If Attacked, Would Taiwan Fight?

The Diplomat’s J. Michael Cole challenges the assumption that a  majority of Taiwanese would choose not to fight if China attacked their country, writing that Taiwan’s unique national identity would likely trump any socio-ethnic similarities its people may share with the Mainland:

No recent conflict highlights this reality better than the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988. In it, the leadership on both sides launched invasions of their neighbor on the assumption that groups there with which they shared ethnicity or religion would welcome them as liberators and side with invading forces. Before launching the invasion of Iran, for instance, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had banked on Khuzistani Arabs in Iran to side with him against Tehran; instead, Iraqi forces were met with spirited resistance from them. Similarly, once the fortunes of war had turned against Baghdad and Ayatollah Khomeini ordered an invasion of Iraq to unseat the Baathist regime, Tehran assumed that Iraqi Shias, who formed a majority in Iraq, would fight alongside their co-religionists against Baghdad’s Sunni minority. There again, nationalism trumped other considerations, and such support did not materialize (Tehran had better luck with the Kurds in northern Iraq).

While the Iran-Iraq War is an imperfect analogy for the situation in Taiwan, it nevertheless forces us to revisit the assumption that Taiwanese — especially those who identify as Nationalists or “mainlanders” — would not fight Chinese invaders. With few exceptions, almost every member of the armed forces today was born in Taiwan. The effect of one’s identification with land and nation cannot be ignored, even among those who are direct descendants of Chinese who fled across the Taiwan Strait in 1949. All, regardless of their “ethnic” identification, are the result of, and were shaped by, the idiosyncratic social forces that prevail in Taiwan, such as its culture and democratic way of life. Consequently, few are those who, when the abstracts of hostility are replaced by the harsh realities of war, would willingly abandon Taiwan, let alone refuse to fight for what makes it their home.

In the end, there is little doubt that once bombs and missiles, however precise, began raining down on Taiwan, killing family members, friends, and neighbors, most Taiwanese would rally round the flag. And that flag bears one white sun, not five yellow stars.


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