Where is the most dangerous place in the world? According to the Economist, the answer might be Taiwan. This probably comes as a shock for anyone who has been to Taiwan, lived in Taiwan, or is Taiwanese! Is Taiwan really the most dangerous place in the world? Let’s discuss it on this episode of Thinking in English!
The most dangerous place on Earth (Economist Article)
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The headline of last week’s Economist magazine read “The most dangerous place on Earth.” Where do you think they were talking about? Was it war torn Afghanistan or Syria? How about authoritarian North Korea? Or Covid hit India? Or even the US after all of the police brutality and racism news stories? No, according to the Economist these are not the most dangerous places on Earth. Instead, on the front cover of the magazine was a picture of an island surrounded by Chinese and American military forces: that island is Taiwan.
I have to admit, I was slightly surprised to read that headline and see they were talking about Taiwan. If you’re a regular listener, you might know that I was living in Taiwan before, and at the beginning of, the pandemic, and that I have studied both the domestic and international politics of Taiwan. And my impression of Taiwan is the complete opposite of the headline – in fact, when I left Taiwan I would argue that I was leaving the safest place in the world. I was leaving a place with low crime and no pandemic, to return to a struggling UK! So what did the Economist mean when they wrote this article. Is Taiwan really the most dangerous place in the world?
I guess before I start the discussion I should put a disclaimer here. A close friend from Beijing once got angry at me because she said I was too “biased” towards Taiwan (I had just decided I didn’t want to work in China or the UK and instead chose to study in Taiwan). And to be honest, I probably am quite biased towards Taiwan. My time living there was incredibly enjoyable; Taiwanese people are very friendly, and the island is beautiful! However, I do understand that Taiwan can be a controversial topic for some people. For those of you who don’t know, Taiwan is an island of about 24 million people, 160 km off the coast of China. Taiwan is claimed by China with the Beijing government insisting there is only one China, but has its own independent government, economy, and military. This episode is not really interested in who should control Taiwan or whether Taiwan is a country or not, but whenever you talk about Taiwan these issues are always important! I’ll try my best to remain neutral, but if you disagree with anything I say please reach out to let me know!
So, is Taiwan really the most dangerous place in the world? The main focus of the Economist article is on the relationship between China, Taiwan, and the USA. For the last 50 or so years, the USA has sat on the fence, in the middle of the argument. They have agreed with China’s belief that there is only one China, but at the same they have protected Taiwan from Chinese interference! This might be changing, however.
The United States is beginning to fear that it may no longer be able to stop China from seizing Taiwan by force. The head of America’s Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Phil Davidson told the US Congress in March that he was worried about China attacking Taiwan as soon as 2027. War would be a catastrophe for the region, and not just because of the destruction in Taiwan and the risk of fighting between two nuclear powers. Another catastrophe would be economic. Taiwan is incredibly important economically, especially as one of the biggest producers of semiconductors and computer chips. One Taiwanese company, TSMC, creates 84% of the world’s most advanced computer chips; war would destroy the electronics and technology industry in every country in the world. Taiwan is so far ahead of other countries in this industry that it could take decades for American and China to catch up!
Another catastrophe would be the rivalry between China and America. Although the United States is not guaranteed to defend Taiwan, a Chinese attack would be a test of America’s military power, and its diplomatic and political resolve. If the USA did not protect, China would overnight become the dominant power in Asia. In addition, America’s allies around the world would know that they could not count on it.
Why is the US so concerned about China and Taiwan now? After all, China has been talking about reclaiming Taiwan since the 1940s! Well, in the words of the Economist, “The Chinese navy has launched 90 major ships and submarines in the past five years, four to five times as many as America has in the western Pacific. China builds over 100 advanced fighter planes each year; it has deployed space weapons and is bristling with precision missiles that can hit Taiwan, us Navy vessels and American bases in Japan, South Korea and Guam.” China is now a real rival to America’s military power.
Some American experts believe that China’s military superiority may tempt China into using force against Taiwan, just because it can. China has destroyed the one country two systems idea that they used in Hong Kong, and demonstrated to the Taiwanese that they will never be able to keep their democracy if they unify. In recent year, China has also clearly become more authoritarian and nationalistic. Nobody can really know what the Chinese leadership intends to do today, let alone what he or his successor may want in the future. If anything, China’s impatience is likely to grow.
On the other hand, China has not even begun to prepare his people for a war. Not just any war, but a war against one of the biggest and best trained militaries in the world. China also is building its reputation on providing stability and wealth amongst its allies – war would damage all of this! The USA and other powerful countries like Japan and South Korea would probably help Taiwan prepare and defend itself. A powerful China is not good for those countries, and China is probably not going to attack if the USA is in the way. But, as with any conflict, sometimes emotions and anger can make countries do crazy things!
So, the Economist article was based on Taiwan’s relationship with China and the USA. They argue that Taiwan is the most dangerous place in the world because they are at risk of war with China at any time.
But, for the Taiwanese people, their country probably doesn’t seem too dangerous! Taiwanese President Tsai Ing Wen responded to the Economist on Twitter, by saying “Taiwan stands on the front lines of democracy worldwide. As long as the people of Taiwan remain united and uphold our core values while responding prudently to regional developments, we can overcome the challenges posed by authoritarian expansion.”
Taiwan has been the most successful place in the world at responding to the COVID 19 pandemic – there have only been 12 deaths since the beginning. Taiwan’s economy is growing stronger than most countries in the world. Many protesters and activists have left Hong Kong to live in Taiwan, and news organisations and companies have relocated from China to Taiwan. Taiwan also is a successful and vibrant democracy, and was even ranked above many western democracies in the most recent Freedom House World Freedom report (I made an episode about this if you are interested!). People on Twitter have said that Taiwan is only dangerous for people who want to lose weight because the food is so delicious you will eat too much!
Taiwan doesn’t seem too dangerous to me. To be honest, I would have rather stayed in Taiwan for the last year instead of returning to the UK! It seems like the most dangerous place on earth might also be the safest place on earth. I used to say something similar when I was in Japan – I never felt in danger from disease or crime in that country, but there was always the risk of earthquakes, volcanos, tsunamis, typhoons, and heatwaves. Taiwan is similar I guess. It is both safe and dangerous.
On this episode of Thinking in English, I have responded to the Economist article calling Taiwan the most dangerous place on Earth. On the one hand, Taiwan is always at risk of violence and attacks from China. A war would be a catastrophe: a catastrophe for Taiwan, for China, for the USA, for the Asian region, and for the world economy. On the other hand, Taiwan is a successful democracy, which stopped the pandemic in its tracks, and has a very low crime rate. Is Taiwan really more dangerous that places actually at war now, like Syria or Afghanistan? Is it more dangerous than COVID hit countries like India or Brazil? Is it more dangerous than a dictatorship like North Korea? Is it more dangerous than a place at risk of earthquakes or natural disasters? I would say no, it is not the most dangerous place in the world. What do you think?