The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion It’s time the free world commits to the defense of Taiwan

A flag-lowering ceremony takes place at Liberty Square on Aug. 9 in Taipei, Taiwan. (Annabelle Chih/Getty Images)

Lin Fei-fan is the deputy secretary general of the governing Democratic Progressive Party of Taiwan.

China’s bellicose response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) historic visit to Taiwan proves the paramount necessity for the international community to be vocal about its support for Taiwan — now more than ever.

Since Pelosi’s visit, China has escalated tensions through unprecedented and disproportionate military actions, economic coercion and diplomatic sanctions. The shift is severe enough that some analysts have called it the most dangerous development in the Taiwan Strait since the 1996 missile crisis.

In Taiwan, threats from China have been a part of daily life for decades. But at this moment, we face a deeper, existential question: Can the world really afford to lose Taiwan, an integral member of the world’s liberal democratic order?

After Xi Jinping took power in 2012, China made a major national shift from Deng Xiaoping’s “hide your strength, bide your time” approach to a new strategy that actively and aggressively pursues the “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” International policies such as the Belt and Road Initiative and debt diplomacy have extended China’s influence in developing countries. Internally, the Chinese Communist Party has cracked down on domestic rights protection and democratic movements, including those in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

Cross-strait policy under Xi is no exception to the emboldened changes in China’s national strategy. China has worked incessantly to curb Taiwan’s development as a sovereign nation and undermine its democratic system, relentlessly promoting unification and beginning to set an internal timetable for doing so — a move made obvious in 2019 when Xi officially proposed the “one country, two systems” model for Taiwan following its annexation.

This clear strategic shift is exactly why the United States and its allies must begin to rethink their approach toward China. For Taiwan, the eventuality of Chinese aggression is no longer a “what-if” scenario — the more important question is whether the international community will stand with Taiwan as we fight to defend our way of life.

China’s military capacity and its potential expansionist timeline are indubitably major threats to the world order, especially after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But there is a lot that Taiwan and the global community can do to harness international support and make Beijing aware of the heavy price it would pay in choosing to take Taiwan by force.

The world is generally aware of Taiwan’s critical geopolitical role due to its prevalence in the semiconductor supply chain and its strategic location. But even more important, Taiwan is a beacon of democratic achievement and a regional pillar of peace.

The recent history of Taiwan, one of the few emerging democracies in Asia, is a testament to the social capacity for the region to engage in democratic transitions without military coups or violent revolutions. Taiwan is the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, boasts one of the most comprehensive universal health-care systems in the world, and is among one of the few nations to commit to global climate governance despite being excluded from international organizations that are designed to foster global cooperation on these key sociopolitical issues.

Taiwan is by no means enthusiastic about the prospect of a war, but we’re also unwilling to back down in the face of threats. Recent polls show that more than 70 percent of the Taiwanese people — across varying socioeconomic backgrounds — are willing to defend Taiwan in the event of an attack. Diplomatic support bolsters our existing commitment to national defense by giving our people a greater assurance that they are not isolated from the international system, and their choice to defend democracy will not be in vain.

This is why the Taiwanese people welcomed Pelosi’s choice to visit Taiwan. As she expressed, the world is facing a choice between autocracy and democracy. The United States, Taiwan and our democratic allies must not give in.

I was born in Taiwan after martial law had already ended; I’m part of a generation lucky to have grown up in a society undergoing democratic transformation, rather than the authoritarian rule experienced by our parents. My generation is bound together by a collective identity forged on the basis of freedom of expression and the ability to shape our own future. When China tried to intimidate Taiwan with a restrictive economic deal eight years ago, we organized the Sunflower Movement— and changed the trajectory of our nation. We made Taiwan prioritize the voices of young people concerned about the future of democracy rather than the might of corporations backed by autocratic powers.

Taiwan has a demonstrated and tenacious democratic spirit that is magnified in the face of threats to our way of life. We call on the international community to see us as a trusted ally and country worthy of the world’s collective defense.