“We suggest that President Marcos read more books to properly understand the ins and outs of the Taiwan issue, so as to draw the right conclusions.” That was friendly advice, gently offered by a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines. The spokesman was admonishing President Marcos for making a congratulatory phone call to the president-elect of Taiwan, Lai Ching-te. The call had angered China so much that its leaders cautioned President Marcos “not to play with fire.”
This furious reaction to the laudatory phone call is reminiscent of China’s aggressive response to former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August last year. In that instance, President Xi Jinping of China warned that “Those who play with fire will perish by it.”
As Marcos’s reading assignment shows, Chinese leaders have a good sense of humor. But on the Taiwan issue, they are often quite belligerent. In the months leading up to the presidential elections, the Chinese authorities repeatedly warned the people of Taiwan that voting for Ching-te, the most pro-independence of the three candidates, would risk war with the mainland. By ignoring those threats, the Taiwanese again confirmed their strong desire for self-determination.
The overwhelming majority of countries around the world, including the U.S. and most of its allies, adhere to the one-China principle, which views Taiwan as part of China. A September 2023 poll conducted by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation showed that 48.9% of Taiwanese are in favor of the island becoming fully independent, with 26.9% preferring the “status quo” and 11.8% supporting unification with China.
Although nearly half of the population desires independence, there is a general sense, both inside and outside Taiwan, that maintaining the status quo is the best option, at least for the foreseeable future.
What is also clear is that the Taiwanese do not want to surrender their cherished democratic freedoms. They saw what happened to Hong Kongers during their 2019 pro-democracy protests, and how life has changed in the administrative region since then. Not many people in Taiwan want to be under the thumb of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
I have observed over a long period of time that around the world, socialism’s most vocal proponents are almost always people who have never lived under its rule—and likely never will. Those who most strongly abhor the ideology tend to be people who have actually experienced it in practice.
Life in capitalist societies can unquestionably be quite harsh. Extreme inequality, high incidence of poverty, homelessness, lack of health care for the poor, and myriad insecurities, make life brutally difficult for millions of people. These highly negative features of capitalist societies are well documented, but people from everywhere flock to them anyway. For whatever reason, few want to migrate to the advertised utopias.
Socialist societies are never as egalitarian and stress-free as they are frequently portrayed to be. At its peak in the early 1980s, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) had about 19 million members, representing approximately 7% of the country’s population. At the end of 2022, the CCP had around 98 million members, constituting 6.9% of China’s population.
Card-carrying members of the communist parties in both countries have always enjoyed privileges that non-members do not. Members often get the best jobs, have easier access to elite institutions, get better housing, food and other necessities of life. During my six-year stay in the Soviet Union from the mid-1980s to early 1990s, I had thousands of conversations with ordinary Soviets, both members and non-members of the CPSU. The non-members, particularly those from ethnic-minority groups, griped constantly about all manner of issues. Many said they felt like second-class citizens. Some of their complaints were in many ways quite similar to those that I have heard from underprivileged Americans over the nearly thirty-two years that I have lived in the U.S.
Within those exclusive party organizations, there is always fierce competition for the top jobs and luxuries. Greed, corruption, nepotism, and all the other vices normally associated with capitalist societies, are quite prevalent in socialist ones, too. The difference is that in socialist societies, the bosses have total control over information flow so they are able to hide their dirty linen in ways that their capitalist counterparts cannot.
Capitalism has many drawbacks, and I often wish that there were easy ways to fix them. Unfortunately, there aren’t. What I do know is that socialism is not the answer to my prayers. It may be a neat concept on paper, but human beings still have to operate whatever system is built on that ideological foundation. That is where the problem lies. Real world experience has taught me that most likely, even Heaven would quickly become a lot less idyllic than it currently sounds if we humans were put in charge of it.
I count myself lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to see both socialism and capitalism in practice. That invaluable exposure helps free me from the unnecessary distractions of wishful thinking.
Regardless of what adherents of socialism say, the resistance to it from the vast majority of ordinary citizens in places like Taiwan, Hong Kong, Venezuela and elsewhere demonstrates that it is not an ideology that much of the world is in love with. It is never a good sign when extreme coercion has to be used to sell something.