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Opinion: The problem of seeing Taiwan only in terms of its political value

Yes, I am Taiwanese American, but I regret to inform you that I will not be taking a side on whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was right to visit Taiwan last week.

My entire extended family lives there, and I have many better-informed relatives to answer to. Relatives who, when I proudly display the Mandarin I have polished as a reporter in the San Gabriel Valley, pat me on the head like I’m a particularly intelligent talking dog. Relatives who take me to all the delicious places to eat, who might stop if they didn’t like my thoughts on cross-strait politics.

So the strongest opinion I can offer about this week of debates over Taiwan is this: Please, don’t mess this up for me.

Taiwan is a beautiful island that I have been visiting nearly every year since I was a child.

Politics has always been a sensitive subject, and the divide is generational. All my cousins believe in Taiwanese identity and independence, and my aunts and uncles usually vote for the Kuomintang party, which has favored closer relations with China.

Some commentators are already calling this the fourth Taiwan Strait crisis. The first Taiwan Strait crisis, in the 1950s, is what brought my family to America.

Though that’s not the story I was told growing up. Like most immigrant parents, my dad told me that he came to America so that his children could have a better life.

But the real story is that my grandfather instructed my father to go to America and start a new life for the family as a hedge against the possibility of war.

Conflict seemed inevitable, and my family was concerned that they would have to flee from war.

These are the messy parts we leave out of the simplistic narratives we use to explain immigration. The truth is that immigrants are not simply lured here by their admiration for America — they are running from danger and instability that more often than not, the U.S. has played a hand in.

Covert illegal American intelligence operations destabilized governments across Central and South America, and those actions are the ultimate cause of the immigration crisis at the border. Immigrants to America, whether we call them refugees or not, are fleeing from existential threats.

So I am too cynical to believe that this latest clash between superpowers is about democracy or culture.

Taiwan is the world’s most important producer of microchips, and its location just off the coast of China is an invaluable strategic asset for both the U.S. and China.

When we can see Taiwan only in terms of its political and strategic value, Taiwan’s people lose.

Taiwan Strait crises, when you boil them down, are essentially a series of overheated discourses leading to overheated political actions, with the dangerous consequences of real conflict.

Behind this compelling global drama of countries and ideologies clashing are families like mine trying to survive. Eldest sons who cannot be at their father’s deathbed. Daughters who never get to take care of their aging mothers. Immigrants who are forever outsiders in their new home and can no longer recognize their home country.

So here’s what I’m asking. In a world where instant, absolute certainty has become such a marketable commodity, dare to be uncertain.

Because with uncertainty comes the willingness to learn. And that is the only way these issues advance.

So prevaricate, please, just for a bit. Vacillate, equivocate, whatever you need to do. Maybe waffle a little.

Because I don’t know who is helped by this rush to judgment. It’s certainly not the Taiwanese people.

Frank Shyong is a Los Angeles Times columnist. ©2022 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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