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The People's Republic of China, according to many reports, is considering invading Taiwan. There is a law on the books that says if Taiwan does not bend diplomatically they will try to make it part of China by force.

Why is the United States coming out in support of Taiwan given its own laws would stop a state, say Texas (the state that has the most talk of independence and was once even its own country), from declaring independence? The fact that the United States is supporting a country which could be argued to have seceded while the US explicitly does not allow its own states to become its own countries seems hypocritical. And also though I focus on the USA here, this question is not specifically about the USA. It is also about all countries with anti secession laws that are supporting Taiwan but focused on the United States.

I'm not privy on the details. But I do know China and Taiwan are in a tough relationship. This question is not designed to criticize any country's positions. It's just for curiosity. To be clear I personally support Taiwan's right to choose on its relationship with mainland China. But, I'm pointing out something that others may see.

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    Vote to close. This is a ridiculous question. Taiwan was never a part of (Communist) china. Taiwan was the last remnant of the of the regime the communist revolution overthrew: the Republic of China. This isn't like secession; this is like the US demanding that Britain become a US state because the US failed to conquer Britain during the Revolutionary war. Jul 2 at 21:57
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    @TedWrigley You have used two different usages of "Taiwan". If we're going to discuss this we should be more careful. The "Taiwan has never been part of the PRC" argument generally refers to the island and the people of Taiwan. The "Taiwan is the last remnant of the ROC" argument doesn't refer to the island or the people (who were only part of the ROC for 4 years before 1949) but to the government that took over Taiwan after WWII. Also, there is a question of whether it is even the same government except in name given that its people and government style are different now.
    – Readin
    Jul 3 at 0:06
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    @Readin Agreed! The problem with the instaclose is that it interferes with the exploration of complex topics. "I can't think of a good SE answer so nobody can."
    – uhoh
    Jul 3 at 4:43
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    @TedWrigley roughly about as aware as saying that North America was the last remnant of the regimes of Europe. Considering that there are two thoughtful answers here already within the first eight hours, I don't see how blocking your fellow community members from posting another is the best of all possible actions here.
    – uhoh
    Jul 3 at 4:46
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    @Readin: Quibbling over semantics doesn't change the fact that the ROC predated the PRC, and Taiwan was the last retreat of the ROC after the Communist revolution that drove them out of mainland China. There's no case in which Taiwan can be considered as having seceded from the PRC, and all the agenda in the world won't make it so. Jul 3 at 4:53

8 Answers 8

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I'm from Taiwan, so I'll answer with some local perspective.

There is a law on the books that says if Taiwan does not bend diplomatically they will try to make it part of China by force.

The first thing we need to recognize here is that just because China passes a law that says Taiwan is part of its territory does not automatically make it a reality. Just as if Russia passes a law that says Ukraine is part of its territory does not make it reality either.

The truth is that national border and sovereignty have to be drawn by treaties and so far no such treaty exists to formally establish the border or relationship between China and Taiwan. We're essentially living in a legal limbo.

What I can tell you is that Taiwan is currently a de facto independent, sovereign, and democratic country with 23 million people living on the island. It is a country with its own autonomy and agency, and that agency should not be taken out of the conversation. Taiwan is not a pawn, but a player that should have a voice at the table.

Why is the United States coming out in support of Taiwan given its own laws would stop a state... The fact that the United States is supporting a country which could be argued to have seceded while the US explicitly does not allow its own states to become its own countries seems hypocritical.

Following on the previous section, national border and sovereignty have to be drawn by treaties. This is where the comparison between Texas and Taiwan falls apart.

The Texas constitution (Article 1) explicitly says it is part of the Union and - while independent under the federalism framework - subject to the US Constitution. The relationship here is clearly established. Whereas Taiwan's constitution does not mention any such relationship at all, in fact, when you read the text of Chinese and Taiwanese constitution, it would seem as though they live in different realities (because they kind of are).

Another thing I need to correct is that Untied States does not formally "support" Taiwan. It simply remains "strategically ambiguous" towards the island, meaning that it will do something if China attacks Taiwan but they don't say what exactly it is that they will do. This is done on purpose to avoid diplomatic miscalculation. So even though there are a lot of posturing going on, we should keep in mind that the US does not have legal obligation to defend Taiwan the same way they are obligated to defend, say, Japan or NATO countries.

In conclusion, given its legally ambiguous nature. The US does not formally support Taiwan, but even if it does it would not be illegal. On the other hand, Texas law has subjected itself to the US Constitution so there is legal basis to restrict Texas' means of sucession.

TLDR: Taiwan is not Texas. US does not formally support Taiwan.

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    Great answer! I would suggest clarifying that strategic ambiguity is very much official US policy as it is defined in US law
    – user3490
    Jul 3 at 7:01
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    Great answer! Though one should point out that the US has no legal obligation to defend other NATO countries either, just to consider any aggression on a NATO country as an aggression onto itself (and it can legally decide to just forgive that aggression). So, if the US is not obligated to defend its NATO allies, imagine how obligated they feel to defend Taiwan. They might though, as they "defended" the people of Iraq from their evil dictator.
    – Blueriver
    Jul 4 at 14:35
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    Thanks for the local insight. I would add that Texas can secede if they want, US states are not beholden to the Federal government in perpetuity, they opted-in and they can opt out and in fact Texas is the state most likely to do it first and I would support that move.
    – Ram
    Jul 4 at 16:19
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    @Ram "I would add that Texas can secede if they want, US states are not beholden to the Federal government in perpetuity, they opted-in and they can opt out." Whatever legal reasoning and reliance on documents you may be doing, the ability of a state, including Texas, to simply opt out was tested 150 years ago and the Federal government made it quite clear, using large numbers of troops, that states may not opt out. A few years later the Federal government followed up with a Supreme Court ruling to say the same thing. A Smith & Wesson beats 4 Aces, as they say.
    – Readin
    Jul 4 at 22:47
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    Seems to me that the purpose of the ambiguity is not to avoid but rather to encourage miscalculation or at least impede calculation, specifically: Even though, when push comes to shove, the U.S. may in fact opt to not defend Taiwan, it is advantageous to not telegraph that, to encourage both desirable behavior by the mainland and Taiwan. Jul 4 at 23:27
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a country which could be argued to have seceded

Secession means that a territory is leaving a nation.

That's not quite what happened in this case. To briefly recap history, 1911 saw the creation of the "Republic of China". In 1927, the Chinese Communist Party rose in rebellion. When Japan invaded China in 1937, the civil war was put on hold to defend against the Japanese invasion. In 1945, Japan was defeated, and ceded Taiwan to China. In 1946, the Chinese Civil War resumed, and the "Republic of China" lost control of mainland China, retreating to Taiwan. In 1949, the CCP proclaimed the "People's Republic of China". In 1971, the United Nations General Assembly recognized the "People's Republic of China" as the "only lawful representatives of China to the United Nations".

That is, the Japanese ceded Taiwan to a nation embroiled in a civil war that ended with one faction in control of mainland China, and one in control of Taiwan. Being recognized as the "only lawful representative of China", the faction in control of mainland China argues that Taiwan is part of China, and what they do to Taiwan is therefore an internal matter, while the faction who is in control of Taiwan argues that their nationhood has not ended simply because they lost control over most (but not quite all) their territory.

And that's how other nations can support Taiwan's independence without approving of secession. They simply ask:

How can Taiwan secede from the People's Republic of China, when the People's Republic of China never controlled it in the first place?

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    It's perhaps worth adding that when the Republic of China was founded, Taiwan was a Japanese colony (since 1895, ceded by the Qing). I think that strengthens your argument.
    – tobi_s
    Jul 3 at 6:34
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    While a great answer, it does not even touch the topic asked in the question: Why is the USA such a strong supporter of Taiwan? (it has even openly declared to be willing to risk a new world war to defend it)
    – vsz
    Jul 3 at 8:41
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    Does the US explicitly take the position you state in the last para? Can you quote some statement from a US administration in that regard? (I think they gave up that position when they turned to "One China" policy in Nixon's time, but I could be mistaken.)
    – Fizz
    Jul 3 at 14:21
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    I think it's worth backing up even farther than that, to the period of the warlords and the dying of the Qing dynasty. Prior to 1949 China never really had a period where it had achieved stable borders as a "modern Westphalian state"; instead it careened from one civil war or foreign invasion to another, until reaching equilibrium with the CCP in charge of the mainland and the Kuomintang remnants in charge of Taiwan. Attempting to retcon an "intact" set of borders that either of those governments "legitimately" owns is foolhardy.
    – tbrookside
    Jul 3 at 14:41
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    @vsz The main point of the question is why would the US support a country that supposedly seceded when they don't allow secesstion here. And the answer given is that Taiwan didn't actually secede.
    – Barmar
    Jul 4 at 13:50
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The key subtlety here is that Taiwan has not declared itself formally independent from China. The PRC in fact threatens to surely invade if Taiwan takes that formal step.

Countries supporting the broad autonomy of regions of another is more widespread than you think. A recent example were France and Germany supporting the autonomy (but not outright independence) of Luhansk and Donetsk under the Minsk agreements. The whole Bosnia affair was basically resolved by the three ethnic regions each having broad autonomy etc. I'm not sure what the army situation is like in Bosnia nowadays, but for Luhansk and Donetsk the Minsk agreements basically recognized the right of self-defence forces for these regions.

The US basically (albeit less clearly) claims that the people of Taiwan have the right to democracy and some level of self-government. It does support Taiwan in this regard, which stops short of formal recognition as an independent country... although the way Taiwan is represented abroad, ignoring the name games, is much closer to how formally independent countries are represented.


For what's worth it (since there are probably numerous such statements over the years from different US administrations, each with its own nuance); Wikipedia quotes this as indicative of the US ambiguity:

United States policy has remained ambiguous. In the House International Relations Committee on 21 April 2004, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, James A. Kelly, was asked by Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA) whether the United States government's commitment to Taiwan's democracy conflicted with the so-called One-China policy. He stated "In my testimony, I made the point "our One China," and I didn't really define it, and I'm not sure I very easily could define it. I can tell you what it is not. It is not the One-China policy or the One-China principle that Beijing suggests, and it may not be the definition that some would have in Taiwan. But it does convey a meaning of solidarity of a kind among the people on both sides of the straits that has been our policy for a very long time."

There is one 2007 Congressional Research Service document (also quoted therein) that states/summarizes that "U.S. policy has not recognized the PRC's sovereignty over Taiwan" but also that "U.S. policy has not recognized Taiwan as a sovereign country", essentially the conclusion being that "U.S. policy has considered Taiwan's status as unsettled".

That kind of language definitely leaves open the possibility that the US could recognize Taiwan as independent from the PRC at some point, i.e. the US position is beyond a mere call for autonomy.

It's also (perhaps) worth noting in this regard that even more ambiguous statements ... of ambiguity such as the famous UNSC resolution 1244, which guaranteed the territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) but without explicitly committing to whether Kosovo was or wasn't part of that guarantee, while speaking of a need for a "final settlement" for the latter territory have led to Kosovo's independence being fairly broadly recognized. (Kosovo is recognized as independent by about half the UN countries, mostly Western ones, but not by China and Russia, and probably most developing countries fall in the latter category [of non-recognition] as well.) In their advisor opinion, the majority of the ICJ judges have explicitly relied on the ambiguity of UNSCR 1244 as not precluding Kosovo's independence, in conjunction with the fact that FRY had not exercised "continuing sovereignty" over Kosovo (in Kosovo's case that was due to UN temporary administration being imposed over the territory following human rights violations by FRY forces.)

So the the lack of "continuing sovereignty" of the PRC over Taiwan (as in never exercised) can indeed be argued as highly relevant, although I'm not sure if the US (through its official representatives) has elaborated on this point in re Taiwan.

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    Interestingly enough, in Bosnia, the army battalions appear to be ethnically segregated, but are supposed to be integrated at brigade level.
    – Fizz
    Jul 3 at 3:43
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Simple. Taiwan is an ally of the US, and China is not. It's normal to support your allies and oppose your enemies. Now of course the US is not going to be so crass as to say that, so they'll say it's because Taiwan is democratic and China is not (see Democracy promotion by the United States and how US media produces headlines like this one). Note they aren't critical of US allies that aren't democratic, such as certain countries in the Middle East. In the same way, they don't think of Taiwan as "seceding" from China, they view it as a democratic country in need of protection from an autocratic neighbour.

Ultimately everyone is motivated by their own self-interest - this explains most of the contradictions one might see in the world.

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    The simple reason is that Taiwan ROC predates and therefore did not secede from PRC.
    – user207421
    Jul 3 at 7:54
  • "they view it as a democratic country" But USA are not recognizing Taiwan as an independant county?
    – convert
    Jul 3 at 12:40
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    @convert not formally, but one can replace "democratic country" with "democratic society" and the answer would still hold. (Besides, if the US doesn't treat Taiwan as a democratic country, what is their long-term plan for the island?)
    – Allure
    Jul 3 at 15:17
  • Taiwan is democratic Oh, but it wasn't always. Neither was South Korea for that matter. The alliance bit certainly plays into it. Jul 3 at 21:13
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica when Taiwan wasn't democratic, it was imperative for the US to support Taiwan because it was the Cold War. And South Korea, for that matter.
    – Allure
    Jul 3 at 23:26
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Contrary to the question's assumption, it is not illegal for Texas to secede from the United States. It is illegal for Texas to do so unilaterally.

For a complete analysis, see this PSE question; the tl;dr is that the Constitution requires any changes in statehood to occur with the consent of the the state in question (i.e. Texas) and Congress. For an example that never made it to the courts, see the Confederacy. The South seceded with the consent of the states involved, but did not wait for Congressional approval before shelling Fort Sumter. As such, their rebellion was illegal.

Of course, the US constitution need not (and does not) apply to Taiwan. But since the Kellogg-Briand pact of 1928, the US has consistently stood for the position that any international territorial change must not occur by force, but instead requires the peaceful and coercion-free negotiation of all involved parties. (The US does not hold the same position regarding border-preserving regime change.) An invasion by China would not constitute peaceful and coercion-free negotiation.

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Taiwan, more specifically TSMC, controls the world's production and supply of microprocessors. Not only the US and the West but also the entire world (e.g. PRC, Korea, Japan, etc) is dependent on Taiwan's microprocessor manufacturing foundries.

To put things in perspective, if PRC (China) takes over Taiwan, the entire Western bloc's military, space, and manufacturing industry will be at the mercy of the PRC. Therefore, it is in the strategic interest of the USA to guarantee the sovereignty of Taiwan.

Reference: Will China Invade Taiwan Next?

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    Fair point but (to my mind) this Q is different from why the US sees Taiwan as important, which was also asked before. I.e. the present Q asks how the US justifies their stance from the angle of international law, instead of strategic calculations.
    – Fizz
    Jul 3 at 23:17
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    How likely is it that TSMC's fabrication plants would survive a Chinese takeover?
    – Readin
    Jul 4 at 2:47
  • @Readin: Operation Paperclip showed that the brains behind the operation are far more important than the factories. Taiwan has chipmaking brains better than the rest of the world, just as the Germans had rocketmaking brains better than the rest of the world.
    – dotancohen
    Jul 4 at 8:09
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    @Readin: From what I heard, they can completely destroy everything. And the Netherlands will give all the employees visas so they can work next door to ASML.
    – gnasher729
    Jul 4 at 11:54
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    @dotancohen I don't think Paperclip is a good analogy. Rockets are items produced in small quantity with bespoke tooling. They're complex with a vast supply watershed, but a large part of the stack can be made in independent facilities and only integrated at the end. Also there are considerable degrees of design freedom (e.g. liquid vs solid engines). All that makes planning crucial but change of suppliers relatively feasible. Chipmaking meanwhile has extremely long supply chains, with the experts at each level relying a lot of having exactly the right material and tools available. Jul 4 at 12:17
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In the European Union, in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, Japan and other democracies people lived in freedom for all their lives. Me being one of them.

To most of us who are interested in politics, I dare to say, Taiwan is a democracy where millions of human beings live in freedom. And the People's Republic of China on the other hand developed to an evil dictatorship.

Below all the reasoning about political or economical advantages there is something else much more important: many people really feel pity for the folks of Hong Kong who lost their freedom to the communists party despotism. I'd say, if the democratic countries didn't help people of Taiwan to escape that terrible fate, we'd feel terribly selfish, guilty and weak.

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I think you're trying to compare apples to oranges. PRC and Taiwan situation is a result of US interference into Chinese civil war. Civil wars most often end with one side winning, or by officially separating into 2 independent entities via negotiations. Both entities do not recognize each other since they both claim the same territory. So nations that establish formal relations with one, automatically cannot do so with the other. For example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japan%E2%80%93China_Joint_Communiqu%C3%A9

Because Taiwan is separated by water from mainland China, blocking potential naval landing attempts practically maintains the unfinished war. One of the reasons this was done, was to give China's veto power in the UN to the tiny leftover refugee government of KMT that claimed to speak on behalf of all of China. If you are familiar with Korean War, international intervention in support of South Korea happened precisely because USSR was boycotting UN meetings because the decision to pick Taiwan as legal Chinese government was based on convenience, not common sense.

The US policy is not based on legality or ethics, it's simply there to harm Chinese development and provide justification to intrude into Chinese domestic issues. It's a tool basically. All the actions Russia gets vilified over, they learned from UK or US.

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  • It seems there is quite a bit of jump from the first two paras to the last. US policy towards the PRC has changed quite a bit since then. Your answer would be undoubtedly correct if we still lived in the 1960s, when Taiwan wasn't much of a democracy either.
    – Fizz
    Jul 6 at 1:27

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