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Why Taiwan is worth fighting over

Chinese soldiers welcome Emmanuel Macron to Beijing last week. Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty

The question of whether the West should defend Taiwan is not just an “abstract debate”, says Gideon Rachman in the FT. Over the weekend, the Chinese navy encircled the island and simulated bombing it. Joe Biden has promised the US would fight on Taipei’s behalf in the event of a real attack. But for many in Washington, these promises are “little short of madness” – why should a “war-weary” America take on a nuclear-armed China over an island of 24 million people 100 miles off the Chinese coast? Europeans are even more sceptical. Returning from Beijing last week, Emmanuel Macron said the “great risk” for Europe would be getting “caught up in crises that are not ours”.

It would certainly “make life easier” for Europeans and Americans if they didn’t have to care about the fate of Taiwan. But it matters. If the Chinese Communist Party is allowed to crush democracy and freedom there, as it has in Hong Kong, it would confirm Beijing’s dominance in the Indo-Pacific – home to two-thirds of both the world’s population and GDP. More specifically, a “quirk of Taiwan’s economic development” means Taiwanese factories produce 60% of the world’s semiconductors, and around 90% of the most sophisticated ones. Control over this vital industry would give Beijing a “chokehold over the world economy”. As the US has already found, replicating Taiwan’s semiconductor industry is “much harder than it sounds”. No one in in their right mind wants a war between America and China. But it is “sometimes necessary to prepare for war – to keep the peace”.