Few things in life are certain. That’s why leaders need to judge policies and outcomes in terms of high or low probability. Taiwan politicians, whether of the Kuomintang or the Democratic Progressive Party, operate with the same basic realisation of hardcore realities and therefore the same instinct for survival. Ideology is less relevant when both sides have heavy guns pointing at each other, something that tends to concentrate minds. This is a deadly game that Taipei and Beijing understand very well, though perhaps not the Americans. In John Bolton’s new book, the former US national security adviser describes Donald Trump as “particularly dyspeptic” about Taiwan. If Taiwan declares independence, it is almost certain that China will go to war. However, it is far from certain that the United States will be willing to shed American blood to defend a faraway island in Asia. To add to Taiwan’s uncertainty, Washington’s explicit guarantee of intervention is premised on “first blood” aggression from the mainland. Taiwan warned against ‘wishful thinking’ that US will help if China attacks A unilateral declaration of independence by Taiwan does not meet that condition. China will sabre rattle from time to time, but will not launch an unprovoked invasion. The time of the almost unconditional cold war commitment by Americans – “we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe” – is long gone and never to return. And with Trump’s “America first”, it’s not just Taiwan but Washington’s closest allies who are having serious doubts about any US commitment, in defence or otherwise. When Americans talk about cold war 2.0 against China, they need to ask whether they are ready to make the necessary sacrifice. In politics, the ones who are willing to spill blood are the more serious players. That’s why, despite all its Taiwan rhetoric, Washington is a far less serious player today than it was previously, except for its readiness to sell expensive weapons to the island. Given this cross-strait calculus, “one country, two systems” offers a peaceful model to resolve a fundamental dilemma. Some people may cheer its diminishing viability. But its collapse for Taiwan will not mean independence, only continuing the status quo, possibly for generations. The alternative is war. Only a true nationalist dream of “one China” can sustain a historic, long-term commitment in time and blood. China is fully committed, but is the US? In the long run, the failure of one country, two systems will be a bigger loss for Taiwan than the mainland.