US support for Taiwan needs to be clear-cut

Maintaining policy of strategic ambiguity for US unlikely to maintain status quo in Taiwan Strait going forward

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Taiwanese military (MND photo)

Taiwanese military (MND photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — For the last 40 years, the U.S. government has chosen a policy of strategic ambiguity in respect to whether it would come to Taiwan’s defense if it was attacked by China.

The policy serves two purposes: to make China reluctant in mounting an invasion attempt on Taiwan and to dissuade Taiwan from declaring formal independence. As ambiguity is unlikely to stop today’s China and its increasing military threats in the Asia-Pacific region, the U.S. should consider a policy of strategic clarity that makes explicit that America would respond to any use of force by China against Taiwan, according to a piece Foreign Policy by Richard Hass and David Sacks.

Maintaining a policy of ambiguity for the U.S. is unlikely to maintain the status quo in the Taiwan Strait going forward, as many of the reasons that made it an effective strategy are no longer viable. Beijing’s defense spending is 15 times that of Taiwan’s, while Chinese strategic planning has focused on obstructing the U.S. from being able to successfully intervene on Taiwan’s behalf, according to the report.

China now has military hardware equivalent to anything the U.S. sells to Taiwan, and as Beijing continues its military advancement, the chances that America would win in a Taiwan conflict are no longer certain. Under General Secretary Xi Jinping, China has grown more assertive in advancing its interests.

Beijing has continued its militarization of the disputed South China Sea, placed at least a million Uighurs in concentration camps, clashed with India along the two countries’ border, stripped Hong Kong of its autonomy, and stepped up military exercises in the Taiwan Strait. These moves taken together show that China’s threat to take Taiwan "by force if necessary" needs to be taken seriously.

The authors also point out that if the U.S. were not to respond to the use of force by the Chinese, regional U.S. allies, such as Japan and South Korea, would conclude that Washington cannot be counted upon and that it is pulling back from the region. This could lead allies to accommodate Beijing or could push them to acquire nuclear deterrents, leading to a greater chance of war in the region.

In order to push back against Chinese aggressiveness, Hass and Sacks pointed out that the U.S. should adopt a position of strategic clarity, making it clear that it would respond to any use of force by China against Taiwan. The Trump administration could introduce this new policy through a presidential statement and executive order that reiterates Washington's support for its one-China policy but also states that the U.S. would respond if Taiwan were attacked by the Chinese.

The Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), which is an important part of America’s one-China policy, premises normalization with China on “the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means.” A U.S. statement declaring it would not stand for a Chinese attack against Taiwan would thus be consistent with the one-China policy, according to Foreign Policy.

Washington would also have to bolster deterrence, which could take the form of additional air and naval forces stationed in the region, in addition to making preparations for a Taiwan contingency a top priority for Department of Defense planners. The U.S. should also consult with Japan and South Korea to see what types of assistance these allies would provide in case of an attempted attack on Taiwan.

One of the main reasons the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been able to stay in power is its ability to provide sustained economic growth. The article suggests the U.S. should pass a law that would impose severe sanctions on China should it choose to attack, in addition to working with Asian and European allies so they send similar signals.

Xi Jinping is motivated by a desire to keep the CCP in control over China’s political system. A failed attempt to take over Taiwan could put the CCP’s dominance in jeopardy, a risk that Xi is unlikely to take.

Strengthened deterrence will help prevent a cross-strait flare-up. Hass and Sacks conclude by saying the best way to ensure the U.S. does not need to come to Taiwan’s defense is to clearly signal to Beijing that it is prepared to do so.