Critical China Scholars, Statement on Taiwan and the US-PRC Conflict

Originally published on the CCS website

September 22, 2022

Critical China Scholars (CCS) stands in solidarity with the people of Taiwan in their struggle for self-determination, caught in the middle of the growing conflict between the PRC and the US.  

We write this at a time of heightened tensions provoked by Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, but we recognize that the larger crisis is the product of much deeper and more complex historical processes. Those processes need to be understood and addressed if there is hope for true justice and peace in the region.

First is the legacy of imperialism. Taiwan has a long and multi-layered history of imperialist subjugation: a frontier region of the Qing empire, it was ceded to an expansionist Japan in 1895, and at the fall of the Japanese empire in 1945 was entrusted to the KMT-ruled Republic of China–all without consideration for the rights or wishes of the people living there. The Democratic Progessive Party (DPP) owes its current power to the courageous efforts of social movements against authoritarianism and imperialism over the past four decades, but its increasing fomentation of nationalist ideology does not do justice to Taiwanese people’s diverse and complex social identities. Although we cannot expect them to speak with one voice, Taiwan’s own social movements are the best sources of knowledge about empire and identity in Taiwan.

Second is the legacy of the Cold War, which is also in many ways an imperialist legacy. Following the Chinese Communist Revolution of 1949, Taiwan became a crucial piece of the “arc of containment” constructed by the US government in its efforts to combat communism and strengthen the US’s own empire in Asia. This Cold War history was vividly evoked in Nancy Pelosi’s tour of Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan–all key nodes of that old “arc” of Cold War US power. While we by no means condone the PRC’s military response, which was reckless and utterly without justification, we cannot fail to recognize the threatening nature of Pelosi’s trip as a whole, crowned by the knowingly provocative inclusion of Taiwan, especially in the context of US state rhetoric and policies that are increasingly hostile to the PRC. We do not see it as realistic or morally defensible for the US to seek to maintain a favorable military balance on the other side of the globe indefinitely.

Third is the legacy of neoliberalism. In recent decades, it appeared to some that global capitalism would succeed in knitting together the interests of power-holders in China, Taiwan, and the US, and so secure the peace despite persistent ambiguity over the future of Taiwan’s political identity. Opponents of capitalism found some cause for optimism in expressions of labor solidarity that recognized the threats to workers in both Taiwan and the PRC brought by integration of the national economies. As neoliberalism has increasingly come apart at the seams, it is not surprising that these nation-states are no longer willing to paper over the differences in their geopolitical interests. While CCS will not mourn the death of neoliberalism, we recognize that its unraveling is producing extremely negative consequences: any solution to the conflict over Taiwan must be founded on a more just and sustainable set of economic relationships.

These complex historical legacies have produced a situation that is both highly dangerous and also highly challenging to resolve. For many of us, as opponents of empire mostly based in the West, our first responsibility is to recognize the damaging effects of US imperialism, and to call on the US and its allies to  cease the ramping-up of militarist activities in Asia and the Pacific. As China scholars, we also have a responsibility to correct the inaccuracies of much rhetoric of the international left, which too often portrays the US government’s “One China Policy” (which acknowledges without recognizing the PRC’s claim that Taiwan is a part of China) as reflecting sacred truth rather than necessary fiction, and which fails to recognize the legitimacy of the anti-imperialist struggles of the people of Taiwan. By and large, the Taiwan public opposes unification with the Chinese mainland, and the international left should not ignore this fact.

Until China ceases its aggressive military actions in the Strait, Taiwanese people will continue to pursue US protection; and until the US ceases military buildup in the region, China will continue to feel justifiably threatened. Durable peace in Taiwan must be built upon commitments from both the PRC and the US to de-escalate and fully reject the use of military force to resolve the conflict.

In the face of very daunting forces, speaking not for the interests of any government but as critical China scholars and members of global movements for justice, we support the right of the people of Taiwan to cease being pawns of the PRC, US, or any other empire–and to determine their own identities and their own future.