The cold war comes back in Taiwan

Taiwan has quickly become the newest battleground in the war of influence waged by the U.S. and China. “The Second Cold War” has become a popular name for the various struggles that have taken place between the two superpowers. It would seem like the U.S., Taiwan, and China are heading towards a second Cuban Missile Crisis.

But the current geopolitical tension between the U.S., China, and the Cold War is not an easy historic analogy. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers grew up in the Cold War period and currently have almost total control over the media narrative. This leads to a mix of trauma and nostalgia in not only international affairs but even domestic issues. Since 2016, the polarized landscape of American politics has pushed Cold War hysteria to the forefront of people’s minds. Republicans have tried to bring back communism as an ideological threat, while Democrats have emulated Cold War tropes through the Mueller investigation. Both of these lines of attack ended up falling pretty flat all things considered. There just weren’t enough organized communists in the U.S. for Republicans to get any traction, while the Mueller investigation did not end up materializing into the smoking gun Democrats thought it would.

Even though previous nostalgia was not very successful, modern politicians may have found one last trick up their sleeve with China. As Trump burned a good number of diplomatic bridges with China, few politicians have wanted to be seen repairing those bridges. Being tough on China is quickly becoming the default position across the aisle. It seems as if the Iron Curtain may once again descend between two superpowers. 

But conflict is not so inevitable. China and the U.S. aren’t locked in any proxy conflicts. Whereas during the Cold War, American and Soviet backed forces had been fighting each other in at least one war from 1950 to 1989. China also doesn’t follow the Soviet program of funding American political parties that share its worldview. While the Communist Party USA received generous aid from the Soviet Union, no party has received significant help from China. Even platforms like the Party for Socialism and Liberation haven’t garnered support from the Chinese Communist Party, despite supporting their idealism and condemnation of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Trade and economic incentives also mean China has a vested interest in American stability and maintaining good relations.  

Flow of consumer goods and capital between the U.S. and China has reached an unprecedented level of efficiency and streamlining. Chinese leaders have practiced realpolitik since Deng Xiaoping shifted from the revolutionary aspects of Maoism and focused on building up China with capital investments.

Recent supply chain issues show how even minor inconveniences can cause general public discontent. The true risk of a standoff between the U.S. and China is a war of attrition to see whose economy will collapse first.

Any reasonable State Department official should realize that defending Taiwan to the point of war more than negates its value as it effectively prevents any trade with China. The inverse is generally true for Chinese Communist Party policy makers — is the island really worth risking all trade with America? But cultural-political arguments complicate the tradeoffs. A Chinese invasion would also likely be over before American troops could reach the island nation.

In conclusion, direct clashes between the U.S. and China are very unlikely and a peaceful solution will likely be found. In the event China invades Taiwan, there’s very little the U.S. can do to retaliate without causing a significant negative economic shock in both countries.

 

moe7@stolaf.edu

Charlie Moe is from 

St. Paul, Minn.

His major is history.

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