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The West has been supporting Taiwan for decades and is constantly worried about China taking over the island. But in practical terms... why do they care? What risks does the West face from allowing China to occupy that island?

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    Is this Q really different from politics.stackexchange.com/questions/71662/… ?
    – Fizz
    Aug 8 at 21:57
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    @Fizz That question seems to be focused on a single country while this one is focused on a range of countries.
    – Joe W
    Aug 9 at 0:19
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    @JoeW: ok, but then I think the Q is a bit too broad. Australia may have different ideas than Spain etc., which entail different levels of support for Taiwan. And speaking just theoretically, depending on which realist sub-school one adheres to, defending Taiwan is the best idea ever, or not worth it; it depends on how much emphasis one puts on defeating the PRC at all costs; some details here: politics.stackexchange.com/a/74619/18373
    – Fizz
    Aug 9 at 4:55
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    The OP needs to define which country is included in the so-called "the West". As far as I know, other than the US, no country in the west has military contact, even traded with, Taiwan, which was abandoned and isolated after losing its seat to the CCP in the UN Security Council.
    – r13
    Aug 9 at 11:33
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    @r13 - How far do you know? The European Union as a whole is Taiwan's fourth-largest trading partner, with total trade of tens of billions of US dollars every year.
    – Obie 2.0
    Aug 9 at 17:12

4 Answers 4

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If the world segues into another Cold War then it becomes a game of influence and alliances long term.

  • Credibility with allies is then crucial, else at-risk countries would quickly cut a deal if threatened.

    • Put it differently, had the US not fought the Korean War to a standstill and essentially rolled back North Korea's early gains, then the Cold War could have looked very different as other countries weighed their option to align with one side rather than the other.

    • Yet, Korea in the early 50s was very poor, much less significant than Taiwan is on the world stage nowadays.

  • Taiwan is a major source of semi-conductors at the latest technology cycle. Independent, that benefits the West. Subjugated, that benefits China (and puts the West in a similar situation as Europe is currently experiencing wrt Russian gas). The other producer, S Korea, being also threatened by China and liable to react if it sees Taiwan cut loose by the West.

  • Contrary to this question, the current status does not place an undue burden on the West, especially with the intentionally ambiguous commitments of the US. Taiwan purchases weapons for good money and could buy more if allowed to. And the West really isn't committed to doing anything to help Taiwan until the last minute.

  • Finally, an invaded Taiwan that turns into a Vietnam/Afghanistan style quagmire, though an unlikely scenario, could destabilize the CCP's grip on China. At the least, invading would show the world the CCP's true colors.

If one ignores any sentimental reasons why the West ought to support an established, vibrant, democracy, then one motivation for dropping support would be if we knew it would keep China as a benign, non-interventionist, power on the world stage * (possibly involving the US/West limiting their own interventionism in return). i.e. avoid said Cold War 2? Do we know that this would indeed be the result of betraying the aspirations of the Taiwanese people not to be ruled by China?

* China being benign and nice to its people internally is irrelevant to this answer.

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    Samsung is... not up to par to TSMC. As far as I know, their leading edge is a few years behind what TSMC is putting out now. I've also heard of some analysis that, strategically, it's nigh impossible for China to invade Taiwan without damaging or destroying at least a large part of TSMC's factories. So taking over Taiwan would benefit China only in the sense that it's home semiconductor manufacturing would have less competition.
    – jaskij
    Aug 9 at 15:21
  • On bigger stage, US and Japan are also major semiconductor manufacturers, although they mostly fell behind TSMC (Intel is still having scaling issues with their 7 process, while I'm not aware of any fab in Japan being close to using similar processes).
    – jaskij
    Aug 9 at 15:23
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    I'm not sure I agree with the assertion that China's home semiconductor manufacturing would have less competition if China were to take over Taiwan. As you noted, the kinds of semiconductors that China manufactures are vastly different (i.e. several generations behind) the kind that Taiwan primarily manufactures (TSMC is capable of 3, 5, and 7 nm process semiconductors). China's chips can only be used in lower-resolution electronics. They occupy different segments of the market
    – gloo
    Aug 9 at 17:33
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    "the current status does not place an undue burden on the West" a very large share of U.S. Navy and Marine Corps expenditures, and a not small share of U.S. Air Force expenditures, are driven by the prospects of this potential conflict.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 9 at 20:17
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    A common misconception is that 5nm or 7nm are a lot more than marketing terms for Semiconductors. They have no real connection with the transistor sizes. What is import is the Transistor gate pitch and the Transistor density. TSMC is lightyears ahead of Samsung in that regard. TSMC can fit about 1.5 times as many transistors on the same size board than Samsung can. Even Intel has higher density than Samsung. Samsungs "5nm" semiconductors are about 20% better than TSMCs "7nm" ones
    – SirHawrk
    Aug 10 at 7:31
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If like minded nations don't support each other they might eventually fall one after another. This might be a very long term consideration but probably has been proven many times in history that aggressive nations like Russia or potentially China do not get stopped easily and especially not by giving in. The idea would be that in the long term for example the freedom that US citizens enjoy is also defended in Ukraine or Taiwan at least partly. This argument can be misused to justify aggressive behavior by itself but surely a China including Taiwan that simply occupied it, is even more dangerous for the rest of the world than one without it. The alternative is some kind of constant erosion, Ukraine today, Taiwan tomorrow and so on that eventually might reach many others as well. People living in smaller nations, say Lithuania for example, probably understand that better.

To summarize: it's a together we are stronger notion. And indeed Taiwan brings a lot of capabilities in computer chips manufacturing to the table and indeed makes "the West" stronger.

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    Is this just Domino Theory?
    – Schwern
    Aug 9 at 16:22
  • Domino theory was proven correct. Only it was proven correct in the other direction, when a bunch of nations in south-east Asia started to move towards capitalism. A prime example being South Korea.
    – BillOnne
    Aug 9 at 16:40
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    @Schwern Maybe. I see Domino theory as more a local thing only affecting neighboring countries while this can hardly apply to Taiwan which doesn't really have neighbors. It's more a protect others and others will protect you as well. Do not and everyone will fight alone.
    – Trilarion
    Aug 9 at 19:39
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    @Trilarion I would term that Collective Defense, but it is predicated on the idea that Taiwan is merely China's next target. They historically have gobbled up weaker neighbors and currently have shown aggression in the South China Sea. Making that link would strengthen your answer, IMO.
    – Schwern
    Aug 10 at 3:08
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    @Schwern : yet it might have turned out differently, had the USA not protected South Vietnam at all.
    – vsz
    Aug 10 at 4:18
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In realpolitik, frustrating your opponents is a good thing, regardless of what their objectives are, as long as those objectives don't align with your own.

China is an opponent to the West. China wants to occupy Taiwan. There is no material advantage to the West if China occupies Taiwan. That's all there is to it.

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    Meh, this answer somewhat confuses realpolitik with zero-sum game. Realpolitik also involves a fair amount of "horse trading". (Not my DV, by the way.)
    – Fizz
    Aug 9 at 6:31
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    And one could even say that the zero-sum approach comes more from an idealist (either it's democracy or not, thus we defend every democracy) than from a realist position in this case. OTOH there are some realists like Mearsheimer who say the US' ultimate goal is to defeat China above all other considerations, and for them "bulwark Taiwan" is a worthwhile path as well.
    – Fizz
    Aug 9 at 6:51
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The US could park nukes in Taiwan, off the coast of China. That's pretty useful if it comes down to that.

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  • Do they really need it with their nuclear submarines?
    – Trilarion
    Aug 10 at 19:38

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