Afghanistan was US President Joe Biden’s first experience of crisis management as the nation’s leader.
He has defended himself against criticism from former US president Donald Trump and others, and in response to questions about Chinese propaganda statements that Taiwan cannot count on the US, he was quick to reply that the situation in Afghanistan is extremely different from Taiwan, South Korea and NATO, and cannot be compared.
Citing Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, Biden said that if someone invades or takes action against a NATO ally, the US would respond, and that the same applies to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
Biden’s solemn statement was seen by some people in Washington think tanks as a clear misstatement, and by others as a shift toward strategic clarity. The US Department of State said that US policy toward Taiwan has not changed and Beijing believes Biden was just “making casual remarks.”
In fact, it will take time for any possible association between Afghanistan and Taiwan to emerge. A more stable interpretation would be to regard the statement as an inclination rather than a specific pointer.
The core of Biden’s statement is that NATO, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are equally important to US interests. When US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan equated the commitment to Taiwan with the commitment to Israel, that was the first time Washington provided a sign of its intent.
The US approaches to Afghanistan and Israel cannot be compared. Trump in effect told Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) not to take any actions against Taiwan, despite knowing Xi’s wishes to the contrary. Biden has gone further, warning Xi that if there is an invasion, the US would respond. They are on the same track, and Biden has given warning that he is not shifting in the opposite direction.
Over the past five years, changes around the world have rippled through Taiwan. Relations between Taiwan and Lithuania have been improving, and Washington is taking action to support Lithuania as it is facing a “compound threat” from China.
With the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, Washington has gathered more resources to deal with the Chinese challenge. This is not only is an opportunity for Taiwan, but also poses a challenge.
Following the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the overall strategy is shifting toward the Indo-Pacific region. This trend in policy thinking foreshadows the intensification of conflict between the US and China rather than cooling it down. These interactions between external forces are issues that require further thought by Taiwan’s 23.5 million people.
The view that today’s Afghanistan is tomorrow’s Taiwan is intended to challenge the mutual trust between Taiwan and the US. Despite this, it is still worth considering why Afghans, if they knew that this would happen, did not try to prevent the collapse and disintegration that occurred when the US left by protecting themselves and modernizing the nation’s politics, economy, military, education, culture and beliefs, and then seek help from others.
This is not what they did and as a result, the Taliban, which lost power 20 years ago, was the only choice.
Taiwan, on the contrary, is like a ship sailing through a typhoon. First it was kicked out of the UN in favor of the “communist bandits” in 1971, and then suffered a blow when the US established diplomatic relations with the “bandits” in 1979. Fortunately, over the past 40 years, the government and public have refused to rely on other nations and give up on themselves.
The nation has moved forward from a small tiger economy through democratic reform and the development of technology, industry, public health and medical care, to defending the nation’s sovereignty and making Taiwan invincible. Today, even though Chinese bullying and the threat of annexation by military force has become the norm, Taiwan is showing increasing resilience.
Over the past 40 years, Taiwan’s industry, economy, technology and finance have brought peace and happiness to the public. With universal education, an open society, cultural tolerance and freedom of speech, creativity has been given free rein.
Taiwan has turned its back on the authoritarian era and has experienced several peaceful government transitions. Although there contine to be disputes between the government and the opposition, a public-centric system has made Taiwan immune to coups and civil wars.
In particular, Taiwan’s ostracism by international organizations has not prevented it from providing assistance to nations in need, from the provisions donated from early farming and medical progress, to last year’s “mask diplomacy,” forming a “cycle of virtue.” Its efforts have benefited Taiwanese and others, and continue to advance the interests of other nations.
As Taiwan has been able to keep the COVID-19 pandemic largely at bay, it has also kept the global technology supply chain from breaking. As the leading democracy in the Indo-Pacific region, Taiwan is firmly placed at the forefront of democracy against dictatorship.
Taiwan is a success story with a high level of civil societal participation. Allowing the success to continue and becoming a nation on equal terms in the global village is not only the vision of Taiwanese, it is also good for the international community.
To this end, Taiwan must respond to external uncertainties by doing what it can to protect national security and technology secrets, bring about an environmentally friendly energy transformation, implement water management in response to climate change, carry out judicial reform to enhance social justice, improve the military and national defense equipment, including the domestic production of submarines, and, of course, improve industrial competitiveness to support these continuous advances.
Manufacturing domestic COVID-19 vaccines and improving national autonomy is not only about protecting public health, but also about helping other nations and preventing China from using the pandemic as part of its ambitions to annex Taiwan.
If this can be done, Taiwan should not meet the fate of Afghanistan. By the same reasoning, the future of Afghanistan depends on more than assistance from the international community; its people still hold the key to making fundamental changes.
As Kabul fell, the former mayor of the conservative town of Maidan Shar, Zarifa Ghafari — one of the first women to hold such a role in Afghanistan — said: “I can only sit here and wait for them to come. No one can help me and my family. Thousands of families have come to Kabul from all over Afghanistan and now that even Kabul has fallen, these families have to go back to their homes and accept that they are living under the shadow of the Taliban’s reign of terror.”
A nation’s history cannot be replicated, but the Taiwanese experience shows that outsiders cannot change Afghanistan’s future. Afghans must change their nation from within and decide their own fate.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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