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March 23, 2005

Some Damn Fool Thing in the Strait of Taiwan

I was reading the always-incisive (though sometimes mad) Niall Ferguson's analogy of Taiwan today to Belgium in 1914:

t r u t h o u t - Niall Ferguson | Sinking Globalization: It is true that the Chinese have no obvious incentive to pick a fight with the United States. But China's ambitions with respect to Taiwan are not about to disappear just because Beijing owns a stack of U.S. Treasury bonds. On the contrary, in the event of an economic crisis, China might be sorely tempted to play the nationalist card by threatening to take over its errant province. Would the United States really be willing to fight China over Taiwan, as it has pledged in the past to do? And what would happen if the Chinese authorities flexed their new financial muscles by dumping U.S. bonds on the world market? To the historian, Taiwan looks somewhat like the Belgium of old: a seemingly inconsequential country over which empires end up fighting to the death...

Scary. Deservedly scary. But let me transport Niall's paragraph back in time 150 years, replacing "Taiwan" with "Canada":

It is true that the Americans have no obvious incentive to pick a fight with the British Empire. But America's ambitions with respect to Canada are not about to disappear just because Washington knows that Lancashire needs to buy its cotton. On the contrary, in the event of an economic crisis, America might be sorely tempted to play the nationalist card by threatening to take over its errant province. Would the British Empire really be willing to fight America over Canada, as it has pledged in the past to do? And what would happen if the American authorities flexed their new economic muscles by embargoing cotton exports?...

A hundred and fifty years ago it was our "manifest destiny" to own the entire North American continent. Today the desire to annex Canada is limited to us left-of-center Democrats desperate to turn the marginal voter from a guy outside of Nashville with a hound dog to a guy in suburban Toronto with a Greenpeace card. May an analogous process take place between China and Taiwan.

Posted by DeLong at March 23, 2005 01:11 PM