Musk’s Mistake: Why Taiwan is Not Part of China and Why It Matters

Elon Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur and founder of Tesla, SpaceX, and X/Twitter, has recently sparked controversy by claiming that he understands China well and that Taiwan is an integral part of China that is arbitrarily not part of China. He also blamed the US for blocking any sort of reunification effort between China and Taiwan and predicted that China will use force to incorporate Taiwan in the near future. His remarks have drawn criticism from Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which called him out on X/Twitter and defended Taiwan’s sovereignty and dignity. In this article, I will analyze Musk’s statement from a historical, political, and economic perspective and argue that it is not only factually inaccurate but also morally irresponsible.

First of all, Musk’s comparison of Taiwan to Hawaii is flawed and misleading. Hawaii is a US state that was annexed by the US in 1898 after a coup d’état by American businessmen and missionaries against the Hawaiian monarchy. Hawaii’s annexation was opposed by many native Hawaiians who wanted to preserve their culture and autonomy, but they were eventually overruled by the US Congress. Hawaii became a state in 1959 after a referendum in which most residents voted in favor of statehood. Hawaii’s status as a US state is not contested by any other country or international organization.

Taiwan, on the other hand, is a self-governing island that has never been ruled by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which was established in 1949 after the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) won the civil war against the Kuomintang (KMT) or the Nationalist Party. The KMT fled to Taiwan and established the Republic of China (ROC) as a rival government to the PRC. The ROC claimed to be the sole legitimate representative of China, while the PRC claimed to be the successor of China and regarded Taiwan as a renegade province. For decades, both sides maintained a fragile status quo of mutual non-recognition and military confrontation.

However, since the late 1980s, Taiwan has undergone a remarkable democratic transition and social transformation. The ROC lifted martial law, allowed multi-party elections, abolished the temporary provisions that gave the president emergency powers, and amended the constitution to reflect Taiwan’s reality as a sovereign state. The ROC also changed its official name to Taiwan in some international contexts and adopted a new national anthem and flag that emphasized its distinct identity from China. Taiwan’s people have developed a strong sense of national pride and civic participation, as well as a vibrant civil society and culture. According to a recent survey by the Election Study Center at National Chengchi University, more than 80% of Taiwanese identify themselves as Taiwanese only or Taiwanese and Chinese, while less than 4% identify themselves as Chinese only1.

Taiwan’s status as a de facto independent state is not arbitrary but based on its historical experience, democratic development, and popular will. Taiwan’s sovereignty is also supported by international law and practice. The PRC has never exercised effective control over Taiwan, nor has it obtained Taiwan’s consent to be part of China. The PRC’s claim to Taiwan is based on the Cairo Declaration of 1943 and the Potsdam Declaration of 1945, which stated that Japan should return Taiwan to China after World War II. However, these declarations were not legally binding treaties but political statements that did not specify which government should receive Taiwan. Moreover, the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951, which formally ended the war between Japan and the Allied Powers, did not transfer Taiwan’s sovereignty to any country but left its future status undetermined. Therefore, Taiwan’s legal status remains unresolved until today.

Furthermore, Musk’s blame on the US for blocking China’s reunification effort with Taiwan is unfounded and unfair. The US has played a crucial role in maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait since 1950 when President Harry Truman ordered the US Seventh Fleet to prevent any attack on Taiwan by either side of the civil war. The US also signed a mutual defense treaty with Taiwan in 1954 to deter any invasion by China. Although the US switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, it did not abandon its commitment to Taiwan’s security and welfare. The US Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) in 1979 to provide for continued commercial, cultural, and other relations with Taiwan and to make available defensive arms and services to Taiwan. The TRA also stated that it is US policy to preserve and promote extensive, close, and friendly relations with Taiwan; to consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means as a threat to peace and security in the region; and to maintain the capacity to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security or social or economic system of Taiwan2.

The US has upheld its obligations under the TRA for more than four decades by providing Taiwan with various forms of assistance, including arms sales, diplomatic support, economic cooperation, and cultural exchange. The US has also maintained unofficial contacts and communication with Taiwan’s government and people through the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), which serves as the de facto embassy of the US in Taiwan. The US has also encouraged dialogue and reconciliation between China and Taiwan based on the principle of peaceful resolution of differences and respect for the wishes of the people on both sides. The US has not interfered with Taiwan’s internal affairs or imposed any solution on Taiwan’s future status. The US has respected Taiwan’s democracy and supported Taiwan’s participation in international organizations and activities. The US has also opposed any unilateral change of the status quo by either side by force or coercion.

Therefore, Musk’s accusation that the US has stopped any sort of reunification effort between China and Taiwan is baseless and biased. The US has not prevented China and Taiwan from resolving their differences through peaceful means, but rather has facilitated such a process by providing security guarantees and political incentives for both sides. The US has also respected the right of the people of Taiwan to determine their own future without external pressure or intimidation. The US has not taken sides in the cross-strait dispute, but rather has supported a peaceful and stable cross-strait relationship that benefits both sides and the region.

Finally, Musk’s prediction that China will use force to incorporate Taiwan in the near future is not only alarming but also irresponsible. China has indeed increased its military capabilities and activities in the region, especially since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012. China has modernized its navy, air force, missile force, cyber force, and space force to enhance its ability to project power and deter or defeat potential adversaries. China has also intensified its military exercises, patrols, incursions, and provocations around Taiwan to test Taiwan’s defenses and undermine its morale. China has also stepped up its political, economic, diplomatic, and psychological pressure on Taiwan to isolate it from the international community and erode its will to resist. China has also intensified its propaganda, disinformation, infiltration, and subversion campaigns to influence Taiwan’s public opinion and elections.

However, China’s use of force against Taiwan is not inevitable or imminent. China still faces significant challenges and risks in launching a full-scale invasion or blockade of Taiwan. China’s military still lacks some key capabilities and experiences to conduct such a complex and costly operation across the strait. China also faces strong opposition and resistance from Taiwan’s military and people, who are determined to defend their homeland and democracy. China also faces uncertainty and unpredictability from the US and other countries, who may intervene or support Taiwan in case of a conflict. China also faces serious consequences and repercussions for its own security, stability, development, and reputation if it resorts to violence against Taiwan.

Therefore, Musk’s suggestion that China will use force to incorporate Taiwan in the near future is not only unrealistic but also reckless. It may create a self-fulfilling prophecy or a fatal miscalculation that could lead to a catastrophic war that no one wants or wins. It may also embolden China’s hardliners or nationalists who may push for a more aggressive or assertive policy toward Taiwan. It may also undermine China’s moderates or reformers who may seek a more cooperative or constructive relationship with Taiwan. It may also discourage dialogue or engagement between China and Taiwan that may reduce tensions or increase trust across the strait.

In conclusion, Musk’s statement that Taiwan is part of China is not only factually inaccurate but also morally irresponsible. It ignores Taiwan’s history, democracy, and identity; it violates Taiwan’s sovereignty and dignity; it misrepresents the US’s role and policy; it provokes China’s hostility and aggression; and it endangers peace and stability in the region. Musk should retract his statement and apologize to Taiwan’s government and people for his ignorance and arrogance. Musk should also refrain from making any further comments on sensitive political issues that he does not understand well or care about deeply. Musk should focus on his own business and innovation rather than meddling with other countries’ affairs and destiny.

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