Yes, I am Taiwanese American, but I regret to inform you that I will not take sides on the question of whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was right to visit Taiwan last week.
All of my extended family lives there and I have many more knowledgeable relatives to answer to. Parents who, when I proudly display the Mandarin I polished as a journalist in the San Gabriel Valley, pat me on the head like I’m a particularly smart talking dog. Parents who take me to all the delicious restaurants, who might stop by if they didn’t like my thoughts on cross-strait politics.
So the strongest opinion I can offer about this week of Taiwan debates is this: please don’t spoil this for me.
Taiwan is a beautiful island that I have visited almost every year since I was a child.
Politics has always been a sensitive subject, and the divide is generational. All my cousins believe in Taiwanese identity and independence, and my aunts and uncles generally vote for the Kuomintang party, which has fostered closer relations with China.
My last visit to Taiwan was shortly after Tsai Ing-wen was elected president. And dissatisfaction with the results dominated the conversation at our Lunar New Year dinner.
A debate erupted among adults over why Tsai, who quietly acted to secure Taiwan’s sovereignty, won. A younger parent was called in to explain his vote. After a few half-hearted protests, he read the play and hastily retreated up the stairs.
My strategy during these debates is similar. I pretend not to hear anything, sit there and eat my food.
So I found it strange to see so many of us getting into the debate about Pelosi’s visit and the issue of Taiwan sovereignty.
Do I have to thank Pelosi’s detractors, who seem to have developed deep concern for Taiwan’s sovereignty overnight?
Or should I be grateful to Pelosi, who made the trip without coordinating with the Biden administration?
And I’m sure everyone who participates in this debate has first familiarized themselves with the long history of political conflict in the Taiwan Strait.
Some commentators are already calling this the fourth Taiwan Strait crisis. The first Taiwan Strait Crisis in the 1950s is what brought my family to America.
Although that’s not the story I was told growing up. Like most immigrant parents, my father told me that he came to America so that his children would have a better life.
But the real story is that my grandfather asked my father to go to America and start a new life for the family as protection against the possibility of war.
Conflict seemed inevitable and my family feared they would have to flee the war.
These are the messy parts we leave out in the simplistic narratives we use to explain immigration. The truth is, immigrants aren’t drawn here simply by their admiration for America — they’re fleeing the danger and instability in which the United States has more often played a role.
Illegal American covert intelligence operations have destabilized Central and South American governments, and these actions are the ultimate cause of the border immigration crisis. The wars of imperialism in Vietnam and Korea have destroyed homes and created hundreds of thousands of refugees. Immigrants to America, whether we call them refugees or not, are fleeing existential threats.
So I’m too cynical to believe that this latest superpower clash is about democracy or culture.
Pelosi has everything to gain politically by supporting Taiwan in such a public way, but photo opportunities with the Taiwanese president could come at a steep price. Signaling support is not the same as promising to come to Taiwan’s aid in the event of Chinese military action.
Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, needs support to seek an unprecedented third term as president of the Communist Party of China, and he must take a tough stance on Taiwan to achieve that.
Taiwan is the world’s largest producer of microchips, and its location off the coast of China is an invaluable strategic asset for the United States and China. The island of 23 million people is the string of a giant tug of war stretching across the South China Sea.
When you see Taiwan only in terms of political and strategic value, the Taiwanese people lose out.
The Taiwan Strait crises, when summed up, are essentially a series of heated rhetoric leading to heated political action, with the dangerous consequences of real conflict.
Behind this compelling global drama of clashing countries and ideologies are families like mine trying to survive. The eldest sons who cannot be at their father’s deathbed. Daughters who can never take care of their aging mothers. Immigrants who are forever strangers in their new home and can no longer recognize their country of origin.
So here’s what I’m asking. In a world where instant and absolute certainty has become such a tradable commodity, dare to be uncertain.
Because with uncertainty comes the will to learn. And that’s the only way these questions move forward.
So procrastinate, please, just a little. Wavering, procrastinating, whatever you need to do. Maybe waffle a bit.
Because I don’t know who is being helped by this rush to judgement. It’s definitely not the Taiwanese people.