free Taiwan signals limits on Chinese ambitions and encourages other regional countries to align against Chinese influence.

The United States has been a traditional protector of Taiwan since 1949, when Mao’s Communists conquered mainland China, and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists escaped to Taiwan. Even after U.S recognition of Beijing in 1979, America has continued to provide arms and encouragement to Taiwan.

China’s increasing belligerence and growing military have provoked enhanced bipartisan determination in the U.S. to bolster Taiwan. Should China attack Taiwan and America fail to act, other East Asia and western Pacific nations would incline towards appeasing China or seeking other security arrangements. Japan and perhaps South Korea might develop nuclear weapons.

There is a deep spiritual and moral significance to Taiwan’s freedom and independence. The little island nation symbolizes the vitality and virtue of a free people against China’s increasingly repressive and aggressive dictatorship.

Today, Taiwan resembles West Berlin during the Cold War, or Israel as a small democratic outpost threatened by external tyranny. American and Western resolve to stand with West Berlin, Israel and Taiwan have represented our determination to survive and prevail against despotism. This Western resolve told the world that democracies are not weak and dictatorships do not represent the future.

America recently departed Afghanistan after a 20-year labor to build a democratic nation. We learned Afghanistan is not really a nation but a loose confederacy of tribes. And most Afghans had little attachment to democracy. But Taiwan, for over 70 years, has matured into a coherent nation and a strong democracy. Afghanistan is not strategic to America. And its problems are internal. Taiwan is strategic to the free world. And its threat is from a potential external aggressor.

Some Americans, including Christians, are sour on America’s overseas commitments. America’s resources must be carefully stewarded in defense of our vital interests. And we should align with regimes that have legitimacy with their people and ideally sync with our aspirations. Taiwan is strategically imperative and devotedly democratic.

Although Taiwan is only four percent Christian (perhaps even less Christian than mainland China) its democracy is based on an ethic traced to Christian ideas of human dignity and rights. Its Christians are free, and their role in public life is more significant than their numbers imply. Taiwan’s Christians have helped to build their democracy and esteem it as a beacon relative to China. They know how religious believers often suffer in China, and they do not want their liberties extinguished.

At times, the preservation of liberty comes down to the defense of a small nation. We are approaching one of those moments.


Mark Tooley

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy and editor of IRD’s foreign policy and national security journal, Providence. Prior to joining the IRD in 1994, Mark worked eight years for the Central Intelligence Agency. A lifelong United Methodist, he has been active in United Methodist renewal since 1988. He is the author of Taking Back The United Methodist Church, Methodism and Politics in the 20th Century, and The Peace That Almost Was: The Forgotten Story of the 1861 Washington Peace Conference and the Final Attempt to Avert the Civil War. He attends a United Methodist church in Alexandria, Va.

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