Taiwan: the land of what could have been.
There was once an old man who wanted nothing more than to own his very own forest. After years of saving, he bought himself a forest. He was as happy as he could be! One year, he decided he didn’t like mesquite trees, for they were too thorny, so he had them all removed. The following year he removed all pecans, for he didn’t like all the squirrels they brought in. Then went the hickory, ash, birch, and so on until there was but one type of tree left: the mighty oaks. However, one year a beetle came, and on the back of that beetle was a disease that would kill any tree it infected. The beetle ate only one type of tree: oak. The man soon found himself with nothing but a wasteland.
Was the story real? It was real enough for my grandfather – whose ranch once had a forest of oak until a disease took them all out. Yet, the greater story is that in a world where biodiversity is king, it is also our savior. Taiwan – very much unlike Mainland China – kept its diversity. Whereas the Communist destroyed most of its traditional culture and environment in the mainland, both culture and the environment in Taiwan survived. Furthermore, Taiwan is a full democracy. Hence it being the land of what China could have been.
If I were to best describe Taiwan in the simplest of terms, it would be this: imagine if China and Japan had a baby and that baby was raised by the USA, then you would have Taiwan. As an example, Taiwan was mostly settled by the Chinese, much of its original infrastructure was built by the Japanese when they were its colony, and Taiwan’s current constitution quotes Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (among other things).
It is, in many ways, a hybrid. Whereas hybrid animals can inherit the strengths from its parents, Taiwan has inherited many strengths. It is a stunningly beautiful island. The waters are blue, the mountains are green, and culture is strong! It is an enchanting little island that you can easily fall for.
However, trouble is afoot in Taiwan. There are two grave future problems: one with China, and one with the environment.
First, problems with China.
2014 was a year of protest for Taiwan – commonly called The Sunflower Student Movement. To perhaps overly simplify, the Taiwanese people feared their president was selling their country out to China. He was doing this by letting Chinese companies buy out their own industries, communications, and other utilities; which China could then use as economic sabotage and surveillance. In fact, China’s military already believes it is at war with the USA. People’s Liberation Army Colonel Qiao Liang has laid a format for war against the USA (and thus Taiwan as well). Their weapons of choice? Economic, cultural, and cyber warfare; or at least that’s how it would start.
China has around 2,000 missiles pointed directly at Taiwan at all times. It’s enough to wipe out 90% of Taiwan’s infrastructure within an hour. Imagine if Mexico could wipe out 90% of Texas or California in thirty or less minutes, or Canada to New York? How paranoid would we be? Well that’s similar to the looming paranoia Taiwan feels. The Taiwanese military is strong, but not that strong. Taiwan’s Minister of National Defense Yen Ming (嚴明) is quoted in saying Taiwan could survive a Chinese attack for “at least one month.”
Why is China acting this way? Well, long story short: the Mainland won the Chinese civil war and they want Taiwan too. China furthermore views anyone ethnically Chinese as belonging to them – their nationality laws and customs are largely based on ethnicity. For instance, China commonly monitors what they call “Overseas Chinese.” If they do or say anything the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) doesn’t like, then the CCP threatens any remaining family members in China. They would have taken Taiwan long ago, but President Truman stopped them.
And now, problems with the environment.
Taiwan had done very well for itself protecting its own environment. They are actively pursuing wind energy, phasing out coal and nuclear power, and are working towards solar energy making up 30% of all electricity by 2030. Between 2010 and 2015 alone, their photovoltaic capacity grew just shy of 3,200%!
Yet, unfortunately, even if they solve all their problems, if the rest of the world doesn’t, then the damage will still be done. Currently Taiwan is ranked as the number seventeen country at risk to rising oceans. While a lot of Taiwan is well above sea level, many populous areas are not. Keelung, Tamsui, Pingtung district, etc. are all at risk. This means millions could be at risk.
The warming oceans are transforming the seas around Taiwan. Typhoons now batter the island nearly year-round. Even more troubling, ocean acidification is causing coral reefs to die. Coral are like the soil of the ocean: they provide the basis for much of aquatic life. As every farmer knows: lose your soil, lose your livelihood. Lose your coral, then you lose your fish.
Taiwan’s greatest environmental problem, however, lays off to its east. China is ranked the number one country at risk of rising seas. This naturally holds great potential to destabilize the country. The number one rule for dictators in destabilized countries is to A) blame foreigners, and B) create outside distractions (see Vladimir Putin 2014 invading Ukraine after the 2012 Russian Protests).
South Korea, Japan, Guam, Taiwan, and the Philippines have always been more-or-less used as a containing wall for American security (American strategic defense has always followed in the path of Manifest Destiny – we went from East Coast to West Coast, then from Iceland to Hawaii, and now from Europe to Japan). Since it’s unlikely that Filipino President Duterte will succeed in turning towards China over the long term, Taiwan is thus China’s key to becoming a true Pacific power, which is undoubtedly a double-edged sword to them – important to both perceived American and Chinese security. This unfortunately puts them in a very dangerous position, for both short and the long term, with or without a destabilized China.
All in all, Taiwan is a beautiful – yet complicated – mess. The economic, cultural, and biological diversity of the island is a gem. If the world is seen as the forest from the beginning of this article, then Taiwan surely strengthens the resiliency of our world. What the future holds remains unknown until the future becomes the present. Perhaps things will remain the same; perhaps evolution will happen in the blink of an eye. What I do know is that Taiwan represents what could have been, and what still can be – for better or for worse.
Like, share, and comment below!