22 Comments
Jan 19Liked by Robert Wu

I'm sure this doesn't help your data at all but I found ever section helpful and illuminating. I am glad you are feeling better, too- winter illnesses are certainly more potent post-Covid. We experienced exactly the same thing in New Zealand when compulsory mask wearing and other restrictions were lifted in 2022.

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Jan 20Liked by Robert Wu

“Trump will keep playing the Taiwan card when he comes into office - although for China, Taiwan is never a card, which will make it exceedingly difficult for China.”

I confess I am confused by the use of the expression the “Taiwan Card.” I encounter this frequently in reference to America’s China policy, and I genuinely never understand what the speaker means. Particular when it’s used in this context--that Taiwan “is never a card” with respect to the mainland.

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Here is what I understand it means: when something is a card to be played, it’s something that can help to drive a hard bargain. So maybe when Trump plays this hard enough(such as threatening to visit Taiwan or threaten to de-recognise one China policy) , make the pain big enough for China, he thinks he might be able to extract some concessions elsewhere, like maybe for the China to accept a big tariff or something. For China though, this not a card because it touches on a core nerve, something non-negotiable. So Trump dangling this “weapon” will not lead to any concessions but will only lead to further escalation.

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Jan 20Liked by Robert Wu

Ok. So your sense is the phrase is meant to describe a central v non-central concern.

I think, from the Chinese side, this probably represents a misunderstanding of how core of an interest Taiwan is to the American NatSec establishment. Or, at least, how core it’s perceived to be. Most of the defense establishment would go to war over Taiwan. So, regardless of the wisdom of that choice--or the likelihood of war happening, and I understand you are skeptical it will--this indicates that Taiwan is not a game for the American side, either.

Now the case of Trump, in specific, is weird. Because he is 1.) a little crazy; and 2.) clearly does not think Taiwan is a core American interest. This is one of many disagreements he has with the NatSec establishment.

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Jan 21·edited Jan 21Author

Regarding misunderstanding NatSec establishment: probably, but I think when China talks about this, the attention is usually paid to the political leaders, rather than the NatSec community. For example, this article: https://thediplomat.com/2022/10/the-taiwan-card-in-us-domestic-politics/ discussed how the "card" is played by different parties to achieve something else, which in this article is "scoring votes". I think China is doubting whether the political leaders - presidents and senators - really mean it when they talk about Taiwan. Thus also the phrase "play with fire". To China this is not an issue to be "played", it's not an issue to be attached to something else. I think China also has no illusions that if war does come, the NatSec you mention will come to Taiwan's rescue. But there are serious concerns about politicians starting a war by "playing" it, such as Pelosi's Taiwan's visit. So there is a way to avoid war in the first place if such card is not dangled around.

And yes, I am skeptical the war will happen, because at least China does not want to "play" it. And I think the Biden admin also respects this mutual agreement not to play it. But Trump will be the wild card here.

I don't doubt that if war does come, Taiwan can be a "central concern". But I doubt if "pushing Taiwan to war in the first place" is a central concern of the US.

Well but if the assumption is China is hellbent on a reunification, war or no war, then you would not think US politicians are "playing a card", but doing something necessary to protect world peace. I think that assumption is wrong, but it's tempting to look like a world savior. This may be the ultimate tragedy.

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Hmmm. So I guess I tend to think very few US politicians use Taiwan as a way to win votes, or to appeal to domestic audiences. Americans really just don’t care very much about Taiwan. Very, very few could point it out on a map. We might care about China, or be worried about China to a certain extent, but genuinely <10% of Americans could tell you a single thing about Taiwan. It’s just not a real issue in an electoral sense.

Chinese leaders, on the other hand, have a very long and documented history of using Taiwan as a way of galvanizing internal political forces. Now, I guess there’s two general ways of looking at this behavior: 1.) it’s all kind of a game, Chinese leaders don’t really mean it, they’re not going to actually invade, but the whole bit plays very well domestically; or 2.) they’re really quite sincere and the moment their internal calculus makes sense they’ll do the thing.

I do think the Pelosi point is interesting. And there was definitely an element of gamesmanship in that case, which I likewise think was irresponsible, but tbh I think her trip was more about her own vanity and ego than it was US policy. She wanted to do something “historic” on her way out the door, and the Biden Admin was not particularly pleased.

But not sure I understand the point about “pushing to Taiwan to war” not being a central concern. I would suggest that, outside of a few genuine lunatics, basically everyone in DC is pretty freaked out about the prospect of war with China.

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For reference: https://news.gallup.com/poll/1675/most-important-problem.aspx

Hard to emphasize how little American voters care about National Security issues.

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1. I agree that to think US politicians use Taiwan just to win votes is bit naive. There are like 100 more issues before Taiwan on the legislative agenda. However, "sounding tough on China", (which includes making a stance on Taiwan issue) does win some votes? or at least doing it won't lose votes? It's also the same with the Nancy Pelosi example. You are right about the ego thing. And I also think it's a highly convenient way to boost a politician's ego without many political consequence and blowbacks. Taiwan becomes this easy to play card for US politicians. And I think to Chinese ears, all of this ego, winning or not losing votes, electoral considerations, average American's ignorance and dont-give-a-damn about Taiwan all come to the same accusation: that to Americans this is nothing other than something you can play with, but to us this is like our No.1 thing. It's like for a kid who can just kick down on an ant-hill, because it's fun. But to the ants, it's armageddon. I think the whole of our discussion comes back to why there is such a phrase called "Playing the Taiwan card". This is exactly why.

2. Regarding Chinese leaders' thoughts. I think it's definitely not theory 1 that you referred to. That sounds just like the mindset of a professional politician living in a fix-schedule electoral system. Again we are not playing a game of cards here. For Chinese leaders the Taiwan question has a dimension of life-and-death in it. If not handled well, the regime itself will end up in flames. This is how the "electoral system" in China works. The reality is more like a version of theory 2, but not exactly. This is indeed a goal that they will want to achieve when the time comes. But I think overall the Americans' have vastly under-estimated the Chinese willingness to reunify through peace (in some innovative way that we haven't yet figured out) - and vastly over-estimated the Chinese taste for war. (My perpetual question for the US NatSec community in this regard is this: will US accept peaceful China-Taiwan unification in some way. Or will US simply refuse this unification, peaceful or not? My guess is the latter, which does create a problem.)

3. By "pushing Taiwan to war" I specifically mean the US side's action to instigate war. What I mean is simply that US (if being rational) doesn't really want to start a war for Taiwan, if can be avoided. I am simply stating here that although China has no illusions about US coming to Taiwan's rescue, should war happens, but China is also highly suspicious of the sincerity of US politicians when they talk about Taiwan. China is afraid that some politicians may start something disastrous inadvertently, carelessly. Which comes back to my first point here, and also come back to the fear of Trump.

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This is a very good discussion. Let me think it through and respond but I do have something to respond. (I hope there is a better format than this comment section ….

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Jan 20Liked by Robert Wu

First time reader. This is some interesting information. Thank you.

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Thank you for your support! If you like it, you may consider to subscribe to my newsletter. I do one piece like this a week.

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Jan 20Liked by Robert Wu

Done

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Jan 19Liked by Robert Wu

Glad to hear that you have fully recovered,!

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Just started reading your substack. Looks really good thanks

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Wow! That's the first I've heard about Taiwan's constitution including Xinjiang, Tibet, and Mongolia. Not to mention a part of Russia.

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If you think about it, Taiwan is officially the "Republic of China". All of these territories (Mongolia, Tuva, even the 9-dash line at SCS) have been claimed by the ROC.

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Robert, where do you suggest I can read more about ROC constitution and it sovereignty over Mongolia, etc.? Fascinating

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It’s all online, on the official site of taipei government. https://law.moj.gov.tw/ENG/LawClass/LawAll.aspx?pcode=A0000001 “2. Delegates to represent Mongolia shall be elected on the basis of four for each league and one for each special banner;

3. The number of delegates to be elected from Tibet shall be prescribed by law;”

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Thanks!

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Interesting to learn about the process for amending RoC constitution. The concept of “eligible voters” makes me wonder. As I understand it, there was a time when all overseas Chinese were considered citizens of RoC, correct? But this status was somehow lost. If “eligible voters” included overseas Chinese, how could it be so easy for RoC to revoke their citizenship of the RoC?

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I am not sure about the overseas Chinese issue, but it was the 2005 constitutional amendment that made further amendments this difficult .

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Fascinating. I looked up Wikipedia, but it shed little light on why such a tough referendum hurdle for constitutional amendment was made. And it was apparently supported by both the DPP and KMT.

I feel that despite limiting the referendum to just the “Free Area”, any future vote for “Taiwan independence” under the “Republic of China” constitution cannot be legitimate without the participation of all people claimed to be part of China by the ROC, including Mongolia and that part of Russia you mentioned. So, many hurdles to “Taiwan independence”!

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