100% chance US, Japan would help Taiwan if China attacks: researcher

Author of 'The Chinese Invasion Threat' says US, Japan and other democracies would come to Taiwan's aid if attacked by China

China's Liaoning (Lt, AP), USS Carl Vinson (Rt., Wikimedia Commons)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- In part three of Taiwan News' exclusive interview with Ian Easton about his new book "The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan's Defense and American Strategy in Asia," the author explains why the U.S., Japan and other key allies would definitely defend Taiwan in the event of an invasion China and why this is not so readily apparent based on the official stance by statesmen of these nations when engaging with China. 

If China invades Taiwan, what is the percent chance the US will intervene?

There is almost a 100 percent chance that in the event of war in the Taiwan Strait we're going to be there and come to Taiwan's defense. The question is when we would arrive? Would it be before the invasion? A week before, two weeks before? On the day of invasion? A week later, two weeks later? And what would we actually do? 

Would might assist Taiwan with sending intelligence, emergency supplies, stocks of food, water, medicine, and ammunition. It could be something more significant, which I would expect, such as mine sweeping, escorting ships, and submarine hunting. Or it could be even more than that, we could be sending our B-2 bombers from Missouri to go ahead an flatten the amphibious staging areas so that the Chinese could bomb Taiwan but not actually invade it. 

There's no way to be for sure what would happen, it would all depend on circumstances, it would depend on who the president is, and who he was being advised by. It would also depend on what exactly the Chinese were doing and how things were playing out. There's no way to predict it, but I think it's something everyone should try to study a little bit more so that in the unlikely event were a war to ever take place, then we would have a better idea of what to do. 

I would suspect that it would be much more than what people generally anticipate in this type of scenario. I don't think it would just be the United States. If China were to engage in this type of truly naked act of aggression, the likes of which we've never seen before, I would think that all of our democratic allies would be so shocked and outraged and repelled by Chinese behavior, it would not just be the United States, it would be a coalition of countries that would be coming to the defense of Taiwan. 

Would Japan come to Taiwan's aid if China attacks?

Absolutely, there's no question Japan is going to be there. They're going to fight shoulder to shoulder with us because their own national life would be at stake. In the event Taiwan were to fall, Japan becomes extremely vulnerable to a naval and aerial blockades. The Chinese have written in military studies, a couple of which have been cited in the book, which say that once Taiwan falls, we can use the island as a military staging area to put pressure on Japan if necessary to starve it out. They could cut Japan's maritime and air lines of communication.

It's true because of Taiwan's unique geographic location, it sits right at the center of the first island chain and is actually critical for the center of democracy in East Asia for Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and other nations. So there is no way that we could ever afford to lose Taiwan. That goes for us and all of our allies. 

Why don't world leaders publicly express this commitment to Taiwan?

That makes sense in peacetime. In peacetime, there's no reason to talk to much about this and exactly what you would do in wartime. There's no good diplomatic reason to do that. Statesmen never want to tie themselves down and wise leaders will never speculate on what they would do in these hypothetical, imagined scenarios that are very unlikely to ever happen. But once events do occur, then that forces action and changes behaviors and policies very rapidly. We've seen that throughout history. 

How is Taiwan different from Ukraine?

There's so many differences. First of all, there's the legal difference. The United States never had a legal commitment whatsoever to Ukraine. The U.S. does have a legal commitment to Taiwan's security with the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. That is a very clear commitment to Taiwan's security and its continued viability as an independent country. Of course, we don't officially recognize it as a country but anyone who's been to Taiwan knows that it is a country! We recognized it from 1949 to 1978 and we did not recognize the PRC government. So it's a really bizarre policy that we have, but it's very clear that we are committed to Taiwan's defense.

We have a very close relationship with the Taiwanese military and the intelligence security community. It's under the radar, people don't realize how many exchanges are taking place all the time between Taipei and Washington D.C., and also Hawaii, but they are significant. It's an incredible amount of exchanges, and back and forth, and training. So it is completely different than Ukraine in that regard.

It is also different from Ukraine because Taiwan is a flourishing democracy, Ukraine is not. Taiwan occupies a critical geostrategic location, Ukraine does not. So for all of these reasons, Taiwan is almost certainly going to enjoy United States' help when it needs it. If there is an emergency, the United States is going to be there for Taiwan. But again exactly what that might look like, nobody can say for sure.

Click here for part one and part two of Taiwan News' exclusive interview with Easton.

About the author

Ian Easton is a research fellow at the Project 2049 Institute, where he conducts research on defense and security issues in Asia. During the summer of 2013 he was a visiting fellow at the Japan Institute for International Affairs (JIIA) in Tokyo. Previously, Ian worked as a China analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) for two years. Prior to that, he lived in Taipei from 2005 to 2010. During his time in Taiwan, he worked as a translator for Island Technologies Inc. and the Foundation for Asia-Pacific Peace Studies. While in Taiwan, he also conducted research with the Asia Bureau Chief of Defense News. 

Ian holds an M.A. in China Studies from National Chengchi University in Taiwan and a B.A. in International Studies from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He also holds a certification in advanced Mandarin Chinese, having formally studied the language at Fudan University in Shanghai, and National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei.