Taiwan is an independent nation – in its ambitions, its economy, its democracy. But many countries refuse to recognize it as a separate country, deferring to mainland China, which claims Taiwan as a possession and responds with threats when Taiwan goes its own way.
California shares aspects of this conundrum. Our state has the ambitions, economy, and democracy of a leading nation. But it remains very much a part of the United States, which responds with threats when California goes its own way.
Yes, Californians fervently hope that our current conflict with the American government is temporary. But since California’s differences with America predate President Donald Trump, our status as a halfway country will likely outlast him.
I spent last week in Taiwan, learning about being a smaller country in the shadow of a larger power. The challenges resemble those of California, and younger siblings everywhere. How do you defend against bullying big brother while also developing into a success, even a global model?
Of course, there are some differences. While Californians suffer legal and verbal attacks from the federal government, the Chinese government threatens to seize Taiwan by military force if it becomes too independent.
Still, Taiwan and California have much in common. Both are overachievers. California has the world’s sixth largest economy, though with just 40 million citizens, it ranks 35th among nation-states by population. Taiwan has the world’s 22nd largest economy, with 23 million people, making it 55th most populous worldwide.
Even in an era of rising nationalism, both Taiwan and California remain stubbornly internationalist, committed to free trade and immigration. Both see themselves as defenders of democratic values at odds with the increasingly authoritarian governments of their national big brothers.
That authoritarianism has inspired independence movements in Taiwan and California. Two former Taiwan presidents are campaigning for an independence referendum, and multiple ballot initiatives seek California independence. Both movements pose the same question: How much must we suffer from Beijing or Washington before enough is enough?
There are many Taiwanese answers.