“American bullets, Taiwanese blood” Is a Cruel and Evil Bargain

By John V. Walsh

On January 13, the people of Taiwan, officially designated the Republic of China (ROC), will elect a new President and unicameral legislature known as the Legislative Yuan.  The election hinges on the question of Taiwan’s policy toward the Mainland, the People’s Republic of China (PRC). That policy will have a profound impact on East Asia – and the world.

Taiwan’s major threat to peace in the area is a move to break with the One China Policy and declare independence from the Mainland.  The PRC’s policy is to reunite with Taiwan by peaceful means sometime in the future – barring Taiwan’s formal declaration of independence, which could lead to war.\

Taiwanese Opinion on Seceding from the Mainland

How do the people of Taiwan feel about secession versus the status quo?  In 2023 polling by Taiwan’s National Chengchi University’s Election Study a record 32.1% said they preferred to “maintain the status quo indefinitely” (the largest category); 28.6% chose the status quo to “decide (Taiwan’s fate) at a later date” (the second largest category); 21.4% opted for the status quo intending to “move toward independence”; and 6.0%, the status quo to “move to unification.”  A total of   88.1% favor the status quo for now, and 60.7% (the top two categories) want to maintain the status quo with no specific goal for the future!

In contrast, only 1.6% want “unification as soon as possible” and only 4.5% “independence as soon as possible.”  On this issue, the US has failed to win the hearts and minds of Taiwanese.

How Does the Presidential Election Stack Up so far?

Three main parties contending for the Presidency are the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP); the Kuomintang (KMT) and the relatively new Taiwan People’s Party (TPP).  The Presidential candidates are William Lai (DPP); Hou Yu-ih (KMT); and Ko Wen-je (TPP). Whereas the leaders of the DPP are bent on independence, hostile to the PRC, and very close to the US. foreign policy elite, the other two seek to develop an understanding of the Mainland and preserve the status quo.

What does polling about the election tell us?  The DPP is the front-runner now but by an ever-decreasing margin. A very recent poll on January 2 gave DPP’s Lai 38.9%, KMT’s Hou 35.8% and TPP’s Ko 22.4%. The combined vote for the Mainland-friendly parties, the KMT and TPP, was 58.2%.  But that’s not the end of the story.

In Taiwan’s system, victory requires only a plurality.  Consequently, as a result of the opposition’s split between KMT and TPP, the front-running DPP could win.  Nevertheless, the opposition should easily command a majority in the Legislative Yuan providing some brakes on the DPP.

Opinions on US intervention in armed conflict over Taiwan

Turning to American opinion on possible armed conflict in Taiwan, the latest of surveys by the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs tells us : “As in past surveys, a majority of Americans (56%) oppose sending US troops to Taiwan to help the Taiwanese government…” (Italics, jw)

That percentage will surely increase as the war drags on as has happened with the Ukraine proxy war.  Sentiment against more funding for Ukraine is growing in Congress, especially among Republicans, a reflection of growing anti-interventionist sentiment in their base.

A US anti-China proxy war in Taiwan – “American bullets, Taiwanese blood”

As with Ukraine, a proxy war in Taiwan would be waged with “Our bullets, their blood” in the words of one Oliver North.  The DPP has already made a decisive step in the direction of turning young Taiwanese into U.S. cannon fodder by extending the period of compulsory military service from 4 months to one year, beginning in 2024.  That is the “blood” part.

As for the “bullets” part, Taiwan has buying billions in weapons from the US since 1979.  Recently the Biden administration began giving weapons to Taiwan, meaning American taxes pay for them.  That is on top of the enormous expenditure on US bases, naval exercises and “freedom of navigation” maneuvers. If fighting erupts and the expenditures grow, how long before America tires of paying and wants to opt out?  After all the US is safely on the other side of the vast Pacific.

The basic US plan seems to be to provoke the PRC into military action to harm its reputation in the eyes of its neighbors, encouraging them to build up their military and join US-led, anti-China alliances.  If that does not occur, the US will not shrink from a false flag operation or an outright fabrication.  Think of the fictitious Gulf of Tonkin incident which won Congressional approval for the Vietnam war that consumed millions of lives.

On January 13, the people of Taiwan can take a big step toward a peaceful future.  Many of us in America will be grateful if they vote for a government not captive to belligerent US foreign policy.  And perhaps their vote will inspire us to elect more anti-interventionists here in the US.

John V. Walsh, until recently a Professor of Physiology and Neuroscience at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, has written on issues of peace and health care for the San Francisco Chronicle, EastBayTimes/San Jose Mercury News, Asia Times, LA Progressive, Antiwar.com, CounterPunch and others.