“If you want peace, prepare for war,” goes the old Roman saying, and on the question of Taiwan, both China and the United States are following that advice. But strategic conditions in East Asia could make war more likely.
Tensions are rising primarily because Taiwan’s political transformation is moving it away from mainland China. In the last two decades, the island nation has remade itself from an authoritarian state, dominated by the Nationalist Party, into a vibrant multiparty democracy. In 2000, executive power was peacefully transferred through free and fair elections to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Chen Shui-bian, the DPP president, won reelection last March – though not without controversy and a protracted recount – while in December the Nationalist Party held on to its parliamentary majority in competitive legislative elections. Freedom of the press is exercised and civil liberties are protected. By any measure of democratization, Taiwan is an admirable success.