The Yale Daily news recently published an op-ed titled “Avenge Ukraine by protecting Taiwan,” written by Ari Berke. The piece may be well-intentioned in advocating for the protection of Taiwan, but it is dangerously detached from reality. Having spent three months in Taiwan and its outlying islands, we strongly oppose the piece’s tone and assertions. The actions suggested in the article will beget much more harm than good for the Taiwanese people.
Taiwan is winning in the status quo. The country is free, peaceful and thriving. Most importantly, the people of Taiwan remain resilient in the face of aggression from China — appetite for reunification decreases every year. Even during the Chinese military exercises that followed United States Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, normal life went on without disruption or panic. Such stoic calmness reflects the hardiness of the Taiwanese people as well as the vitality of the status quo.
Enter Ari Berke’s op-ed, a smattering of provocative and flippant recommendations that demonstrates a snide disrespect for the gravity of the situation and Taiwan’s right to choose its own destiny — a right enshrined in the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. He calls for the “establishment of a formal [American] embassy in Taiwan,” a sure-fire spark for conflict. His particularly egregious pronouncement that “China can shift the goalposts faster than you can say Tiananmen Square” is blatantly facetious in its mocking treatment of the tragic events of 1989.
Yet, if Berke believes China is so eager to shift the goalposts, why does he propose giving them so many opportunities to do so? Pelosi’s visit — which Berke paints paradoxically as both an insignificant affront to the Chinese government while, simultaneously, crucial for Taiwan’s security — is case in point. The Speaker’s plane landed in Taiwan and took off in a span of 18 hours. The impression of her visit quickly faded. Taiwanese media and public discourse moved on in a matter of days. In the wake of Pelosi’s visit, the PRC leapt at a golden opportunity to shift the goalposts. The Taiwanese government and people now confront a new daily reality of increased air incursions, threats and violations of Taiwanese sovereignty. The so-called “median line” no longer exists. Unilateral and truculent actions that wantonly ignore the sensitivity of this issue, like those proposed by Berke, will only further imperil Taiwan’s future.
Fortunately, there is much Yalies can do to support Taiwan and preserve peace without endorsing the myopia of bellicose diplomacy and performative rallies. Yale’s Richard U. Light Fellowship provides generous funding for language study abroad programs in Taiwan. There are additional government-sponsored fellowships, like Taiwan’s Huayu Enrichment Scholarship and the United States’ Boren Fellowship and Critical Language Scholarship. Visa-free entry into Taiwan was recently reinstated for citizens of more than 50 countries, including the United States. These cross-cultural interactions promote closer bilateral ties and a clearer understanding of Taiwan for American students. Experience in Taiwan will show anyone with an open mind that the country is far different from Mainland China, but neither is it a tool for American hegemony.
The Yale administration must also endeavor to supply more classes on China and Taiwan, as currently, there is an embarrassing dearth of class offerings that teach Chinese and Taiwanese history and politics in any meaningful depth. Professor Timothy Snyder’s new class on Ukrainian history is an exemplar of how Yale can relevantly respond to crises and contentions: by educating. Most importantly, we must remember — as Berke’s op-ed does, in fact, point out — that Yale is listened to. Yalies go on to become leaders and advisors in both the public and private sector. There is even an open line of dialogue between Yale’s top China centers and Taiwanese leadership. Many of us will inevitably face real-world challenges pertaining to Taiwan in our chosen careers and futures. When such a time comes, we must be well-informed to avoid making brash and bumbling assertions.
Berke’s hawkish rhetoric does not exist in a vacuum. Rather, it has found eager adherents among some students at Yale and in the upper echelons of the United States government. Be skeptical of pundits who have never been to Taiwan, do not study Chinese language and culture and have no ties, other than defense contracts, to the island — yet claim to champion its security under the guise of friendship and arrogant recourse to the supremacy of “Western emotions.” Taiwan is a prosperous, vibrant democracy, not a sandbox to unleash the “righteous anger of the American people.”
“Light and Truth” has been the motto of Yale University for 320 years. It is long overdue that the school shed more light on Taiwan and help students discover the truth about its history and current affairs, lest voices like Berke’s be made authoritative by default.
Taiwan should not be used as a means to “avenge Ukraine.” Don’t make an entirely avoidable conflict inevitable.
LUCAS MINER ’24 is a junior in Silliman majoring in History and Global Affairs.
ANDREW DEWEESE ’24 is a junior in Pierson majoring in Classics and History.